This post “Living in Hoi An, Vietnam”, contributed by Michelle Wild at Michelle Wild The Planner, is one of the first in our new series of motivational and inspirational stories of those who have made a choice to live a very different lifestyle in midlife to later in life. We call this exciting new addition to our website ‘Life Chapter 2’.
Introduction to Michelle Wild
My name is Michelle Wild and I’m from Melbourne, Australia. For the past 10 months I have been living in Hoi An, Vietnam.
What did you do before deciding to live a travel lifestyle?
At 18 years of age, it dawned on me that I was going to have to work for the rest of my life, so I’d better do something interesting! This realisation has been the basic motivation for every career move I’ve ever made. I have worked across a diverse range of cultural pursuits for over four decades, including film, television, theatre, festivals, comedy, food and tourism.
I have worked across cultures from major international cities to regional Australia, from remote Aboriginal communities to developing Ubud (Bali) Food Festival into a destination for both local and international “foodies”. I have showcased Australian contemporary culture in Turkey and represented Australian businesswomen in the Middle East.
Why did you decide to live a travel lifestyle?
I never really bought into the great Australian obsession with home ownership which saw many of my friends tied to mortgages and commitments. I was never attracted to notions of white picket fences and kids tied to my apron strings.
I have always been attracted by diverse cultures and lifestyles. Having started to travel early, I was always more attracted to the lifestyle of the eccentric Hong Kong hotel manager who rode across deserts on camel back. I wanted to grow up to be THAT person.
When I was 18 I lived and worked as a jeune fille au pair in the 8e arrondissement of Paris. At the age of 22 I taught French to Aboriginal kids in Darwin. At 23 I taught English in Corsica. And since I have been in the very privileged position of having lived and worked in over 25 countries.
Biggest wins / benefits of a life of travel?
The benefits of living outside one’s own country and culture (and comfort zone!) are enormous. There is the unparalleled freedom of arriving somewhere as a blank slate. There is the enormous learning curve of experiencing a new culture and perspective on the world. As someone who is always relocating and travelling on my own, I have developed a resilience and a sense of confidence in my own capabilities.
Difficulties experienced / drawbacks?
The downside to solo travel is that it is often very hard work. Every aspect of your life and every decision is YOUR responsibility, from big decisions like where and how to live to tiny details like what to do with your luggage while you duck into a loo!
And of course, there is the issue of old friends and family. Maintaining relationships is crucial when you are constantly meeting new people in new environments. Touching base with people who you’ve known for a long time is imperative. In pre-Covid times this often meant having friends and family come to visit me somewhere in the world. In our new “normal” it’s Zoom and WhatsApp and Messenger. Not quite the same…
Where are you currently living?
I am currently based in Hoi An, Vietnam. Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I have the good fortune to live right in the middle of the Old Town!
2020 was shaping up to be a big year. Years of galivanting around the world in various arts-worker-related endeavours was about to pay off. Friends had begged me for years to take them travelling with me, and it finally felt like the right time to draw on my extensive international network and experiences in various favourite far-flung destinations and share them with curious friends.
As a self-funded volunteer, I was responsible for all my own arrangements and found wonderful accommodation in a typical Hanoi house with a lovely young Vietnamese family. I paid around 10 Million VND per month (around AUD$600 / USD$465 at the time). I had one of the 4 floors to myself, and sole use of a well-equipped kitchen (although I quickly discovered that this is really not necessary in a country with such a great street-food culture).
I’d be woken every morning by the “Voice of Vietnam” making various government announcements via a community loudspeaker. I walked to work at KOTO every morning past the Temple of Literature and groups of locals dancing. From my balcony I’d watch kids playing in the street, and in the early evening women would gather to gossip and exercise. It was magical and intriguing.
One by one our ambitious calendar of fundraising events at KOTO were cancelled and then the inevitable lockdown was announced. I consulted various fellow Australian long term Hanoi residents to try to gauge the best way to respond – do I stay or do I go? Some left, most stayed. I must say that I always felt 100% safe and really admired the Vietnamese approach to dealing with the pandemic. Swift and severe directives were issued and the good citizens of Vietnam responded by always doing what was best for the community as a whole.
I am the first to concede that I did not see Hanoi at its best, and people who live there love it. I found it quite inaccessible, and eventually the traffic and pollution proved to be too much for me.
By June the pandemic seemed to be relatively under control, and the government was encouraging its citizens to take advantage of the closed borders and explore their homeland. I decided to join the throngs criss-crossing the country and caught the Reunification Express for the 15 hour trip to Hoi An to revisit a town I had loved 20 years prior when I had last visited Vietnam.
As soon as I stepped off the train in Da Nang I felt a new energy. The sky was blue! The sun was shining! The air was clean!
I have now been in Hoi An for 10 months!
What are you doing now in Hoi An?
I do a variety of things in Hoi An.
I have also recently started working with the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme. I take NDIS clients on exploratory trips around Hoi An, introducing them to both the town and my life here. This “virtual tourism” is proving to be incredibly successful for the clients who are often not able to travel due to their disability.
How did you decide what to do / where to go?
My decisions on where to go in the world and what to do are based primarily on where I can find stimulating engagement. I have always made decisions based on the following criteria:
- Is it interesting work?
- Is it with people I like and respect?
- Is it in a place that interests me?
- Can I make a positive contribution?
How do you fill your days?
I am always hatching some kind of plan…I didn’t call my company Michelle Wild the Planner for nothing!
My days are a combination of meetings with locals and my NDIS clients and the odd bit of teaching.
One new addition to my daily activity since arriving in Hoi An is physical exercise. I have never exercised in my life but 2 extended Covid lockdowns and various weather events here (floods, typhoons, etc) left me feeling sluggish and creaky. One of the joys of living here is that I can afford a personal trainer so three afternoons a week I drag myself off to exercise. I’ve lost 5 kilos and feel fitter than I have in decades!
What is your interaction with the local / expat community?
When I first worked in Paris at 18 I was absolutely determined to ONLY have French friends. I avoided English-speaking expats like the plague. As a consequence I had NO FRIENDS!
I’ve lightened up since then and now try to maintain a balance in my interactions with locals and the expat community. In the midst of a pandemic I’ve found it very comforting to hang out with some fellow Aussies if for no other reason than to get the latest news.
I’m lucky that I have access to the large French expat community here because I speak French.
I have also cultivated a very nice group of friends who are Norwegian, Italian, French Canadian, American, Turkish and British.
It is relatively easy to make friends with the Vietnamese here although (of course) the language barrier means that it is easier to make friends with Vietnamese who have lived overseas.
I entered Vietnam on a Tourist Visa which (due to Covid and the borders being shut) is renewed monthly without question and at a cost of around US$65. I use a Visa Agent because the rules seem to change constantly.
What would you recommend / advise to others that are thinking about retiring in / moving to Vietnam?
At this stage there is no Retirement Visa in Vietnam. This makes neighbouring Thailand and Bali much more attractive destinations because it is relatively easy to have a recognised status.
Having said that – I think Vietnam is a GREAT place to live. It has been an absolute privilege to witness how this country has coped with Covid and various other hardships that they encounter (typhoons, floods, etc) on an ongoing basis. They are predominantly hard working, resilient, curious people who have made me feel very welcome.
In addition, the cost of living is cheap. I currently live in a two story house in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town of Hoi An. It costs me AUD$550 / USD$430 per month (including weekly cleaning). Others consider this to be extravagant but I always like to live somewhere nice. The resort/pool/gym that I have joined is AUD$50 / USD$38 per month for unlimited use of all facilities. My personal trainer is AUD$12 / USD$9 per hour. A bowl of noodles in the street is AUD$1.68. Beer is cheap, but wine is expensive. Transport is cheap – AUD$3.50 / USD$2.70 for the 5km taxi ride to the beach here.
Hoi An offers a unique combination of the historical old town, a vast white sandy beach just 5 km away, and rice paddies and normal life in between.
My obsession pre-Covid was sharing the world with like-minded people! Gallivanting around the world is great fun and I wanted to share people/places/things that I love. Pretty simple really.
LIFE CHAPTER 2: RELATED BLOG POSTS
Do you want to read more inspirational stories of those that have made a lifestyle change in their midlife? Check out all the stories in our Life Chapter 2 series below and be inspired.