Paul Simos is an Australian expat and author who has been living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, since November 2009. In this interview he talks about why Vietnam is a great place to live and his book, Get Your Vietnam Motorbike Licence.
What made you leave your native country and become an expatriate?
It was time for a change. I had been working and living all my life in Australia and I wanted to have some new and different experiences. Australia is a lovely country and I think by travelling to other counties and having a comparison you can appreciate what you already have. It was an opportunity for me to grow and expand to see how other people in different countries live.
Why did you choose Vietnam?
Part of the process of travelling overseas is that you will need to generate some form of income to fund your trip. I decided to teach English as a back up to my current career. The school through which I obtained my credentials was already in Vietnam at the time and they were seeking teachers as the demand was rather high and they could guarantee as much work as I wanted. I decided to start in Vietnam to gain some experience and then start travelling into other Asian countries once I was ready.
Have you lived in any other Southeast Asian country before?
No. This is my first experience into Asia for a holiday and to live. It was as huge shift from a sheltered life in Australia to live in a foreign country and a developing one at that. It has been a wonderful and challenging experience at times but one I never regret.
Compared to its neighbours, what makes Vietnam a more favourable place to settle?
Good question. I have travelled to Thailand since living in Vietnam periodically over the last few years but not to many other countries so I can’t really comment on the other countries. Vietnam for me has a lovely busyness and energy about it, especially HCMC. The Vietnamese are very gentle and easy to work with. There are also wonderful seaside and country areas like Dalat that remind me of home. I think Vietnam has a lot to offer whatever your taste.
What kind of jobs can foreigners do in Vietnam?
The first thing that comes to mind is teaching English. The Vietnamese love to learn and speak English as much as they can. There are many English speaking centers where you can find work to teach the local Vietnamese. Now that Vietnam is developing there are many international companies appearing where you can easily find some work as well.
Freedom of movement is a crucial part of the accommodation process in any foreign country. When did you start riding a motorbike in Vietnam?
When I first came to Vietnam and saw all the traffic and motorbikes I vowed never to ride a bike in Vietnam. I remember coming from the airport in a taxi when I first arrived at about 9:30pm and I felt dizzy as the motorbikes were buzzing all around me. I laugh now as I am ridding one of those bikes that I so detested when I first arrived. It actually took me one month to find the confidence to get out into the traffic and be a real local. I think it is necessary to have your freedom and independence to move around and I can’t think of a better way than on a motorbike. It is all part of the international travelling experience.
Did you find it challenging? I mean, the traffic in Vietnam is quite chaotic…
Yes! When you stand on the side of the road and watch all the bikes and cars going in all directions at the same time it can be very intimidating. Once you are actually in the traffic it is not as bad as it looks. I mention in my e-book Get Your Vietnam Motorbike Licence how to negotiate some of the hot spots in HCMC.
Why did you decide to share your experiences of getting a Vietnam motorbike licence with the rest of the world in the form of an e-book?
When I arrived back in 2009 and I decided to apply for my licence I started to ask around and inquire about the process. Almost everyone I asked told me a different story and in the end I was completely confused and was not sure how to get started. In the different government departments where you need to visit as part of applying for your licence are all run by locals who have very limited English or none at all. This was very challenging and confusing to say the least.
I thought if I am having all these challenges there must be others who were going through the same process so I decided to document every part of the process of obtaining your bike licence and create an e-book format for other expats to make their experience more enjoyable. It has been very successful as I receive numerous emails from other expats who said it was very comforting to have the e-book with them with the 7 simple steps of how to obtain your motorbike licence in Vietnam.
What are the three main benefits of owning and legally driving a motorbike in Vietnam?
Good Question. It is illegal to ride or drive on the roads of Vietnam without a Vietnamese licence. Just because it is a developing country, visitor think they don’t need to be licened which is dangerous and wrong.
Firstly, if you are not licenced and you have an accident (God forbid) your insurance company will more than likely (depending on who you are insured with) may not pay your claims and make your policy null and void in this instance. For the sake of a few dollars and some time, it is not worth the risk.
Secondly, you have the freedom to move around and experience how the locals live from a grass roots perspective buy owning your motorbike.
Thirdly, but staying legal and following the laws of Vietnam your overseas experience will be one that you will remember for the rest of your life for all the good reasons.
Do you see any disadvantages? Is it safe?
No disadvantages and it is very safe if you take precautions and remain legal.
Life always has an element of danger or risk involved depending on what you do. The smart thing to prepare for is limiting your downside and increasing your upside. By following the law and riding legally in Vietnam, you can have a very enjoyable and safe experience. I have been ridding a bike for the past six years without incident and I have loved every minute of it.
Thank you for your valuable insight.
You’re welcome and I hope to see you in Ho Chi Minh City.
Interviewer’s PS: Paul also offer bike-ridding lessons to those who need a little more practice before they venture out on to the roads. Once you have his local knowledge and experience, your confidence levels will rise and you too can enjoy the delights of Vietnam on the back of a motorbike.