Teaching English on a tropical island… it is what most millennials who travel abroad dream of. Here is one living that dream. Meet Thomas from Holland. For the past 3 years he has lived in Saigon however this year he wanted to try something different and live on the paradise archipelago of Phu Quoc to teach English while also working on his blog.
This is Thomas's “Live Like A Local” story about life on Phu Quoc Island as an expat English teacher. Those of you who are considering moving to Phu Quoc will find this interview very insightful. Enjoy!
Where are you originally from?
From the Netherlands between the cities of Rotterdam and The Hague.
Why Phu Quoc?
While living in Saigon we often went to the island for short holidays. On those trips we always based ourselves in Long Beach and used a motorbike to explore every corner of the island. From beautiful white sand beaches like Bai Sao and Kem Beach in the south to idyllic beaches likes Bai Dai and Cua Can. We absolutely loved the place. Note that we always went in the dry season which makes a huge difference if you come for leisure and to explore the beaches.
How long have you lived on Phu Quoc Island?
My initial plan was to stay for at least 1 year but it turned out to be 5 only months. Living on a tropical island gives you time to think about the future and I decided it was better to venture into something new.
Why did you move and what do you do?
The main reason to move to the island was the lure of living near some of the best beaches in Vietnam and the fact that commuting in Saigon’s traffic sucks the soul out of you. I’ve been teaching for several years now. I taught economics at a secondary school in the Netherlands and English in Saigon and Phu Quoc.
Did you come to the island alone?
I came together with my girlfriend Thuy and my dog Jimmy. I don’t think I would’ve moved if I was single since there’s so much more to do in the city.
How did you find your job?
I’ve sent an open application including a cover letter explaining why I wanted to work there along with a detailed CV of my previous experience.
Did you need any qualifications to teach English on Phu Quoc?
If like me you have a B.Ed ( bachelor of education ) that’s sufficient. If you don’t have an education related degree you need at least a bachelor’s degree plus a TEFL or CELTA certificate in order to get the work permit and temporary resident card.
What do you love and hate about your job?
I love to see children improve their speaking skills to the point where they can actually hold a conversation. Plus there are so many activating methods you can use to make learning fun. Seeing a well structured lesson turning into a great experience for both the students as well as myself gives great satisfaction. Plus there’s a lot of free time to enjoy all the perks of living on a tropical island. I’ve only got 24 hours a week of actual contact time and with some smart planning the time for marking and lesson planning is minimal. The only downside of teaching in a language center is that most lessons are in the evening.
What’s the typical salary like?
About 38 million Vietnamese dong per month. Holidays are paid for as well. Based on hourly rates you can make more in the big cities but often times holidays aren’t paid for and there are a lot of them. I’m able to save at least 1000 dollars per month here which is decent but not enough if you’re looking at settling down a family and investing for retirement. That’s the main reason why I leave the ESL field.
What are the kids like? What about the parents?
The kids are great especially the older ones ( 10-16 year olds ). I get great results with that age group. I’m not a big fan of the really young ones. It can feel a bit like babysitting and I haven’t got the patience for that.
I hardly ever see the parents. The front desk discusses the progress of the students and test results directly with the parents.
How exactly do you teach “English”?
Without making this answer too long. I follow basically this format. A warmup activity, presenting and drilling new vocabulary, grammar structure, controlled practice, free practice, wrap up. All activities are based around speaking and listening. The Vietnamese English teacher is in charge of the writing, reading and grammar.
Are the kids learning?
Yes, definitely. Kids who are studying at the center for a while now have got great speaking skills and a very clear pronunciation.
What advise would you give to others who want to teach English on Phu Quoc Island?
Well, there’s only one language center now so job openings are not very common. Keep an eye on the Facebook groups for teachers in Vietnam or send an open application. Also the rainy season on Phu Quoc is quite long so don’t expect it to be a year round paradise. That said, if you want to get out of the big cities, get some fresh air and access to great beaches this island is amazing.
*** Editors note: There are more than one English Language Centers now as of December 2017.
Why did you choose Phu Quoc?
As a lifestyle improvement. Long morning walks with my dog on the beach, less traffic, awesome beaches and a peaceful environment made it an easy choice to leave Saigon.
Where in Phu Quoc do you live and how did you find your apartment?
We live in the Cua Lap area south of the main town Duong Dong. We found a two bedroom bungalow in a place called Sen Lodge. There’s a big garden with a swimming pool and it’s very quiet. A two minute motorbike ride brings me to a great quiet beach. When we arrived we stayed a couple of nights in a hotel and drove around to check out different bungalows. Good places to start looking are the alley next to the new holiday sense complex and the alley opposite the Long Beach Resort if you want to stay south of Duong Dong. If looking for a place north of Duong Dong check out the area near Ong Lang Beach. There are many cheap bungalows for rent there.
If you do not mind us asking, how much do you pay per month and did you have to sign any contracts?
We pay 7 million dong per month and signed a 6 month lease. Monthly rental would’ve cost 8 million per month. For electricity the bill comes around 500.000 dong per month.
Was it easy making friends and meet people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats?
I was a bit tired of the expat scene in Saigon. Most activities and gatherings are often revolving around drinking which I don’t really like. That’s why this time I chose to mostly spend my free time with my girlfriend and dog swimming and walking on the beach. Besides that most of my time went into writing articles for my website anyway. From what I’ve seen most expats on the island are a lot older than in the big cities.
Is Phu Quoc safe? Are there any areas people should avoid?
Now and then you hear of motorbikes getting stolen but when it comes to crime I’d say this place is very safe. Safety issues can be found on the roads, just like anywhere in Vietnam. Moronic taxi drivers and dogs that come out of nowhere make it dangerous, especially if you drive fast. If you drive slowly and stick to the bike lane you should be fine though.
How do you get around the island?
I use the motorbike for everything. The roads are in great condition but as said before drive slowly and stick to the right side of the road.
What’s the cost of living like compared to Holland? Compared to Saigon?
Compared to the Netherlands I’d say it depends. Of course rent, going out and groceries are cheaper in Vietnam but if you factor in retirement planning, proper health insurance and international school fees in case you got children,the Netherlands offers better value for money.
If you compare Phu Quoc to Saigon it’s roughly the same although on the island I spend more money on food. That’s mainly because the kitchen in our bungalow is too small so we eat out most of the time.
Where do you buy your food?
We eat a lot in local and international restaurants. Being Dutch I love good bread and luckily there’s Hardy, the German bakery. For cheese and cold cuts I go to the minimart in Duong Dong. Fruit and seafood we buy at the local market.
What grocery item do you most miss from your home country?
Aged cheese and licorice.
If you get sick, where do you go?
There’s a new international hospital in the North but I’m not sure if the quality of healthcare is good. I’ve got a good insurance plan so in case I get sick I’ll probably go to a western clinic in Saigon.
What do you love about Phu Quoc? What do you hate?
The amazing beaches, the sunset and the seafood. I don’t like the days where it rains for hours and hours during the wet season. During the wet season there’s also a lot of trash washing up on some of the beaches. The resorts keep their part of the beach clean but once you’re walking on quiet areas you really see the problem this part of the world has with plastic.
What is your favorite thing to do on the island?
Sipping coconuts on a beach chair, walking with my dog and swimming.
What is your favorite spot on the island and why?
For amazing views I like to go up the hill and sit at either Son Tra Hill coffeeshop or the Chuon Chuon Bistro. During the day Paradiso restaurant on Sao Beach is great or I just drive to a quiet spot on Ong Lang or Dai beach.
What is your favorite beach and why?
It always used to be Sao Beach but during the rainy season it’s used as a port for all the tourboats which completely spoils the view. My new favorite beach is Bai Dai. Although its developing into a private beach for luxury resorts it’s still possible to find a wonderful spot.
What is your favorite food? Favorite restaurant? Favorite beer?
My favorite food can be found at the naked table, a new Indian restaurant run by a very friendly man from India. For fresh seafood I like to go to Ra Khoi in Duong Dong. For simple snacks a stroll on the night market is good fun but the restaurants there are a rip off. For good ice cream I’d recommend Mondo Gelato near the pagoda on Tran Hung Dao.
If we had just one day on the island, what should we not miss?
If you are here during the dry season then definitely drive to An Thoi, charter a long tail boat and do some island hopping in the An Thoi Archipelago. Go early in the morning and head straight to Hon May Rut. This little island is an absolute paradise and there’s some good snorkeling too.
Is there any piece of advice that you would like to tell others about living on Phu Quoc Island?
Just enjoy your time here. It’s a wonderful place to live but lower your expectations a bit if you’re planning to stay here during the rainy season. Eventually the dry season kicks in and you’ll be rewarded with a true tropical paradise.
Tell us about your website:
People from the Netherlands and Belgium can find everything they need to know about planning a holiday to Vietnam on my website https://verrassendvietnam.nl/. All information is handpicked and independent. All photo’s are taken by me so it really is what you see is what you get. No heavy edited stockphoto’s or false information. At the moment we are working on making the website a place where people can go to for a wide array of tourism services so if you can read Dutch definitely take a look.