|Our new set of wheels - a Toyota Innova|
I've finally cracked. This week I'll join the countless other expats (and wealthy Vietnamese) in Saigon with their own car and driver.
I know I'll face ridicule from some sectors of the expat (and broader) community, but I'm willing to shrug it off.
Of course nobody says anything directly to your face, but it's there on the blogs and expat community websites where many scoff at those who refuse to travel by taxi or motorbike.
I could fill a book with countless stories of my horror taxi experiences in Vietnam, and that's what has ultimately led me to this point.
From drivers who tried to rip me off with a dodgy meter or deliberately went the long way to get more money (pretending not to understand my Vietnamese!) to those who decided they couldn't be bothered sitting in peak hour traffic and made me get out on a busy highway (that was my favourite!).
When we lived in Hanoi, the initial language barrier and dangerous driving, coupled with the difficulty of travelling with 2-year-old twins on my own, led me to renting a car and driver.
When we moved to Saigon in June, I naively dreamed that we could save money by travelling in taxis (because trust me, the monthly cost of renting a car and driver is not something you want to pay for if you don't really need to!).
For me this was an enormous leap given I know how dangerous it is for young children to travel in a vehicle without a baby seat. There have even been moments, while lamenting Saigon's traffic woes, that I actually considered buying a family-sized motorbike...yes, it's amazing how your point of view warps after a while in this country!
In Vietnam's expat circles, the need for the car and driver is widely debated.
In one camp you have the expats, generally locally engaged or not on a package with bonuses, who grumble that those on the big bucks push up prices and behave like wankers because they choose to live in secure compounds and drive around in a private car.
In another camp there are the expats, generally transferred here by an international company, who are lucky enough to get a housing allowance and a car and driver. Good on them I say. If the company gives you a car as part of your package, why wouldn't you take it?
In between these two camps there are the expats who, regardless of what kind of money and perks they get, think that any foreigner who comes here and still behaves like they're in their own country by not living in a local neighbourhood, riding a motorbike or eating only on the street is missing out.
Then there's us - expats who come here with an international company and get a lot of perks, but not enough to cover everything we feel is necessary to have security and peace of mind.
For us, the choice to live in the secure gated compound (part of which we pay for ourselves), and the decision to get a car when we were in the north, and now, (which we also pay for) has been influenced by our role as parents.
Some would argue that you don't need to live in the gated compound and travel by car, but it all comes down to a matter of personal opinion and how you're willing to live.
Do I want to worry at night that my house could be burgled while I sleep? No thanks. Do I want to have to put up with the abovementioned taxi woes? I tried it...too much bother.
So, once again, we've joined the much-maligned pack of expats who get around town with their own car and driver (except on the weekends when we'll suffer at the hands of the city's taxi drivers!).
Whether this will make the daily battles with Saigon's ridiculous peak hour traffic easier to handle remains to be seen, but for now I'm happy knowing there is someone at my house every weekday morning waiting to drive me when I'm good and ready!
For those of you reading this who've never experienced expat life, and think we're all wankers who need to rely on drivers and housekeepers, just know that most of us would give anything to have a car that we could safely drive ourselves on the right side of the road (that of course being the left side!) . Needing to rely on someone else to get around is, quite frankly, a pain in the ass!
But no, even if it makes me sound like a wanker, I wouldn't give up my housekeeper for anything! I've admitted it...you're jealous...move on!