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  • Voices from Vietnam

    All photos by Aaron Joel Santos

It’s an exciting time to be Vietnamese. The country once famous for conical hats, rice paddies and ao dai is now also home to cities humming with so much forward-moving energy it’s contagious. Economic growth has opened an endless suite of possibilities for young Vietnamese. The melding of old and new has created some of Vietnam’s most inspiring brands and stories. Read on for a glimpse into life in Vietnam now.

vietnam travel golf

Golf appeared in Danang eight years ago. Before that point, no one knew what golf and caddie jobs were. The number of people who worked in the golf industry was zero. However, five golf courses opened in eight years drawing a large number of workers to the golf industrry. Caddying became a competitive job that people wanted to have.

Over ten years ago, can you imagine that Danang had only one bridge? Now Danang is the most livable city in Vietnam and still develops rapidly. It actually changes day by day.

I came here three years ago when course was still in its pre-opening period. I had no idea what a caddie’s job description was, even though I searched on the Internet. I had a vague understanding that a caddy is a person who serves and supports golfers on the course. I took a six-month training, but it was still a long time before I could be a real caddie. I still find this job interesting every day and put all my passion into it.

Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, Golf Caddie at Ba Na Hills Golf Club

vietnam now craft beer

You know how fast things change, how fast things move in Vietnam. I’m so grateful for that because if you’re slower than someone next to you in this market, that means that you’re losing. No one’s going to stop, right? That’s just how developing countries are. All that kind of shaped me. I think about how fast we can connect Vietnam with the global community.

Every time I’m gone for three weeks, I come back and something’s changed. I would say that’s pretty exciting.

The best thing about Ho Chi Minh City right now is all the changes that are going on. The changes are very positive for the future outlook, because we’re finally catching up with the rest of the world. All these changes put pressure on people. They want to do better, and better, and better. We want to show the modern Vietnam, what’s going on here. 

Loc Truong, General Manager at East West Brewing Co.

the workshop cafe ho chi minh city

My passion is coffee. I’ve worked in the industry for five years. There was a time I left school just to have this job. The coffee industry is very young, and the science in the industry improves everyday.

If we have knowledge, we can do better and we can become professionals.

I’ve lived here for 8 years, and best thing about Ho Chi Minh City is the people. They come from different places, different cultures but we try to help each other and give to each other, even when we don’t have anything. We know it’s difficult to live in a big city, so we try to help each other.

Dam Minh Ngoc, Barista at The Workshop Cafe

vietnam now food

I think on the global stage Vietnamese food is under-appreciated at this point. People know it’s good but sometimes they think of it only on a very low, cheap level. So what we’re trying to do is to say Vietnamese is great, but it doesn’t always have to be cheap. It can be done well and can compare to Japanese cuisine or French cuisine for example. At Anan Saigon we're trying to elevate Vietnamese food to that level.

I think Saigon is one of the most exciting food cities in the world.

One of the nice things about being in Saigon right now, is seeing the city being very dynamic. You can see it in the architecture changing, in new buildings going up, in terms of optimism in the people. I think on the food side we see a reflection of this as well. We see more openness to new ideas, new things. We are getting acceptance from local people, as well as visitors and tourists from abroad.

Peter Cuong Franklin, Executive Chef at Anan Saigon

vietnam tourism 2019

I love it here because you can do everything. You can be everywhere. Last night I was at an opening of my friend’s flower shop and cocktail place. We talk endlessly. We have endless conversations about everything, about love, and it’s just like a scene in a movie. And then the next morning, I’m here working, but also enjoying at the same time. 

This is what makes Ho Chi Minh City cool: the people. The new generation is entrepreneurial. 

I think this city has a lot of doors open for people who dare to explore. You can start something on your own very easily, because the industry actually is not established yet. You have a lot of opportunity and space to tap into. 

Thu Vu, Events Coordinator at Lam Boutique

mens fashion vietnam now

I’ve always been a fan of fashion. My wife is the one who opened that door for me. She’d say, “You’re very good at fashion, you could teach everyone.” I said, “I don’t have time, my work is busy everyday.” But she opened the blog in Wordpress, and left it with the username and password. One day, when I felt less busy than usual, I was surfing the web and the blog came up. I thought, “Wow, it’s nice”. So I clicked, clicked, clicked and started writing. Right now it has 40,000 Facebook followers. It’s all lifestyle and men’s fashion.

It’s good to be developed but I think we have to find a way to maintain tradition. 

Hanoi is developing very fast. When you step out the door, you see something new, something exciting to discover, more buildings, more space to open. You’re going fast but the people of Hanoi want to keep things traditional. I think that’s a hard one to do in Hanoi: to go so fast and still keep it traditional.

Hung Nguyen, Barber at House of Barbaard

Vietnam Now Startups

I work in startups. Extremely young companies with a lot of young people. I used to work in places with older people, more conservative and all that. But this is very young and extremely goofy, creative, and a lot of fun. Vietnamese in general and Hanoians as well are very early adopters of any new technology. They’re curious. They are the drivers of a lot of these new products and services.

Sometimes you’ll see on Facebook black and white images of Hanoi in the old days. They’re just beautiful and we feel so nostalgic. It’s beautiful but we cannot go back to that place.

Inevitably some traditions will be lost. Some already are. But there are groups of people like traditional Hanoians who have been here for generations, who are making efforts to hold onto the old. In general, it can’t be avoided; but there are many people who still want to keep part of it. 

Lien Nguyen, Co-founder of Appota

vietnam now speakeasy

I want people come here not just because of Halong Bay or some war museum. I want people to come here also because, “There’s a nice speakeasy bar in Hanoi, and we should check it out," you know? Some of my friends back in England, they came here and they said, “There’s nothing to do after 9pm, not a lot of choices.” So I thought, “Let me do something.”

l spent time abroad, and I had the internet when I was young. I want Vietnamese people to also experience what I’ve experienced. I loved it. I think my friends here should experience it too. I want to give them more choice.

Hanoi has a lot of chances for entrepreneurs to do something they like. Here, it’s an emerging country and everything is still cheap. A lot of young people come back here and find opportunities that are easier for them to do here. They can do whatever they want. Just be creative.

Quoc Anh, Owner at The Kumquat Tree

Vietnam Now Art

Most people come here just to have a look. The customers I have a chance to talk to, I tell them the story of this building. It used to be a French colonial post office. In 1954, when the communist government took over, they turned it into a Vietnamese post office. Then in 2014 they abandoned this house. So we came here and rented it.

Young people like me, my friends, they don’t look back into the past. They just look forward. But it’s good we know the past.

I love the past but right now it’s step by step with development. I think it’s ok, but I just want young people to remember this kind of house, the things from the past. I just want people to remember, because you cannot keep everything forever.

Minh Nguyen, Owner of 60 Square

vietnam now hospitality

Ho Chi Minh attracts people. It still attracts me. To stay here, to work here, to extend my relationships here, maybe later, own my own business. 

Ho Chi Minh City is changing. I’m not sure about the changes, but it’s normal. I’m growing up, it’s growing up too.

One of the reasons behind Christina’s is to build a better Vietnam. When we have young people come, they have new ideas about how to protect the country and the people. How to not destroy it. I see it changing very positively and hopefully we can keep that change.

Huynh Thu Phuong, Host at Christina’s

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