Việt Nam through a young expat’s eyes

Having lived in Việt Nam for three years and cycled from Hà Nội to Sài Gòn in just one month, a young Canadian girl wants to learn even more about Việt Nam and its people.

She dreamed of telling her own story of Việt Nam in a book read by many people across the globe.

Her dream suddenly came true in June when Moon Travel Guides, a top publishing house based in the US, hired her to write a guidebook about Việt Nam.

The lucky girl is 25-year-old Dana Filek Gibson.

Her friends in Sài Gòn gave her the nickname Little Na because she is petite.

She speaks Vietnamese well, enjoys driving a motorcycle, and loves Vietnamese street food.

DanaDana visits Linh Sơn pagoda in the central highlands city of Đà Lạt

The more I travel, the more I love Việt Nam

Dana has to work every day from 7am to midnight to meet her March deadline.

She acts as a tourist to collect information about hotels and restaurants in popular tourist destinations, recording the details as she goes.

Dana takes time to find information before travelling to a certain city or province.

She says it is much easier to find information about tourist attractions in big cities like Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Nội by doing research on the Internet or asking experienced tour-guides.

For attractions in rural areas and the countryside, she asks local people or her friends for information.

Dana said she became interested in studying about Việt Nam because it helped her understand more about its culture and history.

She told Tuổi Trẻ News that when she first came to Sài Gòn in 2010, she was much impressed by several tourist attractions such as the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame Church, and Bến Thành Market, but she took them at face value.

However, after researching these sites, she began to find Vietnamese history more and more fascinating.

Dana told Tuổi Trẻ News that she loves learning about Côn Đảo Island because its history is important to Vietnamese people.

Her favorite beachside city is Đà Nẵng and the mountainous area she loves most is the northwest.

Dana also said she loves local people.

“I’ve been in Việt Nam for a long time and have talked to many Vietnamese in Sài Gòn, Hà Nội, and Đà Nẵng.

I’ve realized local people are very kind.”

She revealed.

She said foreign tourists appreciate the hospitality and friendliness of Vietnamese people.

When she cycled from Hà Nội to Sa Pa to Điện Biên Phủ with her parents earlier this year, they were welcomed by locals warmly and made to feel they were part of their families.

From the letter in 1964 to “rip-offs”

Dana said she would never forget a story told to her by an old Vietnamese man she met in Trà Vinh when she was in the Mekong Delta region to collect materials for her book.

When she was walking around Hang pagoda in Trà Vinh province, a local man in his 70s appeared and began talking to her.

He told her many interesting stories about antiquities, tourist attractions, and historic relics in Trà Vinh, including Hang pagoda.

Before leaving, the old man showed her an old letter sent to him by an American military official nearly half a decade ago.

In the letter, it was written that in a town where just a few people could speak English, he [the old man] spoke English very well and was a kind and honest person.

It urged visitors of the town to ask him for help.

The writer’s signature was at the bottom.

Dana believes that the biggest problems that Vietnamese tourism authorities have to deal with are rip-offs and scams that target foreigners.

“If a product is worth VND10,000, it is acceptable if you sell that product to foreigners for VND12,000, but it’s not fair if it is sold for VND30,000.”

She said.

In her guidebook, Dana will provide readers with some tips to avoid being ripped off or fall victim to scams.

She suggests that tourists request the price of an item before paying, bargain for a cheaper price, or simply select the best option from shops that sell similar products.

She hopes her book will become a dependable guide for tourists to Việt Nam, especially for those hailing from America.

When asked about whether or not she can compete with Lonely Planet, Dana replied that she just hopes that her book is able to offer tourists more choices.

“Most western tourists don’t like to buy tour packages because they cannot explore a real Việt Nam.”

Dana said.

“If everyone reads Lonely Planet and goes to the places it recommends, there is no real Việt Nam any more.

So I hope my book will have its own readers.”

She added.

After graduating from the Writing faculty at Emerson University based in Boston, Massachusetts in 2010, Dana came to Hồ Chí Minh City in Việt Nam to learn about Asian culture.

During her first year in the city, she was a teacher at some major English schools.

She said she enjoys teaching kids but her passion for writing is stronger.

In 2012, she began her own column in Asia Life Magazine, titled “Odd One Out,” a lighthearted take on expat life.

She also writes in-depth features about Vietnamese culture, such as the Chicken Beauty Contest in Hóc Môn, a rural district of Hồ Chí Minh City.

Dana says that after finishing her travel guide, she will continue to write about Sài Gòn, where she first fell in love with Việt Nam and where she has lived for three years.

“The more I study about Việt Nam, the more I love it and realize that it is part of my life.”

Dana said.

“I’m very happy.

This opportunity (writing a guidebook) is not for everyone.

I find it very meaningful to study about Việt Nam and to travel.

It’s very hard to find a job at newspapers or magazines, especially in the US and Canada where employers often prefer experienced people to youth.”

Said Dana Filek Gibson.

The guidebook, Moon Việt Nam, covers most visited areas of Việt Nam and is due to be released next summer.

Its target readers are American tourists, especially backpackers.

The guide will include information about restaurants, bars, and tourist attractions, and give travel tips for Việt Nam’s most popular tourist destinations such as Hồ Chí Minh City, Hà Nội, Đà Lạt, Nha Trang, Mũi Né, and the Mekong Delta region.

By QUỲNH TRUNG

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News

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