Disability? So what, says wheelchair-bound man as he travels around Vietnam

By Thuy Quynh   May 15, 2020 | 04:00 pm PT
Phan Vu Minh, 29, is wheelchair-bound but does not allow his physical condition to stand in the way of his passion for traveling.

Minh moved with his family from the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long to Saigon at a young age, and suffered spinal deformity at the age of 11. He was unable to walk normally and suffered chronic pain.

A failed surgery at the age of 18 left him bound to a wheelchair.

Depressed and desperate, he asked his parents to let he him move back to Vinh Long and live with his grandmother. Life took a new turn.

Phan Vu Minh poses for picture. Photo courtersy of Minh.

Phan Vu Minh poses for picture. Photo courtesy of Minh.

Minh recalls: "After the surgery failed, I was desperate and wanted to go back to my hometown for a change of scene. My mother had to quit her job in the city to take care of me, and my father stayed back to work."

At first he rarely went out because he did not want strangers to ask him about his condition, but gradually, encouraged by his relatives, he began to venture out. He realized people were not looking at him with pity but with basic human sympathy and kindness.

Bored at home, he began to import Thai roses and sold them. From finding wholesale contacts and learning how to take care of the roses to setting up an advertising website, he did everything himself.

"There were lots of challenges, but with hard work my business took off."

In 2017 Minh decided to make his first trip to the neighboring province of Bac Lieu to visit a friend with the same condition as him.

"He and I were at the same hospital. The two of us promised to visit each other’s hometown after being discharged. Hopefully in future I can invite him to my hometown."

A week before the trip he came up with the idea of turning his motorbike into a three-wheel vehicle, and got a distant relative to do it for him. He rode to Bac Lieu on his "super vehicle," as he calls it.

Minh in his modified motorbike. Photo courtesy of Minh.

Minh in his modified motorbike. Photo courtesy of Minh.

In June 2019 Minh and his nephew went on a trip to explore the provinces and cities between Vinh Long and Hue. What Minh had only seen on television unfolded in front of his eyes as the two began their series of discoveries.

He has traveled to more than 20 provinces and cities and wants to visit more places. Wherever he goes, he thinks to himself, "It turns out that real life is more beautiful than what is shown on television, and I've finally been able to make it here."

Before each trip, he carefully prepares items like pots, a gas cooker, shrimp noodles, dry foods, and weightlifting equipment.

"My only problem is I can't stand. Otherwise, I am capable of doing everything myself.

"My nephew and I really enjoy traveling. Because my nephew is still in school, the trips are usually in summer."

Strangers often ask him: "Why do you travel this far in this condition instead of taking a bus?"

Minh tells them riding the motorbike allows him to make stops for rest along the road when he wants and makes sightseeing more convenient.

Initially the long rides in summer tired him out, but discovering new lands and delicious foods and making friends along the way have been so rewarding that it no longer bothers him.

"In the past I used to be self-deprecating and afraid to express personal thoughts. But ever since I began traveling, I talk more and share stories with people I meet on the road."

Minh in front of Hue Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site, in central Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Minh.

Minh at the Hue Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site, in central Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Minh.

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