Street experience for VIPs: Tour guide serves rich and famous in Vietnam

By San San   March 13, 2024 | 07:37 pm PT
During his 10 years as a tour guide, Vu Ngoc Son has become versed in showing around foreign "VIPs," who he says visit Vietnam looking for authentic local vibes.

Son's guest list includes Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's son and daughter; Craig Silliman, vice president of telecommunications company Verizon Global Services; Arne Jan Flolo, Norway’s ambassador in Myanmar; and Clive Alderton, private secretary to Britain’s King Charles III.

"I was nervous in the beginning," the tour guide at Focus Travel and In-Country Tours says.

"Imagine you are walking with special people together with their bodyguards; your heart keeps beating faster."

The 34-year-old says before each tour the company gives him information about the guests, including their names, job titles and nationalities, but never for VIPs; their identity is kept secret until the last minute.

All he could prepare was dressing up professionally and researching information about the economy, politics and culture of the country where the VIP guest was from.

He says: "I was picked up in a Mercedes S and taken to the airport to pick the VIP guests coming by a private jet. After that the company told me who they were."

Vu Ngoc Son dressed before picking VIP guests. Photo courtesy of Son

Vu Ngoc Son is dressed up before picking VIP guests. Photo courtesy of Vu Ngoc Son

Because their trip is usually short, often just a day or two, VIP visitors normally tell him they want experience-related activities and to eat like a local.

Son says he was shocked to see how simply the Azerbaijani leader's children dressed when they got off the private jet in Hanoi in March last year.

"They dressed like real backpackers, walked around Hanoi and visited Ha Long for a few hours. They tried local foods and coffee, visited local markets and experienced a cyclo ride."

For their safety, they asked him not to bring them to crowded places, or places filled with many tourists.

"King Charles' Private Secretary [Sir Clive Alderton] even tried a sidewalk barber shop that cost only $2, and he felt happy," Son said of the monarch's visit last year.

Son's VIP guests have always been pleased with their stays in Vietnam, he added.

Arne Jan Flolo (L), Norway’s ambassador in Myanmar, poses for photos with Vu Ngoc Son outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Vu Ngoc Son

Arne Jan Flolo (L), Norway’s ambassador in Myanmar, poses for photos with Vu Ngoc Son outside the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, December 2023. Photo courtesy of Vu Ngoc Son

"They said there were lot of vehicles and it's hard to cross the road, but they felt safe in Vietnam thanks to friendly locals."

"I am happy to have chance to guide these kinds of VIP guests, I get to learn a lot about them. But after these kinds of tours, I realize I need to improve myself," Son said.

Vietnam's popularity has risen on the global tourism map in recent years after a number of billionaires and celebrities visited the country.

Most recently, American billionaire Bill Gates and his girlfriend Paula Hurd left Da Nang on their private jet Thursday night, wrapping up their four-day holiday in the central beach city.

"I believe that more and more VIP guests will come to Vietnam," Son said.

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