Thai-Vietnamese romance flourishes amid pandemic challenges

By Ngoc Ngan   January 7, 2024 | 05:16 am PT
Le Dinh Duy’s reckless flight to Thailand during the pandemic in March 2021 left him stranded for 11 months, but in return, he found love.

5 years ago, Le Dinh Duy, 30 years old, who lived on Southern Vietnam’s resort island of Phu Quoc, went for his morning gym routine as usual.

But on this particular day, he met a girl with a bright smile who was there for a yoga class.

Duy found himself unusually attracted to her and deduced that she was Thai because she greeted people with palms pressed together. Duy knew it was love at first sight, but he could only manifest casual encounters at the gym. A few weeks later, the pair finally spoke through a mutual friend.

Duy now had some basic information about the woman of his dreams. Her name was Nan and she had graduated with a degree in traditional medicine from Thailand.

She was working in Phu Quoc as a spa manager. Duy was a bit intimidated, since he was only a bartender for a local hotel, earning just 6-7 million monthly.

Knowing that Nan grew up in a Buddhist country, the Vietnamese man offered to take her to the temples on Phu Quoc. On the fourth trip, Duy confessed his love, but was rejected because Nan said she "just wanted to focus on work."

Later, Nan confessed that she also had feelings for Duy, but knew that her family would find it difficult to accept her love for a foreigner.

Dinh Duy and Nan on a trip to Thailand, in May 2023. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

Dinh Duy and Nan on a trip to Thailand, in May 2023. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

Duy's perseverance paid off after four months when they went to the night market together in Phu Quoc’s capital, Duong Dong City.

The crowd of the market was pushing Nan from behind, so Duy held her hand to push through the walls of people.

To Nan, that hand-holding represented her love and consent, and they begin a serious relationship from that moment on.

The love story went smoothly for a year until March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic first broke out in Vietnam, causing the spa to close.

Nan then returned to Thailand. The day when Duy had to see Nan off, he was devastated because he didn't know when they would ever see each other again. "Looking further ahead, I didn't see a path for either of us," he recalled.

But they continued to maintain the relationship. Duy opened a profitable YouTube channel, which made him enough money to build a new house for his parents 15 km from the center of Phu Quoc.

Duy's life got better, but during his conversations with Nan, he felt his lover's discomfort. She often hung up quickly when her mother approached.

Klairung, Nan's mother, knew that her daughter brought her love affair with a Vietnamese man back home.

She came to understand a little more about Duy's personality after watching all 70 videos on his YouTube channel, but she still could not accept the partnership because of the geographical distance.

Klairung (left), Dinh Duy, and his wife in Surat Thani Province, Thailand in December 2023. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

Klairung (left), Dinh Duy, and his wife in Surat Thani Province, Thailand in December 2023. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

A year of long-distance relationship made Duy anxious, and he was also devastated knowing that his girlfriend's mother did not accept him.

"If I don't do something, I know I will lose this love," he said.

After thinking about it for many nights, Duy decided to book a flight to Thailand on March 27, 2021, to convince Klairung to allow the love story to continue.

The flight during the Covid-19 outbreak cost VND 57 million, including the cost of a 14-day quarantine.

Duy gathered all the money he had saved and borrowed some more from friends and family to set out.

Duy’s mother, Nguyen Thi Mai, 57, had trouble sleeping before her son boarded the plane because he had never gone abroad alone. "I was worried but didn't stop my son," Mai said.

Mai's worries only subsided when Dinh Duy landed at the Bangkok airport and called home. After 14 days of quarantine, Nan picked Duy up and took him to an apartment she had rented near her home, in Surat Thani Province, southern Thailand.

During the 9-hour car trip, he took the opportunity to learn a few basic Thai greetings to meet Nan’s mother.

The day Klairung met Duy, she was surprised that a Vietnamese man traveled 1,000 km in the middle of a pandemic to meet her daughter. He bowed to his lover's mother but was so anxious that he confused the words "hello" with "thank you".

Duy describes his lover's mother as someone cold on the outside and warm on the inside.

She rarely smiled and always kept a serious face.

But after seeing Duy struggle with life and food in Thailand, she invited him to live with her family after a few weeks.

Duy did not hide the fact that he grew up in a poor family. He father was once seriously ill and had to sell the family’s house.

Duy said he had the motivation to improve his situation ever since he met Nan.

"I have a difficult life, but I'm not lazy," Duy said.

At his girlfriend's house, Duy woke up early to help with any and all work around the house.

He stirred the dough for Klairung's Waffle Shop, cooked Vietnamese food for the whole family, and took Nan to the market.

Duy also took professional film and editing courses to continue developing his YouTube channel.

A part of Duy's income from YouTube is sent back to his family in Phu Quoc, a part is given to Nan for saving and to cover household expenses with her mother. The couple once surprised Klairung with a new refrigerator.

Klairung slowly softened towards Duy. One time, she worked for nearly 10 hours because her shop had up to 1,000 customers, so she became seriously ill. Duy was the one who cooked, bought medicine, and took care of her during her sick days. After recovering, Klairung became the person who regularly took Duy to shoot videos of his life experiences in Thailand.

Dinh Duy and Nans wedding in Surat Thani province, Thailand, January 2022. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

Dinh Duy and Nan's wedding in Surat Thani province, Thailand, January 2022. Photo provided by Nan and Duy

In August 2021, Duy decided to propose to Nan with the help of Klairung, who gave him money to buy a ring and organize a surprise proposal.

Nan's nod gave way to a Thai-style wedding on January 13, 2022 – for which Duy had to go through a 4-hour interview to register their marriage. Two months later, Duy and his wife returned to Vietnam.

At her husband's house, Nan won over her mother-in-law, Mai, with her gentle personality and willingness to learn.

After their second wedding in Vietnam in May 2022, the newlyweds returned to Thailand to live. Duy opened a grilled rice paper stall at Ban Na Doem market, Surat Thani Province, and received support from the Thai community.

At the end of 2023, Duy fulfilled his dream of taking his family on a trip to Thailand.

The two families met and talked. Nan recalled the time when her husband "risked his life" to go to Thailand for her. Duy just smiled and said it was the best decision of his life.

go to top