Vietnamese family goes nomad to escape urban life

By Ngoc Ngan   September 8, 2023 | 05:31 am PT
Fed up with the "suffocation" of crowded metropolises, Le Ngoc Hoa and her husband decided to leave their old life behind and are now roaming Vietnam with their 8-month-old child.

"We'll change our place of living every few months," Hoa, 25, told her husband before they lit out of the city. "Each time we will move to another province."

Her husband Le Ngoc Son, 29, supported her idea. The pair instantly packed their essentials in a suitcase and rambled out of HCMC in early April.

Hoa, Son, and the couple’s child in the southern coastal province of Phu Yen in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Hoa

Le Ngoc Hoa, Le Ngoc Son, and their child in the southern coastal province of Phu Yen in July 2023. Photo courtesy of Le Ngoc Hoa

Hoa had been a city girl since she was born as she spent her childhood and early adolescence in HCMC before studying abroad and working as a real estate executive for a brief period in Tokyo, where she met Son. He came from the northern province of Thanh Hoa. They married in Japan in 2021.

The couple's life in Tokyo was not easy. Hoa had to work between 10 and 12 hours a day as her monthly income was wholly dependent on her sales performances, while Son's work gave him almost no days off.

After a while, they grew weary of life in the urban area, which was filled with pollution and passengers packed like sardines in the subways. So, they first decided to move to the suburbs 35 km from central Tokyo where they established their own Vietnamese restaurant.

Hoa got pregnant a few months after that, even after being diagnosed with ovarian cysts by doctors who said she might be infertile. In a sensitive state, she began to feel homesick.

So, the couple skipped town again and went back to the HCMC metropolitan area for the birth of their child. They welcomed their son, nicknamed Ca Phao, in July last year.

Son then found a job at a company based in HCMC's District 1, 40 km away from the couple's home. He had to stay at a relative's house instead of with his wife and child to save the inconvenience of a commute both ways that could take hours.

The couple soon realized this was not the life they wanted. Hoa's postpartum depression, combined with the separation from her husband, made her unhappy and she took to crying regularly. Son did not like hustling in the city instead of spending time with his son either.

Late last year, the couple then had their fateful discussion about how they both craved a tranquil life in a rural area. They decided they would spend the next three years experiencing life in various locations and spending time with their son. The southern coastal province of Phu Yen was their first destination.

Son immediately rushed to find a remote job while Hoa tried to convince her mother of the "progress" of their desired life.

"My mom asked if I was crazy," Hoa recalled. "She wondered why I wanted to leave for rural areas instead of living in my house and saving money."

Another cause for the elder woman's initial resistance was that she was worried that her little grandson would not adapt to the nomadic lifestyle his parents pursued.

To assure her mother, Hoa rented a 40-square-meter room with a separate kitchen and bathroom in a house located 300 meters away from the center of the province and surrounded with green spaces.

The couple spent this year's Lunar New Year holiday with their families before officially relocating in April.

Unfamiliar with their new place of living, the couple's son cried a lot and had caught a fever when the small family first moved to Phu Yen. But since recovering, he has not been sick again.

"Children develop better when they are more connected with nature," Hoa said.

The couple thus brings their son outdoors as much as possible. They often hit the road in the early mornings or at sunset, taking their boy to enjoy beaches, rivers, streams, mountains, and forests.

Hoa’s family camping in a rural area of Phu Yen Province in June 2023. Photo courtesy of Hoa

Le Ngoc Hoa’s family camping in a rural area of Phu Yen Province in June 2023. Photo courtesy of Le Ngoc Hoa

The boy was frightened when he was brought to the sea for the first time, like many children often are. He cried and asked Hoa to hold him. But after a few trips to the beach, he now enjoys dipping his toes in the seawater, and is no longer afraid of the waves.

Hoa and Son then purchased a camping tent and a hammock. They started taking their son on camping trips, teaching him to eat grilled corn and potatoes, and teaching him to walk in nature with bare feet.

The couple taught their son about their new countryside and wilderness surroundings as well. They helped him to identify horses and goats, and stayed overnight atop a mountain under the star-filled sky.

Hoa has noticed significant changes in her son since they began their rambling lifestyle. He has transformed from a shy boy to a healthy and outgoing child who smiles and waves his hand to greet strangers he meets.

Hoa and Son estimate that they spend between VND14-15 million ($582-$623) a month on rent, groceries, and traveling.

"In exchange, we can spend all of our time with our son," Son said.

The young father said the happiest moment in his life was when he saw his son begin to learn how to walk in nature.

Son and Ca Phao hanging out in June 2023. Photo courtesy of Son

Le Ngoc Son and his son Ca Phao hanging out in June 2023. Photo courtesy of Son

The couple took their son back to HCMC in July for a short visit to Hoa's mother. According to them, the elderly woman now feels less worried seeing how her little grandson has gained weight and eats well.

Now that the couple's Phu Yen housing contract's is ending, they have their eyes on the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, where they imagine living in a house on a hillside with a view of a vast pine forest.

The couple has just returned from a two-day stay on Phu Yen's Mai Nha Island, where they spent time diving among the coral reefs, and listening to the rhythm of the waves.

"People become rich with experiences instead of materialistic things," Hoa said.

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