Young couple find mountain life after moving from HCMC

By Pham Nga   August 30, 2023 | 04:00 am PT
Kieu Linh and her boyfriend Thanh Binh hired a van to move from HCMC to the Central Highlands town of Da Lat three years ago.
Linh and Binh rest after working in their garden in the Central Highlands town of Da Lat. Photo courtesy of Linh and Binh

Linh and Binh rest after working in their garden in the Central Highlands town of Da Lat. Photo courtesy of Linh and Binh

"The rain destroyed all the flowers we planted to sell," Kieu Linh, 32, wrote recently on social media, complaining about the rainy weather.

She and her boyfriend Thanh Binh had been tending the flower plants for the past year.

But the damage to their garden was nothing, given the precious experience they got with the journey they had been through.

Binh used to have a coffee shop and Linh had been a real estate executive in HCMC before relocating to Da Lat. The couple also had a 12-room rental cluster and did not have to worry about money, but felt like their lives had become boring loops.

"My old coffee shop got customers 24/24, and so I had to drop in at midnight sometimes," Binh says. "Linh spent a large part of her time on the road. We only had a few hours a day with each other."

An introvert, Linh had always felt tired with the hustle of the big city.

"I started using tranquilizers when I was in university. Then I began relying on headache relief pills as well."

When her father passed away from lung cancer in 2019, Linh she became even more depressed. She suggested to Binh: "Shall we move to Da Lat since I feel suffocated here?"

He only said: "I will go anywhere as long as you are with me."

The couple turned the idea into reality when they relocated to Da Lat in 2020. They borrowed VND400 million (US$17,000) from acquaintances and rented a homestay in their new place.

But that was around the time Covid-19 hit Vietnam severely. Their homestay start-up failed as the tourism industry was devastated by the pandemic, making Linh and Binh return the property to the landlord and began to think about another business idea.

"We sold snacks at a school gate to make money to get by," Binh says.

The couple then rented another house, this time to open a coffee shop. They spent a lot of effort decorating it, only for their landlord to put it in the market once they finished.

They paid a high price learning that they should carefully review contracts they sign.

Their third business idea came when Binh drank chrysanthemum tea for the first time. Immediately becoming interested in the drink, they rented a 300-meter piece of land to plant the flower, hoping to make the tea and sell it themselves.

Things seemed to go smoothly at first, until the owner of their neighboring garden started to fertilize the piece of land next to the couple's, making their flowers unsafe for human consumption.

That marked the couple’s third failure.

It was harder to make money in Da Lat than HCMC, they realized.

But to compensate for all that, Linh no longer had to use pain relief: all she needed to do since moving to the mountain town, whenever she felt hopeless, was to step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air.

And because of that, the couple do not even think about leaving Da Lat, at least for the moment.

They started to think about another business plan and came up with the idea of growing flowers to sell.

Learning from their three prior failures, they were determined to plan everything more thoroughly this time.

"We rented a 3,000-square-meter garden with a pond, stream and built-in electricity system," Binh says.

The couple started taking up part-time jobs to partially cover costs. Binh started helping nearby homestay owners on their properties. Linh started making paintings using dried pine leaves after getting the idea from a social media post, and many people offered to buy them.

Linh with some of her paintings and the three dogs she and Binh adopted. Photo courtesy of Linh

Linh with some of her paintings and the three dogs she and Binh adopted. Photo courtesy of Linh

"The thought of returning to HCMC briefly crosses our minds sometimes when we get exhausted after working all day," she says. "But it disappears as soon as we have an order and someone complimenting our products."

She says they became more chilled since moving to the town. They switched to eating vegan food; she does not have to spend time choosing an outfit every time she goes out since she is surrounded by people whose lives blend in with nature.

"And I don’t even need to maintain a skincare routine either."

Linh and Binh finally tied the knot last year. The husband and wife live with five stray cats they rescued and four dogs. And they are about to welcome their first kid.

"We spend every moment of the day together, a thing we could not do when we were in HCMC," Binh says.

When Linh’s mother, Tran Thi Hoa, visited the couple in Da Lat for the first time, she burst into tears at seeing her only daughter do gardening and hearing that Linh stayed up until 2-3 a.m. to work.

"I was sad at seeing my daughter, who spent four years studying for a degree in the city and got a comfortable job with high rewards after graduation, perform tasks I do as a farmer," she explains. "But I did not dare tell them."

When she visited them on subsequent occasions, she was more relieved at seeing the couple get lots of orders from customers. She would stay up late helping them divide the chrysanthemum tea into packages during her stay when the couple were still selling the tea.

And she was convinced by the couple’s determination to choose the lifestyle they wanted to pursue.

Linh and Binh now start their day early in the morning in the garden before leaving for their part-time jobs, and work until late at night.

As their business has grown in reputation and sales, Linh thinks every hardship she and Binh faced was totally worth it. Living in the mountains, a life totally different from what she had in HCMC, makes her feel happy every minute of the day.

It may take the couple a few more years to pay back their VND400 million loan given their current income. But, having everything from health and love to belief, they are optimistic about the future.

"I don’t need the kids to get rich, I just want them to always live happily and comfortably like they do now," Hoa says, approving of their optimism.

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