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A young man’s passion to make Da Lat green again




More than 50 young people from all over the country gathered on Bong Lai Hill, Duc Trong District in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong to plant nearly 3,000 pine trees.

This is part of a project called ‘Xanh Lai Da Lat Oi!’ (Please Be Green Again, Da Lat!) launched by Nguyen Huu Loc, 28, who is working in Ho Chi Minh City.

Each pine tree has been planted with the love and passion of the project founder and volunteers.

They hope that Da Lat will fight against increasing urbanization and recover its immense greenery soon.

During preparation before the important event, members had been excited to remind one another of the gathering on Bong Lai Hill.

The volunteers, who came from the Mekong Delta, central provinces or even from Ho Chi Minh City and Dong Nai Province by motorbike, reached the destination to carry out their plan on a recent weekend.

3,000 pine trees grown in three days

After spending two nights at Hue Quang Pagoda, on the morning of the third day, the team started trekking up the hill, which is around two kilometers away from the pagoda, to plant pine trees.

According to the project founder Loc, Bong Lai Hill is under the management of Hue Quang Pagoda.

The pagoda’s female abbot is a nature admirer, whose dream of covering the whole hill with greenery has yet to come true due to a lack of money and manpower.

The hill is about 20 hectares wide, but only one-third has been covered with trees. The remaining area stays treeless with some places occupied for farming.

Loc and his volunteers then decided to plant pine trees on the hill.

After two days of hard work, the team managed to cultivate 3,000 pine trees.

Despite dirty clothes and tiredness, all members felt very happy with the wonderful result.

Nguyen Thanh Thanh, 33, who is working in Ho Chi Minh City, had caught a night bus with a friend to come and join the planting event on Bong Lai Hill.

As a fan of Da Lat, Thanh feels rather sad about its rapid urbanization as greenery is shrinking significantly.

He is afraid that the immense green space in the famous hilly city would disappear in the near future.

Taking part in the meaningful project, Thanh hopes that his contribution and volunteers’ would be able to inspire other young people and local authorities to launch more environment preservation projects like this.

Like Thanh, Nguyen Anh Dao, a 36-year-old nicknamed ‘Gau U artist,’ had traveled from Ho Chi Minh City to Lam Dong Province to join hands with other volunteers, although Dao was busy with her job.

Walking around empty hills, Dao recognized the project of her team was still modest.

However, without any practical act, there would be no convincing messages sent to the community.

“It is really good for each of us to plant a tree at home,” said Dao.

“In the long run, I hope that there will be projects helping local residents improve their livelihood without causing damage to forests.”

To appreciate the volunteers’ kindness, Dao gave each of them a chibi portrait bookmark to encourage them to participate in more environmental protection projects.

A young man’s devotion to Da Lat

To have nearly 3,000 pine trees grown and all steps of the meaningful project carefully arranged, Loc went through many difficulties.

Loc found the beautiful city struggling with too many tourists while making a trip to Da Lat with friends two years ago.

To meet the demands of travelers, more and more green spaces were replaced with new projects. Besides, the city saw regular traffic jams and air pollution.

As the city was losing its distinctive cold weather while houses and buildings mushroomed, Loc did not dare to visit Da Lat again as he was concerned about causing further damage.

While working as a marketing employee for a company, Loc was in charge of a Facebook Page about Da Lat to attract travelers, on which he shared his straightforward criticism about things harmful to the city.

Although Loc went against the company’s intention, Loc believed in himself and what he did because of his love for Da Lat.

“Instead of not traveling to Da Lat, I decided to act to show my love for the city,” said Loc.

“Several Facebook Pages administered by me have published many articles criticizing what has destroyed the soul of the foggy city,’ he added, referring to the well-known nickname of the city.

In addition, Loc was thinking about a project that could cause a significant impact on young people and raise their awareness of environmental protection. Thus, he launched the ambitious project ‘Xanh Lai Da Lat Oi!’

Loc went through many challenges in turning his idea into a reality.

He spent three months solving all problems related to the project by himself, including using his own money to travel between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat to find a tree planting location, dealing with legal issues, and finding sponsors.

However, he received no feedback after pitching his project at around 20 sponsors. Some even rejected it, saying that it would be very difficult to carry out.

Loc encouraged himself not to give up. Without any sponsor, he decided to shift to crowdfunding on Facebook.

It took him by surprise as for only four weeks, Loc and four young volunteers raised enough money for making his dream come true.

At first, the project was expected to cost VND75 million ($3,250) to plant 3,000 pine trees.

After seeking for more information and thanks to a little bit of fortune, Loc could find out an affordable way to carry out the project at a cost of more than VND40 million ($1,725).

Among the donors, who belong to the ‘Da Lat Admirers Community,’ were some foreigners.

Currently, watching the hill that has been covered with pine saplings, Loc still feels like he was in a sweet dream.


Your Vietnam

Government and citizens both doing their level best



Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Singer Thủy Tiên wrote on her Facebook page that she raised more than VNĐ150 billion (US$6.4 million) during October, to provide relief aid to those hit by the storms that have ravaged the central provinces of Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, and Thừa Thiên Huế .

Her account,, which has more than 7 million followers, was visited by thousands of first-timers, who either recommended isolated communities they knew of that needed food and medicine, or complimented her on her charitable deeds. But others claimed she must have broken the law to have raised such a large sum in such a short period of time.

Some even asked for photos of beneficiaries, to which she replied, “I’ve been visiting communities for a week now, every day, delivering thousands of packets of instant noodles. I wasn’t able to take photos because of the conditions.”

Việt Nam this week also had to deal with Super Typhoon Molave, the strongest tropical storm to hit the country in 20 years. Footage of roofs being blown away and rivers overflowing can be seen wherever you look on social media.

Even in Hà Nội, more than 500 km away from the storm, strong winds rattled windows in high-rise buildings.

More relief aid will undoubtedly be needed in the central region.

Another response to Thủy Tiên posting how much she’d raised for people in need was to question how government-run, State budget-funded aid and relief programmes were operating.

“People trust Thủy Tiên more, and they want to see that their donations get to the right people at the right time,” read one comment, as Thủy Tiên was snapped taking a boat to visit hard-hit communities.

Not only is she beautiful and kind-hearted, she was also willing to share the hardships and, of course, put herself in harm’s way. That’s what netizens want to see!

While a single philanthropist can get so much praise online, it seems unfair to ignore the ongoing efforts of the Government to also reach people by boat, if necessary, and help them cope when natural disasters strike.

“Never before has a Prime Minister visited the National Hydro-meteorological Centre twice in the one week,” a forecaster at the centre beamed a few days ago.

Local military garrisons and police have been mobilised to help evacuate 1.3 million people from Molave’s likely path, which is the ninth major storm to cross Việt Nam’s coastline this year.

“When the storm hit, the electricity was cut, roads were blocked or swept away. People removed huge amounts rocks and mud to clear the roads, so electricity and communications could be restored,” read another widely shared post from someone who declined to give his name but said he had repaired roads for 20 years.

“He’s right,” a front officer in the mountainous district messaged me. “There’s so much work to be done before roads can be travelled on again and food and first aid can reach ravaged locations. We do not want, or need, to be mentioned in social media. It’s our job.”

It’s actually been quite uplifting and encouraging to see Vietnamese come together and help out in such a difficult and dangerous situation.

There are many levels of aid relief, according to a retired Red Cross manager. “Emergency aid will be delivered by military rescue teams,” she said.

A few days later, when water levels start to recede, clothing, textbooks, medication, and clean water are very much the priority.

“Thank you to all who donated,” wrote a high-school friend who owns a business in Hà Nội delivering cooked meals to working families. “I’ve received 50 blankets and 350 bottles of essential oil, which will go to Quảng Trị soon.”

The public, who too often get caught up in social media storms, have become quite demanding of public figures.

Popular singer Đàm Vĩnh Hưng recently took to his personal account to respond to people who had jammed his fanpage asking why he’s not providing any aid.

Triggered by offensive questions and irrelevant comments, he replied in harsh tones, which pleased his fans but outraged those with an axe to grind.

Commonly known as Mr Đàm, he has a big fanbase and has been known for his charity work in the past.

His response made for unpleasant reading but it’s impossible to know what really lay behind it. But when many are suffering and others are lending a hand, discretion may have been the better part of valour.

In a cooking group with more than 200,000 members, one woman put up photos of her family back in 1999, when she was three years old and had just lived through the worst floods to hit the ancient imperial capital of Huế in years.

“I was wearing a life jacket donated by some businesses in HCM City,” she posted. “We survived the floods. Now we live elsewhere, but we remember and feel grateful for the aid we received.”

She then introduced an easy and flavourful pancake she had as a child in a family that always struggled financially.

“The most delicious pancakes I ever had were also the most simple my mum ever made,” she wrote. “When you’re hungry, anything is the best food ever.”

Later this year, when prominent social workers receive government recognition, I hope the Office of Work Emulation recommends that Thủy Tiên has some sort of acknowledgement come her way, say a Labour Hero medal, first class, along with the other heroes in the armed forces and public service.

She set a new and unique example, of how to quickly raise large amounts of funding for emergency relief aid, and didn’t need netizens to tell her to do it. VNS


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Your Vietnam

Strong relationship between Turkey and Việt Nam built on mutual respect



To mark the occasion of the National Day of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, Việt Nam News presents an article written by Ambassador of Turkey to Việt Nam, Haldun Tekneci.

Today, we at home and around the world are celebrating the 97th anniversary of our Republic with joy and pride. The nation pays tribute to the Republic’s founder and the First President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Our Republic is resilient against all challenges and pursues her journey to further development. This drive is based on rule of law, good governance and private enterprise. Our young population is one of our greatest assets for sustainable growth. Moreover, Turkey is blessed with many geographical advantages thanks to its strategic location, connecting Europe and Asia.

Over the past nine decades, Turkey has achieved higher standards in education, science, technology, tourism, transportation, industry and health sectors. That is to say, the Turkish nation has many reasons to look to the future with confidence.

An aerial view of Rumeli Fortress in Istanbul. Photo courtesy of the embassy

As we approach the centennial of our Republic, Turkey gets more closely connected to different parts of the world. This is best illustrated by our growing diplomatic presence in different geographies, including Southeast Asia. We are confident that by 2023, our Republic’s centenary, Turkey will have made further strides at home and substantially increased its contributions to international peace, development and prosperity.

The country has set itself a number of objectives in the perspective of 2023. Among them are becoming one of the world’s top 10 economies, achieving a GDP of US$2 trillion, reaching an annual trade volume of $1 trillion, and receiving 50 million tourists a year.

This year also marks the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of Turkey’s diplomatic ties with Việt Nam. Việt Nam is on a path to further modernisation through comprehensive and peaceful development and I hold the view that the two countries can work together to learn and benefit from their best practices to overcome the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Availing of this opportunity, I wholeheartedly congratulate the Vietnamese Government and health workers for their successful and comprehensive fight against COVID-19 so far.

We are pleased that the bonds of friendship linking Turkey and Việt Nam are improving on a positive agenda. In addition to official channels of communications, people-to-people contacts keep growing and diversifying.

In order to strengthen common ground and cater to incremental demand in exchanges, it is important for Việt Nam and Turkey to raise public awareness of each other by fostering their fertile collaboration in tourism, trade and investment flows, mutual economic endeavours and cultural promotion.

To achieve such objectives, an essential step is facilitating respective visa regime procedures. Vietnamese citizens can enter Turkey with fast e-visa. Furthermore, the daily flights operated by Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Hà Nội and HCM City provide a fast and efficient way of transportation. We look forward the resumption of these flights that are currently on hold due to COVID-19.

Turkey attaches particular importance to connecting with other global actors. In this token, Southeast Asia is a focal point for Turkey. The “Asia Anew” policy that Turkey pursues will encompass and highlight Turkey’s openings towards Southeast Asia and ASEAN.

As 2020 ASEAN Chair country and UNSC 2020-21 non-permanent member, Việt Nam occupies a pivotal position within the Asia Anew initiative. Apart from important achievements and co-operation demonstrated at regional and international forums, Turkey-Việt Nam potential has not yet been fully tapped.   

Geography and history have endowed both countries with valuable assets. As an influential member and 2020 ASEAN Chair, Việt Nam could play a major role in realisation of Turkey’s quest for elevating her ties with ASEAN to new levels. Turkey, in return, could assist Việt Nam in expanding its access to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The Turkish-Vietnamese partnership is expected to yield more results in a not-so-distant future. Bonds of amity and co-operation between our two countries will grow even stronger in time and the Turkish Embassy will continue to work closely with Vietnamese authorities and institutions with the aim of fully activating this potential for the mutual benefit of both countries. 

On this occasion, we greet the readers of Việt Nam News with our earnest sentiments, while wishing well to the friendly people of Việt Nam and their eminent leaders. VNS

Göbeklitepe Archeological Site, located in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2018. Photo courtesy of the embassy


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Your Vietnam

Life differs from lore for elephants



Vietnamese children begin to associate elephants with images of mountainous Tây Nguyên (the Central Highlands) from a young age, through a popular song called Chú Voi Con Ở Bản Đôn (The Little Elephant in Đôn Village).

While the lyrics tell of elephants well-loved by local villagers, they are nonetheless domesticated and carry out arduous tasks. What’s missing from the lyrics is that, in reality, the number of elephants in Việt Nam is falling alarmingly, and while conservation efforts are indeed being discussed and funded, the massive creature is at serious risk of extinction.

Elephants have been part of the lives of villagers in the Central Highlands for centuries and have long been a cultural symbol known around the entire country.

It’s agreed that elephants are smart animals, with an incredible capacity to pick up simple skills quickly. They can be of great assistance to those who work the land, as they are more than capable of hard slog and heavy lifting.

Logging is where they are especially useful, having been taught how to uproot trees and move them around with their trunks. Away from “work”, they are often seen at festivals, which gives tourists a generally positive image of the beast when visiting places like the highlands’ Đắk Lắk Province.

HANGING OUT: Bun Khăm and Y Khun – two best friends. Photo Animals Asia

Elephants are common characters in tales from the past.In Sơn Tinh Thủy Tinh (Mountain Genie and Water Genie), where two men compete for permission to marry the king’s daughter, a host of unique animals are featured, like elephants with nine tusks.

The elephants were considered trustworthy and helpful warriors in Việt Nam’s past history. They appeared in historical records of Trưng sisters, two Vietnamese heroines who rode elephants to lead the uprising against the Chinese Han domination in the first century. Elephants also fought by the side of King Quang Trung as he repelled the aggressors from Qing China in 1789.

From their last five years of intensive research, Dương Văn Thọ, Nguyễn Thúy Hằng and Hoàng Văn Chiên from the People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) released the “Elephants in the Central Highlands: Survival Threatened by Declining Population” report, analysing existing conservation efforts and suggesting how such efforts might be better executed.

“The domesticated elephants in Đắk Lắk were wild before they were tamed, so are used to a lot of food and water,” said Phạm Văn Láng, vice president of the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre.

“After being brought to the village, however, they are trained to serve tourists and given less food, and when they are sick the care and attention they need is slow in coming. This is why the domesticated population is declining in great number.”

According to PanNature, the five Central Highlands provinces of Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Lâm Đồng boast a high degree of biological diversity.

The region’s forested area was 2,557,322 hectares in 2018, with a high coverage rate of 46 per cent. The region’s natural parks, nature reserves, and habitat and species conservation areas play essential roles in preserving wildlife found on the Việt Nam Red List and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

Alarming reality

The elephants found in Việt Nam are categorised as the Asian elephant and considered “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and “critically endangered” on the Việt Nam Red List, and found in Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), there were 91 domesticated elephants in Việt Nam in 2018, down from 165 in 2000. The 1,500-2,000 wild elephants in the country in 1990 have now dwindled to 124-148.

Elephants are losing their natural habitat and food sources and their altered movements and migratory paths are leading to serious, even dangerous, encounters with humans. Large swathes of land that were previously forest now serve economic development and national defence. Wild animals have long had their seasonal migration paths and know where they can find food and where it’s safe to breed.

Now that these areas have undergone great change, the animals destroy the industrial crops being planted, triggering huge economic losses and affecting the daily lives of farmers. Without a sustainable food source, the wild elephants must leave the forest for the fields, harming property and threatening locals’ lives.

The situation has become particularly dire in recent times, with wild elephants coming out of their newly-bare habitat after the Government assigned forestry companies to reclaim forested areas.

“In the entire area where wild elephants live these days, only the very centre of Yok Đôn National Park is virtually untouched by humans,” Bảo Huy, head of the research team on elephant conservation in Đắk Lắk at the Central Highlands University’s Department of Forestry, said with regret.

“Northwest of Ea Súp District, which is the ideal natural habitat for wild elephants, tens of thousands of hectares of forest have been assigned to companies planting rubber trees.”

BROUGHT TO HEEL: The hunting of wild elephants are re-enacted at a local festival. Photo

Conservation efforts

The MARD has since 1996 decided a course of action to conserve the elephant population. The Prime Minister followed that up with a decision in 2006, containing a five-year urgent conservation action plan.

Positive outcomes were gained during those five years, including the completion of elephant conservation projects in the provinces with the largest elephant populations: Đắk Lắk, Đồng Nai and Nghệ An. At the same time, the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre was established to care for and support elephant reproduction.

The Prime Minister issued a decision in 2012 on an urgent action plan to 2020 regarding conservation efforts.

The following year the Prime Minister launched the “Extensive Conservation of Vietnamese Elephants between 2013-2020” project, with an estimated funding of VNĐ278 billion from the State budget and donations from foreign individuals and organisations.

According to the MARD, the project had reached certain goals by 2018, such as reductions in elephant hunting and killing, increases to elephant numbers, and fewer conflicts between elephants and humans.

Đắk Lắk began its conservation scheme early, reporting that VNĐ61 billion had come from the People’s Committee for the Elephant Conservation Project between 2010-2015.

Focus was placed on the sustainable management of wild elephants, the development of the domesticated elephant business, the preservation of indigenous cultural identities, and expanding education on ecological environments.

In 2013, the provincial authorities approved an “Emergency Project on Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation until 2020”.

A conference report says that “After 5 years of the conservation project, it had posted results by 2018 in estimating the number of elephant herds and conducting supervisory activities, as well as identifying and improving their habitats by adding water sources and planting food sources, proposing and implementing solutions to reduce human-elephant conflict, such as natural habitat conservation and the construction of fences in Đồng Nai and Nghệ An; strengthening enforcement capacity through training, equipment provision, inter-agency cooperation, and international cooperation; and bolstering the defences of local communities with instructional exercises and conflict prevention aids, while improving the livelihoods of people in areas shared with elephants.”

WATER & WASH: Staff at the Đắk Lắk Elephant Conservation Centre lovingly take care of their elephants. Photo

According to the Journal of Natural Resources and Environment, the 14 remaining wild elephants in northern Nghệ An are in the two national parks of Pù Mát and Pù Huống.

The parks’ regional conservation project has built 29 km of forest patrol roads, three end stations, two fire watch huts, and 4.43 km of stone trenches to prevent elephants from destroying crops. No elephants have been hunted since 2013, and two calves were born at Pù Mát.

Clear conservation measures have been taken at Đắk Lắk’s Yok Đôn National Park.

“Three elephants are allowed to roam free, to protect the biodiversity,” a park representative said. “Elephant rides were very popular in the past, but we have been promoting new tours in the national park to watch elephants in their natural habitat. Ending the rides improves animal welfare and minimises the potential for accidents, as some visitors have been thrown off the elephants over the years.”

OLD-TIMER: 50-year-old Bun Khăm drinks water under the watchful eye of her mahout, Y Muh. Photo Yok Đôn National Park

“The care given by local people to conserve the elephant population is only superficial,” said Trần Quốc Chiến, a young local man involved in an elephant conservation scheme that teaches kids about elephants.

“Through my project, I can see that elephant conservation involves the conservation of the ecosystem as a whole. I have been able to watch elephants in their natural habitat and see how they interact with each other. Elephant welfare is taken seriously here.”

While some elephants have destroyed crops on their seasonal migrations, Animals Asia has financially compensated a number of farmers for their losses.

The efforts of Animals Asia encourage local people to raise their awareness about the importance of elephant welfare and to cooperate with organisations and the Government in the overall scheme of elephant protection.

LEAVING A MARK: Thoong Ngân breaks off small branches with her trunk. Photo Animals Asia

With COVID-19 pandemic causing major economic issues worldwide, governments have been enforcing bans on the illegal sale and trade of wild animals.

The Prime Minister issued a directive on July 23, containing immediate solutions for managing wild animals. He has been resolute in abolishing the consumption of wild animals and imposed sanctions on those continuing to break the law.

The Prime Minister has also asked ministries to improve how they work together in dealing with the illegal ivory trade and tightened wildlife husbandry. Of particular note, State officials and their relatives have been specifically directed to follow the law and are strictly forbidden from engaging in the illegal purchase, sale, transportation, possession, or advertising of wildlife products.

Effective schemes

Despite the decade-long effort to help the elephants, inherent issues remain. Policy enforcement coordination between management bodies is lacking.

The time from a policy being introduced to practical effects being seen is far too long and the procedures and paperwork involved are burdensome. Policies are still being implemented independently, with little in the way of co-operation between authorities at all levels, from commune and district to province, and forest owners, including forestry companies, management boards, individual households, and local communities.

Đặng Huy Huỳnh, head of the Vietnam Zoological Society, suggested authorities step up overall efforts.

“I don’t believe there is sufficient supervision over policies for elephant conservation,” he said. “Because of this lack of supervision, the elephants’ natural habitat is often destroyed and the sale of ivory and other elephant-related goods remains rampant, with no one taking responsibility. Regional officials must be held responsible for declining elephant numbers.”

The exact number of Central Highlands elephants is unknown, as funding has never been available for a reasonably accurate count. Numbers are roughly determined based on observations or footprints, while the most effective method of examining an elephant’s DNA costs some US$3,000 per sample.

A lot more research still needs to be done to help improve the quality of conservation activities, such as examining the reasons why elephants and humans are in conflict and sharing experiences of such conflict with other local people, so that precautionary measures can be taken.

Changes are needed so that a precious creature and cultural symbol of the Central Highlands and Việt Nam lives long into the future. VNS


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