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Beware, the vlogger pandemic is upon us



By Paul Kennedy

They came, they saw, they vlogged. They are the pests of the tourist industry; the self-obsessed ‘influencers’ whose hands are more preoccupied with their precious mobile device than their wallets. 

As Việt Nam fully opens its doors to overseas visitors in our continued recovery from COVID-19, another pandemic is upon us — our bars and cafes infected by a new breed of Tây ba lô

With them comes a new variant of man-bunned backpackers. Where once visitors were lured here by the insatiable desire to soak up Vietnamese culture, history and the rich tapestry of everyday life, for some it seems little more than a box-ticking exercise to ‘do Asia’ as part of a parentally funded gap year (pronounced gap yaaar).

Illustration by Trịnh Lập

The new Tây ba lô may still sport the obligatory tie-dye tees and probably own spandex psychedelic pants, but after two years of pandemic lockdown, the 2022 travellers’ sole obsession seems to be to narcissistically stare at their own image, recording their experience rather than absorbing the sights and sounds of the here and now.

Even if you are unfamiliar with the term ‘vlogging’ or social media influencing, you will instantly recognise those who make it their passion.

There is a generation of fame-hungry wannabe travel correspondents who, despite having never set foot inside a journalism college, believe they are Anthony Bourdain on a global culinary tour, or think deep-dive investigations into the average price of fake Nike T-shirt makes them the next Woodward and Bernstein. Or should that be Woodbine and BeerStain? 

Armed with the latest GoPro camera and selfie stick (fact: the size of the selfie stick increases in proportion to that of its user’s gargantuan ego), no passer-by is safe when the next-gen backpacker is on a recording spree. As we try to wind down with a quiet drink with friends after a busy working day, we increasingly find ourselves having to navigate past these desperate attention-seekers, the vloggers attempting to get their heads into the mobile camera frame as if they are Francis Ford Coppola directing Marlon Brando.

Their real agenda is clear, of course. What they crave is sufficient ‘likes’ and ‘clicks’ to build a fan following large enough to convince shareholders within the tourist industry to promise a lifetime of free travel, free accommodation and free food.

Now don’t misinterpret my disdain. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with promoting this amazing country to a wider audience, and we all love our holiday snaps and videos triggering spectacular memories. But there is a critical difference between capturing the moment for our own enjoyment and posterity — a chance to relive happy times — and the more insidious trend of implying a personal experience is a fair reflection of what it will be like in a country, or particular venue, for all future visitors. Experienced travel writers — trained journalists — understand there is a sense of responsibility to be balanced, fair and, most important of all, accurate with their dispatches. Sadly, these standards are neglected and ignored by the worst vloggers.

Take that famous vlogger ‘Uptin’. Since Việt Nam reopened in April, his most recent clip on our country has attracted an astonishing audience in excess of 1.8 million. The content is generally slick and entertaining, but severely let down by a grasp of basic mathematics so dire one can only presume he is suffering from dyscalculia. 

 Uptin’s currency conversion is inaccurate and damaging. 

In one particular segment, he claims VNĐ2,000 is worth $0.08. That is correct, but then in the very next breath, he calculates that VNĐ20,000 is equivalent to $0.20. Er, no, basic maths mate, $0.08 times ten equals $0.80. 

The American then goes on to say that a bowl of phở, or a bánh mì, will set you back around $1-$1.50, which is correct, but he then makes the outrageously inaccurate claim that the average minimum wage for Vietnamese is $2 a month.

Really? Come on, Uptin. With so many viewers you have a responsibility to be so much better than this. By such mathematics, Vietnamese can only afford to eat two sandwiches each, per month! 

And therein lies the problem. A real, experienced journalist — subject to the most basic editorial standards and control — would not present such nonsense as fact.

Sadly, for content creators obsessively chasing online traffic, the truth appears to be an optional extra. 

In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced first-hand the embarrassing, unpleasant behaviour of many western backpackers.

Although my Vietnamese is pretty poor, in my local bia hơi, I’m often the go-to westerner the staff call upon to help a tourist navigate the menu. Last week, two Tây ba lô, male and female, were ushered my way. I asked what type of food they would like, to which their response was the “cheapest thing on the menu”.

“Clearly they are working to a tight budget,” I thought.

Then, to my disgust, vlog filming began as they tucked into the ONE plate of noodles they had purchased to share, while consuming their own drinks they had brought to the venue. The locals in the bia hơi unwittingly found themselves cast as extras in this cheap couple’s low-budget production.

There was a similar episode the following day. This time two men (one with man-bun, one with beard) splashed out a little bit more and added a few bia hơis to their two plates of mì xào bò. Again, armed with GoPro, they set about creating content of their amazing experience eating a plate of beef noodles. What thrilling viewing. Suffice it to say, Coppola and Martin Scorsese can sleep easy in their beds tonight.

When they came to pay, the bill came to VNĐ14,000 shy of VNĐ200,000. Did they tip? Did they say keep the change? No, of course not. They waited for the server to count out VNĐ14,000 and went on their merry way. 

If you’re not sure how much VNĐ14,000 equates to in western currency, don’t ask Uptin. 

Tipping is hardly compulsory, but here is a free one from me to any vlogger reading this: if you are using a restaurant as a set location while filming staff and customers without permission, some old-fashioned courtesy, good manners and, yes, the occasional leaving behind of change would not go amiss. That VNĐ14,000 means a hell of a lot more to the server than it does to you. ​

I have saved the worst until last. The biggest western backpacker shame was served up courtesy of a young American man and his two Scandinavian female friends. 

When I offered help with their ordering they explained they would like chicken, pork and a beef dish, served with rice. So far, so reasonable. 

I’d left before they had finished only to receive a frantic video call from a friend who works at the bia hơi who duly put the trio on the phone. Screaming and shouting, they claimed they were being ripped off, and more to the point, I was in on the scam.

Their bill came to less than VNĐ250,000 between them, a little over $3 each. Good value for a slap-up meal with drinks on top, you would imagine. Now they were claiming they had no money. One can only presume they thought they were doing the bia hơi a favour by blessing it with their presence and, presumably, social media reach, dining out in a make-believe world in which actually paying for food and service is discretionary.

It’s doubtful these observations will have any effect on the future behaviour of visiting Tây ba lô. Many are lured here because they believe Việt Nam ‘is so cheap’ and therefore ripe for exploitation. 

We welcome tourists. We want tourists. We need tourists. But more than ever post-COVID 19, we also want them to play and pay fair, understanding the needs of, and investing in, our local economy rather than using our bia hơi as a means of fattening those wallets they seem so reluctant to open when here. VNS


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Hà Nội to celebrate Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day




Tourists pose for a photo in front of Po Klong Garai Temple in Phan Rang City, Ninh Thuận Province. VNA/VNS Photos Nguyễn Thành

HÀ NỘI — Hà Nội’s Department of Cultural, Sports and Tourism will organise a special event to highlight the cultural features and tourism potential of the central province of Ninh Thuận on September 30.

Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day 2022 aims to strengthen cooperation between Ninh Thuận Province and Hà Nội in culture and tourism.

It is also expected to introduce the original cultures of the ethnic groups in the province, the provincial tourism products and specialities to both domestic and international friends.

Held by the Victory monument on Đinh Tiên Hoàng Street, Hoàn Kiếm District, Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day 2022 will feature arts programmes showcasing the cultures and traditional arts of ethnic groups from Ninh Thuận Province like Chăm dance. In addition, visitors can play ethnic musical instruments themselves or try special lamb dishes of the province.

The craft of making Bàu Trúc pottery will be part of Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day 2022 in Hà Nội. 

The event also includes booths introducing handicraft products and traditional crafts like making pottery and weaving brocades of the Chăm people in Bàu Trúc and Mỹ Nghiệp Villages.

Another part of the Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day 2022 is the promotion of Ninh Thuận’s tourism via the screening of videos, the introduction of tours and free distribution of handbooks, maps, brochures and postcards to tourists.

The event will also hold a photo exhibition showcasing Ninh Thuận’s tourism, cultural heritages and tourist attractions.

Ninh Thuận Culture-Tourism Day 2022 will conclude on October 2. — VNS



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First nature film festival takes place in Việt Nam




A scene from Il Était Une Forêt, a French film screened at #It’s Time To Act – A Nature Film Festival in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of #It’s Time To Act – Nature Film Festival in Vietnam

HÀ NỘI International and local environmentally themed films are being screened at an environmental film festival organised in Việt Nam for the first time.

Held in response to the UN General Assembly (UNGA)’s Climate Week this year (September 19-25), the film festival, entitled  #It’s Time To Act – A Nature Film Festival in Việt Nam, is coordinated by the Spanish Embassy in Việt Nam with movies from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Peru, Venezuela, Spain, the UK and Việt Nam.

WildAct Vietnam, a wildlife conservation organisation, is the organisational partner of the first edition of this festival, joined by Vietnam Film Development Association, the Delegation of EU to Việt Nam and nine environmental organisations from Việt Nam.

The festival will be showing 17 feature films, documentaries, and short films with subtitles in Vietnamese. Many film screenings will be free for the public and in a hybrid format (both online & offline) at more than five venues in Hà Nội and HCM City.

The venues are: The National Cinema Centre, National Documentary Film Studio, University of Hanoi, Casa Italia, Goethe Institute and ƯƠM Arthub.

Spanish Ambassador to Vietnam María Del Pilar Méndez Jiménez said: “It is always a Spanish priority to be a bridge bringing together countries and peoples in favour of global public goods.

“As the coordinator of #It’s Time To Act – A Nature Film Festival in Vietnam, we are very honoured to work together with institutions, civil society, individuals and the environmental community of 14 countries across three continents, with the common intention of fostering international cooperation in raising awareness around what a sustainable future looks like, to pool one message: Only One Earth”.

Dr Oriol Solà Pardell, Secretary, Administrative, Consular and Cultural Affairs of Embassy of Spain, coordinator of the festival, is confident that the film festival will inspire audiences to protect and preserve Nature, and that the festival is an international effort to bring Hope to Nature.

“Let’s save the future,” he said.

Dr Trang Nguyễn, founder of WildAct Vietnam, said the festival will leave an impact among the young audience:

She said: “Documentaries may serve as an increasingly important tool for engaging people in conservation efforts, as outdoor experiences become less common in human’s lifestyle.

“Scientific evidence has shown that nature documentaries increase sensitivity to the species portrayed, increase environmental citizenship, increase support for conservation organisations, and generate positive attitudes and social norms that can support policy change.

“This film festival is a wonderful opportunity for the Vietnamese citizens to celebrate, connect and most importantly, act for nature.”

The film screening schedule, ticket registration and introduction about each film can be found on or VNS


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Yên Bái hosts ceremony to receive UNESCO certificate on Xòe Thái dance



YÊN BÁI — A ceremony to receive the UNESCO certificate of recognition of Xòe Thái art as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was held on September 24 in Nghĩa Lộ Town, Yên Bái Province. 

Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, speaking on behalf of leaders of the Party and State, congratulated the authorities and people of ethnic groups in Yên Bái, Sơn La, Lai Châu, and Điện Biên on the recognition of Xòe Thái art as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during his remarks at the celebrations.

Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính and delegates joined in the Xòe Thái dance at the ceremony. VNA/VNS Photo Dương Giang

The Prime Minister has expressed his belief that the recognition of Xòe Thái as Việt Nam’s 14th heritage inscribed by UNESCO is a moment of great pride for the Thái people and the community of the country’s 54 ethnic groups.

PM Chính praised generations of folk artists and the Thái ethnic community for their tremendous efforts to conserve this priceless cultural heritage.

He also thanked and praised the efforts of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the National Council for Cultural Legacy, other relevant ministries, agencies, and localities, collectors, and researchers to preserve and promote Xòe Thái art and Việt Nam’s cultural heritage.

The Prime Minister expressed his hope that UNESCO’s Representative Office and Christian Manhart, UNESCO’s Chief Representative, would continue to provide Việt Nam with close cooperation and effective help to ensure that the country’s cultural values are widely disseminated and in tune with the cultural quintessence of humanity.

To continue to create new vitality, spread, and strongly inspire the value of Xòe Thái art, the Prime Minister suggested that the authority, people, and Thái community in the Northwest provinces, as well as the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, work cooperatively to effectively implement the “National Action Programme to protect and promote the value of the intangible cultural heritage of Xòe Thái art” in accordance with the commitment to UNESCO.

“Let us do it with enthusiasm, with heart, with pride, with inner strength, so that the lyrics and music of Xòe khăn, Xòe nón, Xòe quạt, Xòe sạp, Xòe gậy, Xòe hoa,[ Xòe dancing using various props such as scarves, hats] continue to be nurtured, developed, and spread throughout the community of ethnic groups,” he said.

According to PM Chính, the noble and beautiful value of Xòe Thái art should be protected and promoted internationally as well as domestically. Therefore, it is vital to recognise that this is the representative intangible cultural legacy of humanity and take appropriate action.

“Xòe Thái represents the convergence of cultural beauty, therefore, promoting Xòe Thái is our shared responsibility,” he added.

The Prime Minister suggested expanding studies and coming up with concrete plans to protect and enhance ethnic groups’ and Xòe Thái’s identity and customs in socio-economic growth and tourism development.

He urged everyone to take steps to improve the lives of skilled artisans who are committed to preserving the heritage while also making it easier for people to experience and perform Xòe Thái in light of the country’s new development conditions. 

At the ceremony, Pauline Tamesis, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Việt Nam, presented the UNESCO certificate recognising Xòe Thái art as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity to the representative of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, as well as leaders of the People’s Committees of the provinces of Yên Bái, Sơn La, Lai Châu, and Điện Biên.

Tamesis offered congratulations for this significant event and wished that the Thái community and Vietnamese people would continue to maintain, promote, and disseminate the significance of Xòe Thái art, while also contributing more to UNESCO’s activities and human culture.

Hoàng Đạo Cương, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, receives the UNESCO certificate of registration for the art of Xòe Thái from Pauline Tamesis, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Việt Nam. VNA/VNS Photo Dương Giang

Following the UNESCO certification ceremony, attendees were able to enter the art space and experience the local distinctive culture through an art programme centred on the theme “Xòe Thái – Essence of the heritage region.”

Artists from Yên Bái, Sơn La, and Lai Châu all participated in the beautifully staged art programme, which featured dancing, singing, and performing arts acts of Xòe Thái.

The programme ended with the performance “The quintessence of Xoè art,” which brought together traditional folklore values that have become the heritage of the Thái people in the Northwest, with the involvement of more than 2,000 artisans and performers. VNS


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