Year of the Cat Q&A with the Vietnam Coracle Team

Year of the Cat: Q&A with the Coracle Team

First published January 2023 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle Team

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy Lunar New Year! It’s the Year of the Cat in Vietnam and we kick it off with a question and answer session with each member of the Vietnam Coracle team. As you may know, last year (the Year of the Tiger) I started publishing articles by contributing writers for the first time since I started Vietnam Coracle 10 years ago. Having already written my own year-end review, the Lunar New Year presents a good chance to find out what the rest of the people who work on this site think and feel about the previous year and the coming one.

Year of the Cat Q&A with the Vietnam Coracle Team
The various Vietnam adventures of the Coracle team over the last 12 months

[Back Top]


The Vietnam Coracle Team Greets the Lunar New Year

I put the same four questions to each member of the Vietnam Coracle team, including the option to create their own, unique fifth question. My questions focus on Vietnam, travel, writing and the Lunar New Year (the Year of the Cat). For fairness, I’ve published their answers in the order in which they were submitted to me. You can read the full profiles of each team member on the Meet the Writers page and browse all their published content on Vietnam Coracle so far on the Contributing Writers Homepage.

Selected Resources What’s this?

*Personal note: I’d like to express my thanks to everyone who works on this site and how much I enjoy working together: I find it exciting, rewarding and fulfilling to hear your ideas, see them develop and ultimately become a reality. But, more than that, it’s a pleasure spending time with you. So, thank you (in alphabetical order) Ben, Biên, Josh, Luke, Patrick and Thảo. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Tom


1. Luke Digweed

2. Thảo Phan

3. Biên Nguyên

4. Patrick Scott

5. Josh Zukas

6. Ben Knight

Related Posts

Support Vietnam Coracle
Please make a donation or become a patron if you enjoy this website. Vietnam Coracle is totally free & independent. I never receive payment for anything I write.
Thank you,

Vietnam Coracle logo

[Back to Contents]

Selected Resources What’s this?

Luke Digweed

Luke Digweed, Vietnam Coracle Staff Writer

Luke has been living in Vietnam since 2011, mostly in Huế but also in Đà Nẵng & Sài Gòn. While living in Huế, he ran the Huế Grit Tour & co-organized events & small concerts between 2017-2020. His most recent ongoing project is Festivals of Vietnam which documents ceremonies, rituals & processions around the country….read more about Luke

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“Over the summer, my partner and I spent a month living in Quy Nhơn; longer than a holiday and shorter than permanent residence. I forged new friendships, ate some new food and visited some new locations; some of which appeared in my Quy Nhơn food guide. My friend and I also made it to Móng Cái, a road trip that was originally planned in 2019 but kept getting pushed back due to both personal and global events. Móng Cái, a large city that borders China, had an air of mystery about it when we first read about it. Despite the northeast region having a negative reputation in Vietnam, we were surprised to find affluent cities in Hạ Long and Hải Phòng; templates for the new middle-class lifestyle that the majority of the country aspires towards.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“Ultimately, Vietnam continues to grow and evolve; which is in contrast to my home country (the UK). International tourism has yet to return to its pre-pandemic levels, mostly due to world events and the Chinese borders remaining closed until very recently. While some areas of the local economy have suffered, it’s given the environment a moment of reprieve. These past few years have also made walking around some previously crowded places, like Hoi An, more pleasant. However, one problem that remains is that tourism visas are still limited to one month. At best, this stifles the stay of people who abuse the tourist visa; at worst, it limits the amount of time people can explore the country before having to do a ‘visa run’. In a positive way, a lot of outdated businesses that previously survived on the expenditure of naïve tourists, have died a painful death. In their place have come businesses that have had to capture a domestic and more modern consumer. Huế tourism area is a great case study of this. A lot of new businesses have come in the past few years, aiming at capturing a young, local audience. This has rejuvenated the area which once only attracted foreign tourists and hawkers. It’s vibrant and feels like it belongs to Huế, rather than tourism. I’m optimistic it will stay like this even as international tourism numbers increase.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“I plan to spend most of this year studying, so there aren’t any ambitious travel plans. My partner and I have mentioned some national parks in South-East Asia we’d like to visit, but nothing concrete yet. There will be some field trips for Festivals of Vietnam scattered throughout the year, and I also want to commit to a month in Đà Lạt this summer. I guess my most anticipated travel plan is really in the next answer….”

4. Tell us about one article idea for Vietnam Coracle that you look forward to researching and writing in the new year?

“I want to hitchhike in Vietnam and journal it – the unpredictability, the vulnerability, the hospitality, the humanity. I look forward to the challenge this presents.”

5. Create your own question: ‘If you could give one piece of advice to someone visiting Vietnam In 2023, what would it be?’

“Every region in Vietnam has different specialty dishes. Find out what they are, choose a couple and hunt them down. If someone offers to show you some local cuisine, don’t turn it down. Eat independent; avoid chains. Some comfort food is ok (we all do it), but don’t ever go to the same place twice, even if their English breakfast was great.”

Celebrating Vesak 'Buddha Day', Hue, Vietnam, 2022
Celebrating Vesak ‘Buddha Day’ in Huế

Tết Trung Thu, Mid Autumn Festival, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tết Trung Thu (Mid Autumn Festival) in Chợ Lớn (Chinatown), Sài Gòn, Ho Chi Minh City

Cooking bánh xèo savoury  pancakes, Quy Nhon, Vietnam
Cooking bánh xèo on the streetside in Quy Nhơn

[Back to Contents]

Thảo Phan

Thảo Phan, Contributing Writer at Vietnam Coracle

Thảo is currently running TP Garden, an urban garden business in Hồ Chí Minh City, where her passions & values come together to create a healthy community & cleaner environment. Originally from Biên Hoa City, in Đồng Nai Province, she’s spent most of her adult life living in Sài Gòn, although she’d much rather be in the countryside surrounded by trees & flowers….read more about Thảo

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“Unlike the first half of 2022, the second half of the year was filled with pure joys, unforgettable moments and unique experiences while travelling with my closest friends – from witnessing breathtaking dramatic landscapes of Dồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark in Hà Giang to the charming scenery of Cao Bằng (Bản Giốc Waterfall is utterly beautiful), from hiking in Côn Đảo National Park followed by swimming in the sea to camping in the pine forests near Đà Lạt. It’s hard for me to pick the most memorable travel experience among these, but if I have to choose one then it must be my very first trip to Côn Đảo Islands with Tom in June, 2022. There were many personal reasons why this travel event meant a lot to me: to resume travelling after two years under Covid restrictions and work pressure, to mentally recover myself after the loss of a close friend, to celebrate Tom’s birthday as well as the 10-year anniversary of Vietnam Coracle and of our friendship, and last but not least, to finally set foot on this historical and sacred place where part of my grandfather’s untold story was revealed.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“Even though the fourth wave of Covid and the accompanying restrictions have been lifted since October 2021, and life has been pretty much back to pre-Covid ‘normal’, the country’s economy has been very slow to recover as a result of many businesses closing during the pandemic. The last quarter of 2022 also witnessed the layoffs of many blue-collar workers due to the reduction of export orders as well as the higher input costs for production (especially increased costs for oil and gas). Despite the not so promising picture for the economy as a whole, post-pandemic domestic travel in 2022 increased significantly and is expected to continue growing in 2023. Several destinations in Vietnam earned prestigious titles at the World Travel Awards, such as Phú Quốc Island, and the government promises to apply a ‘friendlier’ visa policy. In addition, China has recently reopened its borders after ceasing its zero Covid policy (Chinese made up 1/3 of foreign tourists in Vietnam pre-pandemic). Based on this, I think the country will attract more international travellers in the Year of the Cat and will reach its target of 8 million foreign tourists in 2023.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“Coincidentally I was born in the Year of Cat (1987) and 2023 happens to be the year I set out for an ambitious goal which will fulfil both my professional and personal interests. As my business in urban gardening services grows, my yearning for travelling to ‘green zones’ in Vietnam and connecting with people who work or share the same values in regenerative farming and sustainable living has become stronger. Thus, I plan to travel to as many ‘green zones’ in Vietnam as I can and build a ‘green’ community as I go.”

4. Tell us about one article idea for Vietnam Coracle that you look forward to researching and writing in the new year?

“In relation to my answer to the previous question, I would love to write a guide about the green places I will visit across the country, and thus offer both local and international travellers a different way of travelling and living: low-cost and low-impact on the environment. More importantly, travellers will get to experience new places and interact with interesting people in an authentic way.”

5. Create your own question: ‘What is the most important life lesson you learned in 2022 and how are you going to apply it in 2023 to create a meaningful life?’

“I love spending time with my close friends and like-minded people just as much as I crave for alone time doing things I am passionate about. I used to want to escape the crowd to pursue a life of solitude in nature. However, the pandemic lockdowns and the loss of a dear friend have taught me to value the moments I can spend with my loved ones. I would like to engage with the people close to me in as many shared interests as possible and as often as I can. Meanwhile, I can still travel and spend time alone in nature without neglecting the people I know and love.”

A bowl of noodles on the Ma Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang
A bowl of noodles on Mã Pí Lèng Pass looking over the Nho Quế River in Hà Giang

Dam Tre Bay, Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
Outside a ranger station with Tom at the end of the Đầm Tre Bay hike on Côn Sơn Island

Camping in the pine forests near Dalat, Vietnam
Preparing breakfast at dawn camping with Tom, Gydion & Ben in the pine forests near Đà Lạt

[Back to Contents]

Biên Nguyên

Biên Nguyên, Contributing Writer at Vietnam Coracle

Biên was born & raised in Hanoi, where he works as a Service Learning Officer at the United Nations International School (UNIS). In addition, he’s a co-owner of Bancông Cafe in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Outside the office, he considers himself an environmental activist, a runner, a traveller & an amateur photographer….read more about Biên

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“During the Year of the Tiger, I was partly excited about Vietnam opening its doors to the world after the pandemic and partly nervous to think about how I would plan my life. I travelled to Đà Nẵng and Hội An in April, the same time Vietnam welcomed the first groups of tourists to the country. Talking to some of them made me feel happy and relieved for Vietnam’s tourism industry and for everyone who has been waiting for the day they could visit our beautiful land. Hội An has never been my favourite place, but I had a great time on this trip since I had the chance to see one of my best friends who lives there and spend time with her and other friends. I also reconnected with my cousin who I hadn’t seen for a long time. That Hội An trip was one of healing and reconnecting for me. Being taken to some amazing local places for food and drinks; getting introduced to a number of interesting and talented people who have been making Hội An so special, I started to change my mind about the town. It’s not only a pretty place for Instagram, but also a land for people looking for a refuge where they can live and put their souls in it.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“Seeing a dramatic change in Vietnam since April 2022, I reckon the country’s economy will fully recover in the Year of the Cat, especially tourism, which suffered the most over the pandemic. It’s not difficult to notice the large number of tourists coming into the country every day now and the flights are always fully booked.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“I was excited to be able to travel abroad again since the borders are all open now. However, I will plan for some adventures in Vietnam this year: caving in Phong Nha, more motorbike trips to the northern mountains or Central Highlands, visiting places I haven’t been to, like the Côn Đảo Islands or Nam Cát Tiên National Park, are some of the things I would like to do in the Year of the Cat.”

4. Tell us about one article idea for Vietnam Coracle that you look forward to researching and writing in the new year?

“Living in a capital city like Hà Nội (I normally call it a big village) which is extremely lively and has tons of interesting things happening constantly, it’s been hard to pick just a few things to talk or write about it. I like exploring new places for eating or drinking coffee, and sometimes checking out arts and music events. Hà Nội has its own charms in terms of culture and architecture, yet I think it’s the people who live here that actually make it special. I haven’t had much time to write for Vietnam Coracle, and one of my resolutions for the Year of the Cat is that I will focus on featuring some humans of Hà Nội who have been working hard to make Hà Nôi more charming and welcoming to travellers.”

Saigon bar reunion with friends
Reunion with friends at a bar in Sài Gòn (Ho Chi Minh City)

Cat Ba Ecolodge, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
At an ecolodge on Cát Bà Island

Working in the rice fields of Mai Châu, Vietnam
In the rice fields of Mai Châu on a work trip to help build dams & roads

[Back to Contents]

Patrick Scott

Patrick Scott, Contributing Writer at Vietnam Coracle

Patrick is a travel writer & former New York Times editor. Before venturing to Southeast Asia in 2018, he was based for two years each in New York, London & Cairo. His travel stories have appeared in publications including The New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, ESPN & Outdoor Swimmer. As well as writing, he is a teacher & a swimmer….read more about Patrick

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“A motorbike sidetour on the Hà Giang Loop to our guide’s H’mong village called Xà Lủng B, high up in the karst-studded slopes near the China border, between Tam Sơn and Đồng Văn. Inside his wood-plank home, one of about 30 in the settlement sustained in part by the attached pig pens and corn liquor stills, he served us a delicious lunch of green beans, cabbage and rice. But the real treat was the flute. Our guide, Cay, had made it from bamboo, and he fluidly played a haunting tune about a boy longing for a girl whose family won’t let them date. After taking photos with his family, we gingerly negotiated the narrow path’s hairpin turns leading to a valley below and continued our adventure.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“Vietnam would be in better shape tourism-wise if it replaced e-visas with visas on arrival. The site is finicky about photo sizes, and approval can take nearly a week if you don’t apply on Monday or Tuesday. One of Vietnam’s strengths is the domestic airline sector that makes flights abundant, easy and cheap. If Vietnam streamlines its visa policy, things should look good for tourism in the Year of the Cat.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“Hopefully tagging along with a cleft pallet and lip surgical mission in the fall to Quy Nhơn. The International team of nurses and doctors is hoping to resume the missions, on hold during Covid, but is encountering government approval snafus.”

4. Tell us about one article idea for Vietnam Coracle that you look forward to researching and writing in the new year?

“My next piece will introduce readers to one of the coolest, and few, upscale accommodations in Hà Giang, the H’mong Village Resort, sprawling over two hillsides and featuring two-story units shaped like hill tribe carrying baskets.”

5. Create your own question: What’s the best website for booking transportation in Vietnam?

“I tell everyone this:

With Hmong women in Ha Giang, Vietnam
In Hà Giang after helping H’mong women carry their bushels of green beans

In Hue, Vietnam
With my wife, Susan, in Huế

On the Ma Pi Leng Pass, Ha Giang
With my daughters & son-in-law on the Mã Pí Lèng Pass in Hà Giang

[Back to Contents]

Josh Zukas

Josh Zukas, Contributing Writer, Vietnam Coracle

Josh is a freelance writer whose body of work focuses primarily on travel & architecture. He covers Vietnam for Lonely Planet, CNN Create, Ink Global & many of Asia’s top inflight magazines. His architecture & design stories have appeared in The Economist, Wallpaper*, Interior Design Magazine, Icon & Frame. He holds an MSc in sustainable tourism….read more about Josh

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“Although I spent most of the Year of the Tiger in Scotland completing a master’s in sustainable tourism, I was lucky enough to update some chapters for the next edition of Lonely Planet Vietnam. This led to a month-long research trip through the northern mountains by motorbike in October – probably the best time to visit. It was a real privilege to put my stamp on the popular guidebook series. I was able to make some much-needed updates on fast-changing provinces (like Hà Giang), as well as include some new destinations that Lonely Planet hasn’t yet featured (like Mù Cang Chải and Pù Luông). I also got to chat with some inspiring people who are developing bold and innovative tourism initiatives in Vietnam. But perhaps the most rewarding part of the experience was the opportunity to inject some of what I learnt about tourism and sustainability into the pages of the guidebook. It will be published later this year.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“This is a little tricky to answer as I haven’t spent much time in Vietnam recently, so I don’t have my ear to the ground. But my sense is that the chaos of the last three years has done little to temper the tenacity of Vietnamese tourism. The industry will boom again – and soon, at least in the short term. I’m no expert in geopolitics, but I imagine that other global issues – such as war in Ukraine and China’s growing assertiveness towards Taiwan – will have a greater medium-term impact on tourism in Vietnam. It’s worth remembering that most visitors to the country aren’t from Western nations. Indeed, in 2019, China was Vietnam’s largest tourist source market; Taiwan and Russia were its fourth and sixth largest respectively. Long and drawn-out wars involving these countries, which, combined, supply Vietnam with over a third of its international visitors, will have an enormous impact.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“I’m most looking forward to spending a month or so in Huế as soon as the city warms up and dries out (usually around March). I’m in need of a break, and there’s no better place to relax than the leafy, storied, friendly city of Huế.”

4. Tell us about one article idea for Vietnam Coracle that you look forward to researching and writing in the new year?

“A few months ago, Tom asked if I’d be interested in writing about perceptions of the Vietnamese countryside. Like him, I’m British, which means I’ve grown up with very particular ideas about what makes an attractive rural landscape. In the UK, we look at rolling, farmed, deforested hills and think they’re beautiful; in Vietnam, we see deforestation as grotesque. Why? I look forward to exploring this for Vietnam Coracle later in the year.”

The picturesque rice terraces of Mù Cang Chải, Vietnam
The picturesque rice terraces of Mù Cang Chải

Research road trip in the northern mountains, Vietnam
On a research road trip for the new Lonely Planet Vietnam guidebook in the northern mountains

A homestay at night in the northern mountains, Vietnam
A homestay at night in the northern mountains

[Back to Contents]

Ben Knight

Ben Knight, Technology Manager at Vietnam Coracle

Ben grew up in the US but now lives in Vietnam, based in Saigon. He loves exploring remote corners of the country on two wheels and studying its unique language, culture, food, and history. Ben manages all technology for Vietnam Coracle….read more about Ben

1. What was your most memorable travel experience last year (the Year of the Tiger) in Vietnam?

“I was out of the country until late June, and then my visa situation required me to travel internationally every 30 days, so I only ventured beyond Sài Gòn three times: to Hà Nội and Pù Luông in October, Vũng Tàu in November, and Đà Lạt in December. Of these, the most memorable trip was Pù Luông because I was fortunate to visit during the cool and sunny autumn season and because it was the only place that was new to me. What impressed me most about this destination was how much it retained its unspoiled rural charm and resisted the commercialization and mass tourism that has affected many other destinations in Vietnam.”

2. As we enter the Year of the Cat, what kind of shape do you think Vietnam is in post-pandemic, both generally and with regards to travel?

“Economically, post-pandemic Vietnam is booming. From my perspective, the pace of development has even accelerated in affluent areas like Thảo Điền in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City. In 2023 it will be interesting to see if this trend continues or if the global economic downturn will start to take its toll here as well. Travel-wise, one noticeable difference is that the industry is now heavily dominated by domestic tourism, with destinations like Đà Lạt booming while other destinations more dependent on international tourists, such as Nha Trang, are having a slower or even static recovery. This year I predict international tourist numbers will continue to rebound especially with the likely rollout of a new visa policy to make Vietnam competitive again in the region.”

3. What is your most anticipated travel plan in Vietnam for the Year of the Cat?

“My goal this year is to explore some places I’ve never been – Sơn Trà, Nghệ An, Tam Kỳ, Bến Tre – as well as visit some places I’ve only visited once but felt I could have spent more time – Phong Nha, Hội An, Cao Bằng.”

4. Tell us about one idea for Vietnam Coracle (technological or content-based) that you look forward to researching/implementing/writing in the new year?

“My hope is that Vietnam Coracle remains true to its roots by continuing to pioneer new off-the-beaten-path travel experiences in Vietnam, while also updating guides for key destinations such as Hà Giang, Phú Quốc and Phong Nha. In order to maintain the site’s quality and independence, a major goal must be to find ways to generate a stable and reliable income from the website without compromising its integrity. This is necessary as a means to continue to produce such a valuable resource and one which encourages more people to seek out self-guided, independent, authentic and ideally sustainable travel experiences as an alternative to package tours, which itself is a means of counteracting the mass commercialization of Vietnam leading to the loss of heritage, culture, and the natural environment.”

5. Create your own question: What was your most memorable Vietnamese food experience in 2022?

“Chả cá Lã Vọng at Thăng Long restaurant in Hanoi”

Homestay in Pù Luông Nature Reserve, Vietnam
Homestay-hopping in Pù Luông Nature Reserve

Chả Cá Lã Vọng at Thăng Long Restaurant, Hanoi
Chả cá Lã Vọng at Thăng Long Restaurant in Hà Nội

Homestay in Pù Luông Nature Reserve, Vietnam
Bản Hiêu homestay in Pù Luông Nature Reserve

*Disclosure: All content on Vietnam Coracle is free to read and independently produced. I asked the Vietnam Coracle team these questions because I’m interested in their responses & I want my readers to know more about the contributing writers on this website. For more details, see the Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and About Page


Leave a Comment

Questions, updates and trip reports are all welcome. However, please keep comments polite and on-topic. See commenting etiquette for details.