Vietnam is undergoing a revolution of a different kind-more and more elderly people with time on their hands are discovering, perhaps for the first time, the joys of travel.
On a recent bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang I was flabbergasted to see that the coach was half full not of teenage Western backpackers, but elderly Vietnamese, many of whom were over 60 I later discovered.
Many of the greying holiday makers were accompanied by their grandchildren, some were travelling with their life-long partners, but more than a few of these adventure-seekers were on their own – perhaps for the first time in their life. Nguyen Van Quy and his wife, who reside in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, have been planning their trip to the beach for months.
“Both of us used to be teachers. We earned a meagre salary,” Quy said. “When we retired, my children were just getting married. Then we had to help with looking after their children. We had no time for ourselves. We are now both 63. For the first time we are able to travel on our own, on a trip paid for by our children.”
And they are not alone. According to travel agencies throughout the country, over the last two years more and more elderly people are finding the time to go on holiday and see the country of their birthplace. Some are even venturing overseas. Ha Van Minh, 68, and his wife, Le Thi Bich Lieu, from Bien Hoa City, booked a tour to visit the revered Ganges and many temples in India.
“We both joined a yoga club near my house,” Lieu said. “After a long time, we decided that it would be nice to see the rest of the world.” Their dreams did not come cheap. They or their children had to pay about VND50 million (USD2,500). But they say the experience was worth it.
“We feel happier and stronger, 10 years younger,” they say excitedly. Lieu can barely contain her excitement when reliving her time in India. She said she rode an elephant for the first time. The Madurai Temple was enchanting, and bathing in the Ganges “magical”. Meanwhile, Tran Van Hien and Thai Thi My from the southern province of Long An, left their farm in the hands of their son while they went travelling.
They spent two weeks in Cambodia. Bitten by the travel bug, they are now planning a trip to Melbourne. “I am told that the scenery there in summer is wonderful,” Hien said, beaming. “I have to take my wife there before we die.” However, sometimes the children are not too keen on their parents straying too far. Hien said her daughter was opposed to her travel plans. “Look at the people around us. They are all saving money to buy land. No one sells land to travel.”
But when they returned, Hien said her daughter was delighted to see how well she looked. “This time, ahead of our trip to Melbourne, they were very supportive. They even insisted we have a health check first,” Hien said. Health consultant Hoang Duong, from the Hoang Nhan Psychology Consulting Centre, said it was quite normal to see more and more elderly people travel as they become more prosperous. “I think this is an encouraging trend,” he said. “Travelling helps to broaden the mind. It\’s healthy and invigorating.”
Lua Viet and Saigontourist were among the first travel agencies to respond to this growing trend. Nguyen Chung Thuy, from the Lua Viet travel agency, told Vietnam News that her firm first started offering tours to the elderly in 1999 – mainly as a perk to the company\’s staff on its anniversary. She said her firm now offers tailor-made tours for the elderly. “For such a tour, our company chooses specially selected guides. Doctors also accompanythe holiday-makers,” she said. “Normally, the tour group consists of no more than 25 travellers. That means the schedule is not too busy. We have to pay attention to the small details. Car trips, for example, should not be longer than three hours. Also too much walking should not be involved. We are also careful with the food. Meals should be soft and easily digestible. Hotels should also have lifts.”
Tran Thi Nhan and her friend, Nguyen Thi Thuc, who are nearing 90, have been going on annual holidays for the last 10 years. “I have travelled throughout the south with Lua Viet,” said Nhan. “Their tours are well-organised. A doctor travels with us. The guides are also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.” Nhan said the director of Lua Viet even sometimes gives piggyback rides to holidaymakers when they are tired.
Nguyen Thanh Tra, who works for Saigontourist, said her firm had also seen growing numbers of elderly holidaymakers booking tours in the last few years. She said about 10,000 elderly travellers used her firm last year – a 20 percent increase on the previous year.
She also said the company had begun to offer tours to more distant locations for the more adventurous tourist, such as holidays to Beijing, Seoul and Europe – particularly in autumn. Domestically, she said old favourites such as Nha Trang, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Phan Thiet and tours to Con Dao, Hue and Lam Dong were as popular as ever. But she said no matter how exotic the destination, travellers always enjoyed coming home. “I guess, home is where the heart is, she said.