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Vietnamese actress shines in new Spike Lee trailer


“Black GI, is it fair to serve more than the white Americans that sent you here?” the Vietnamese actress, playing an ao dai clad Hanoi Hannah, asks in “Da 5 Bloods” trailer sneak peek.

Ngo Thanh Van, or Veronica Ngo, could not hide her excitement after sharing the trailer on her Facebook page.

“I like it! This is a Spike Lee movie about the Vietnam War,” she said, adding she is proud to play Trinh Thi Ngo, or Hanoi Hannah, who used her voice to convince American soldiers to leave the battlefield in Vietnam and return home. Van had spent three months speaking with a northern Vietnamese accent to prepare for her role.

Ngo Thanh Van as Hanoi Hannah in Da 5 Bloods trailer. 

Ngo Thanh Van as Hanoi Hannah in “Da 5 Bloods” trailer. 

With the Chambers Brothers’ hit “Time Has Come Today” as theme song, the trailer includes vintage footage of Vietnam War protests and U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

“Da 5 Bloods” depicts four veterans, including Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), returning to Vietnam searching for the remains of their fallen squad leader with help from a tour guide (Johnny Tri Nguyen), amid the lure of buried treasure.

Battling forces of humanity and nature, they are confronted by the eternal ravages of the Vietnam War. The movie was filmed in Vietnam last summer.

Spike Lee is well-known for his directorial work in “Do The Right Thing” [1989], “Jungle Fever” [1991], “Malcolm X” [1992], “He Got Game” [1998], and especially “BlacKkKlansman” [2018], which earned him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Ngo Thanh Van is an A-list Vietnamese actress and producer, appearing in Hollywood films like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” [2017], “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” [2016], and upcoming American superhero film “The Old Guard.”

“Da 5 Bloods” will be available on Netflix starting June 12. It was originally meant to premiere at Cannes Film Festival, but the Covid-19 pandemic ruled out the plan.



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Sea worms scare visitors to Vung Tau beach


Vung Tau Town in the southern province of Ba-Ria Vung Tau is a highly popular beach destination and its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City draws big crowds.

On Monday afternoon, Le Tien decided to go swimming at Bai Sau beach with his friend. After about 10 minutes, he experienced a stinging sensation to his forehead and stomach. Soon it began itching. Looking around for the culprit, Tien saw two sea worms swimming and immediately got out of the water. Although he developed no rash, it continued being itchy, Tien said.

“They have appeared a lot in recent days,” he said. As a local, Tien knows these creatures quite well.

“The sea worms bear many tiny bristles that are slightly toxic and cause itchiness when people come into contact with them. But it can be fixed with some cream sold in local drugstores,” he said.

On the five-kilometer long beach, many thumb-sized sea worms have washed ashore, concerning many tourists.

Sea worms can cause itchiness when people come into contact with them. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

Sea worms can cause itchiness when people come into contact with them. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

“I come here every year for our vacation but this is the first time I’ve seen these sea worms here,” said Nguyen Thi Thuy Trang from Tien Giang Province.

While eight of her family members went for a swim, she stayed ashore and watched over three grandkids, telling them not to swim in the sea because their skin was sensitive and could be easily affected by the worms.

However, not everyone was worried or scared. Le Thanh Trung from HCMC and his brother used a plastic shovel to put dozens of sea worms into a bucket and played with them.

“I’m not afraid of them, just need to avoid them when you swim and you will be fine,” Trung said.

Sea worms in Bai Sau sea of Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Truong Ha.

Sea worms in Bai Sau beach of Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Truong Ha.

Pham Khac To, director of the Vung Tau Tourism Management Board, said these sea worms usually appear on the beaches every May.

“If you have contact with them, you should not scratch because it may cause infection. Just rub lime or soap on the area to ease the itch,” To said.

The Vung Tau Tourism Center is yet to record any cases that need help due to the sea worms. Its medical team says the worm’s toxins can cause allergic reactions, but do not cause serious harm.

Video minh họa tin sâu biển Vũng Tàu



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Vietnam reopens exclusive tours to world’s largest cave complex


Oxalis, the only private company licensed to explore and conduct tours of Son Doong, was allowed to reopen its services starting May 15 as the Covid-19 situation improved in Vietnam.

Earlier, local authorities had closed all tourist destinations in the central province, dubbed ‘Kingdom of Caves’ in Vietnam.

Registration for Son Doong tours, organized between June and August this year, have to be made well in advance since stringent restrictions have been placed in order to preserve the complex’s ecosystem. Around 240 slots are available for the rest of 2020, according to Oxalis.

A four-day expedition that departs this year costs only $2,500 per person, down 16.6 percent from the previous price of $3,000. Buses can be taken from Hanoi to Dong Hoi, capital of Quang Binh, and from there to the park.

Nguyen Chau A, CEO of Oxalis, said the firm, with about 500 employees, focuses exclusively on adventure tours to explore caves in Quang Binh.

“We have done very well in the past years, with 20 percent (of our customers) being Vietnamese and the rest international visitors, with the biggest market being the U.S. With Quang Binh closing all tourist destinations in March, we refunded up to VND40 billion ($1.73 million) to customers,” he said.

Now, for tours booked from May 15 to December 31, visitors will receive a discount of 20 percent on the itinerary for the En, Hang Va, Tu Lan and Tien caves in the province.

Son Doong opened to tourists in 2013. It comprises at least 150 individual caves, a dense subterranean jungle and several underground rivers. British magazine Conde Nast Traveler has named Son Doong one of seven must-explore wonders of 2020.

Vietnam has eased its social distancing restrictions since April 23 and its popular tourist destinations have reopened after a prolonged shutdown.

The country received 3.7 million foreign visitors in Jan-April, a 38 percent drop year-on-year, as a direct impact of the pandemic. Tourism revenues dropped 45 percent to VND7.9 trillion ($337 million).

With international flights and foreigners’ entry remaining suspended except for special cases, local businesses are focusing on boosting domestic tourism.

According to a survey on post Covid-19 travel trends, carried out by VnExpress, which polled 1,700 Vietnamese respondents, nearly 86 percent of survey respondents said they were making travel plans for this year as the pandemic situation improves.

With no new case Tuesday morning, Vietnam began day 33 without any community transmission of the Covid-19 virus. The nation’s count of active coronavirus infections is 61 as 263 have recovered after treatment.



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Hanoi home a cut apart




A leaning roof, warm interior reflect modern, capital design of a Hanoi house.

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Australian artist drawn to Hoi An paints its charms


Her favorite piece is the drawing of Tuat, a vendor downtown selling banh can, which is made with rice flour and eggs. The steamed cakes come with a lot of toppings to choose from. Tuat later moved her stall out of the town’s center as tourism boomed while she only wanted to focus on serving locals.

“Every time I have the opportunity to visit Tuat’s new place, I am very discreet, never taking anyone with me. I always sketched her portraits but she never smiled at me. Perhaps because I am a foreigner and my Vietnamese is very bad. But I still really like the steamed cake flavor here.”



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Luck out at Lak Lake, pulse of the Central Highlands


I headed to Dak Lak Province, a pepper, cashew and coffee growing hub in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, from its neighboring province Dak Nong at 7 a.m, via National Highway 14.

The road was engulfed in blooming wild sunflowers, set against a backdrop of pine trees. Lost in the mesmerizing beauty, I drove until 7 p.m., spending much longer than expected on the 122 km journey.

As I arrived in Buon Ma Thuot, capital of Dak Lak, I was stunned by its prosperity, boasting tall buildings, bustling streets and dense traffic. How could the town be this prosperous, with Dak Lak not a particularly wealthy province?

Arriving at The Highland House, with its cafe regularly frequented by local artists, I took a well-deserved rest to prepare for the next day’s Lak Lake experience.

Lak Lake is the second largest freshwater body in Vietnam after Ba Be Lake in the north. It is surrounded by tall mountains and vast natural forests. The area around the lake is home to ethnic M’Nong, who operate elephant-rides through the shallows.

The next day, I had an early breakfast with my Dak Lak tour guide and photographer friend Doan Xuan Son, fine tuned to all things special about Dak Lak.

At 7 a.m, traveling by motorbike, we passed a section of Nam Truong Son Range, famed for its role as North Vietnam’s logistic route during the Vietnam War.

Dissecting mountains, we finally reached Lak Lake, greatly resembling Tonle Shap Lake in Cambodia, Southeast Asia’s biggest freshwater body. Instead of living on small boats in the middle of the lake like in Cambodia, Lak Lake locals settled near the shore.

Along the lake, many small boats lay ready for hire, VND150,000 or $6.4 for a boat for two people for 30 minutes.

Rice fields near the Lak Lake at sunrise, after harvesting. Photo by Doan Xuan Son.

Harvested rice fields near Lak Lake at sunrise. Photo by Doan Xuan Son.

A middle-aged M’Nong woman from nearby M’Lieng Village of Lak District told us many legends related to the lake’s name. According to one story, once upon a time, a local M’Nong named Y Lak caught a small, sacred eel that grew incredibly in size, vastly expanding the water body forming its habitat. Locals subsequently named the lake Y Lak’s water (Dak of Lak), which paved the way for the present Lak Lake.

As we first boarded the boat, I was informed elephant-rides cost VND300,000 ($13) for two over 30 minutes, an offer I declined after considering how these majestic animals are often made to suffer for human pleasure.

After leaving Lak Lake, Son took me to Buon Jun, a nearby M’Nong village with plenty of ethnic handicraft items on offer. Fascinated, I scooped myself an ethnically inspired hat before leaving for less frequented M’lieng, one of the oldest local villages.

As we arrived, what struck me most was the tattered roofs barely shielding the stilt houses against the Central Highlands’ harsh weather. Sheltered under the eaves were many poor families with a plethora of children.

Dressed in tattered clothes, five-month-old A Dai stood on a corner, his sun-darkened mother feeding him rice in the absence of milk, which his family cannot afford.

The story broke my heart, representing not only a single family, but a whole village and community.

Lak Lake is the second largest freshwater body in Vietnam. Photo by Doan Xuan Son.

Lak Lake is the second largest freshwater body in Vietnam. Photo by Doan Xuan Son.

*Notes on traveling to Dak Lak

Transportation

By air: This is the safest method to get to Dak Lak. You can fly to Buon Ma Thuot Airport from Hanoi, Da Nang or HCMC via multiple carriers. The price rarely exceeds VND1 million ($43) one way, despite fluctuating through the year.

By coach: Situated at the Central Highlands’ center, many coaches pass through Dak Lak from HCMC (from VND250,000 ($11) to VND380,000 ($16) a person), and from Hanoi (VND650,000 ($28) a person).

By motorbike: It is the greatest way to explore Dak Lak, granting you the ability to reach almost every destination. The route here is pretty well constructed, unless you travel to remote villages.

Lodging: There are multiple hostels and homestays throughout Dak Lak due to recent tourism development. As the quality of lodgings may fluctuate, it is recommended to do a bit of research beforehand. However, I would recommend The Highland House where I stayed, with both dorm and private lodging options, ranging from VND120,000 ($5) to VND500,000 ($21).

Tour guide: My experience in Dak Lak would not have been complete without the help of Doan Xuan Son, the most helpful and friendly tour guide I have met throughout my journey across Vietnam. If you need a guide, please don’t hesitate to give him a call at 0966 499 400.

Food: Dining in Buon Ma Thuot is as diversified as any other locality in Vietnam. You should try a variety of special dishes like red vermicelli, mini savory pancakes, and fried sticky rice, etc.

Destinations: Dak Lak is a vast province with popular destinations including Buon Don, Buon Ako Dhong, Spiritual Hill, Yok Don National Park, Chu Yang Sin National Park, Dak Tuar Cave, Ea Kao Lake, Dray Sap Fall, Dray Nur, and Krong Kmar Fall.

Time: You should visit Dak Lak during the dry season from December to April. In December, there are wild sunflowers in bloom and local festivities. Coffee flowers bloom most beautifully from February-end to early March. The rainy season, from May to November, should be avoided due to frequent landslides.

Caution: Outside Buon Ma Thuot lies many ethnic villages – it is advised to always respect local customs and avoid causing offence by being underdressed.

As you travel deep into Dak Lak, dirt roads may frequently get muddy, so please refrain from wearing any valuable footwear.

Finally, as Dak Lak hosts a large number of migrants from other provinces, please be cautious of passing strangers, who may try to scam you.

Author Xu Kien and a MNong boy in MLieng Village. 

Author Xu Kien and A Manh, a five-year-old M’Nong boy in M’Lieng Village and a brother of A Dai. Photo by Doan Xuan Son.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.



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Sedge harvest season begins in Mekong Delta


The sedge, after being chopped, is dried on the field. Drying is an important stage and usually requires one to two days of sunshine. After drying it is taken home or sold to traders right on the farm.

Best quality dried sedge fetches VND15,000-16,000 per kilogram, and lower quality types, VND9,00011,000.



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Hue pedestrian zone reopens after two months


Tran Song, vice chairman of Hue Town, said that no gatherings of more than 30 people are allowed and crowded street art performances remain banned.

Local police officers will patrol the zone more often to remind visitors to wear face masks and comply with other anti-pandemic measures.

The zone, comprising Vo Thi Sau, Chu Van An and Pham Ngu Lao streets in the ancient town’s Phu Hoi Ward, had become a popular area for backpackers and locals alike, in similar fashion to the Bui Vien walking street in Ho Chi Minh City.

The pedestrian zone was closed since early March after a British tourist who traveled to Hue and stayed at a hotel inside the backpacker zone was confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus. He has been discharged and flown home.

The pedestrian zone made its debut in September 2017 after authorities in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue green-lighted a proposal to create spaces for locals and tourists to hang out at nights.

On weekends, normal traffic is allowed on the streets until 6 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, the walking streets are open until 2 a.m. On Sundays, they close at midnight.

The zone became an immediate hit attracting thousands of people to the area and boosting local business considerably.

Vietnam has eased its social distancing restrictions since April 23 and its popular tourist destinations have reopened after a prolonged shutdown. The government has also allowed “non-essential” services except karaoke parlors and discos to resume operation.

Hue was the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), Vietnam’s last royal family. The town is a top tourist destination, attracting 4.8 million visitors last year, up 11 percent over 2018, 2.18 million of them foreigners.

After more than two months of shutdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, Bui Vien, dubbed “Saigon beer street,” in HCMC resumed operation from May 8 while Hanoi’s popular walking street near the Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake reopened on May 15.

Vietnam’s Covid-19 count was 320 as of Monday morning, which marked the 32nd consecutive day without community transmission of the disease. Of the country’s Covid-19 infections, 60 are active. The rest have recovered after treatment.



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Kites fly high as Hanoi unwinds amidst Covid-19 respite


The kites are flown every afternoon from a large open space with wild grass.

The Starlake urban town project, invested by South Korea’s Daewoo E&C, covers 186 hectares in Xuan La Ward of Tay Ho District, Nghia Do Ward of Cau Giay District, and Xuan Tao & Co Nhue Ward of Bac Tu Liem District.



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Vietnamese designer comes up with coronavirus-themed collection




Designer Chung Thanh Phong has unveiled a ‘Save Yourself’ collection featuring protective outfits and face masks.