Thursday , June 20 2024

Young woman drives big rig around northern Vietnam

Twenty-four-year-old Ngo Thi My Hanh has taken up one of the unlikeliest professions for women in Vietnam by driving a tractor-trailer carrying tons of goods across the north’s remote, rural regions.

“I started driving at age 17,” said the native of northern Vietnam’s Thai Nguyen Province.

“Working mainly as a businesswoman in the timber industry, I have to go to the northern mountainous provinces like Cao Bang and Bac Kan a lot, so I started driving my own truck solo four years ago.”

But Hanh’s truck life had started long before that when as a child her parents established their timber business. Spending her whole summer holidays riding in her parents’ trucks, Hanh gradually learned their trade before naturally taking on their legacy when she entered high school.

Ngo Thi My Hanh, 24, inside her truck. Photo courtesy of Hanh

Ngo Thi My Hanh, 24, inside her truck. Photo courtesy of Hanh

As a young woman who’s spent most of her life on the road, Hanh knew that as rough as that road can sometimes be it would still be easier for her to do the job herself rather than hire a full-time truck driver. An older driver would have trouble completed the several-day-long trips Hanh’s business requires, while younger drivers are prone to rookie mistakes due to their lack of experience, she said.

“So, I decided that as physically demanding as it may be, driving my truck on my own is more comfortable.”

Everyone around Hanh discouraged her from turning her idea into reality at first because of her petite figure: at her height of 1.54 meters, Hanh weighs only 36 kg.

“But I practiced secretly and passed the truck driver’s license test behind their backs,” she recalled. “My parents eventually gave me a nod seeing how I was determined and passionate about it.”


Her family’s initial objections was just the first of the many obstacles Hanh has encountered and overcome since she took on the job. According to the young woman, one of the special things about her job is how “unrhythmic” it is: she can stay at home resting for several consecutive days, but she can also spend long periods of time solely on the road while only sleeping for two to three hours a night for consecutive days.

“The longest journey I have ever had is four-day-long, and my record has been driving for 16 hours straight,” she said.

She’s also lost even more weight because large part of the routes she often travels by run though sparsely populated mountainous districts and do not have many eateries.

“That’s nothing of a big deal,” Hanh said. “I’m the oldest among my siblings, so it’s natural for me to have it a bit harder.”

While she’s overcome issues enthusiastically, the path is not easy.

“Driving my truck in reverse was hard when I first started,” she remembered. “Or my brakes sometimes do not work well, but fortunately nothing serious has happened.”

Learning from her own and others’ experiences, being aware of her limits, and not forcing herself to drive whenever she feels uncomfortable are a few lessons she’s learned now that she’s a veteran trucker. Though she can never predict every hurdle she’ll meet on her journeys, she said she tries to be as careful and prepared as she can.

The strenuous physical demands of the job have actually made Hanh famous for being one of quite a few female truck drivers in northern Vietnam.

“I have made a lot of trucker friends,” she said. “We gather together sometimes to talk or to have a drink, which is fun.”

She also painted her truck with images of her favorite cartoon characters – Hello Kitty and Doraemon – which quickly gained her custom ride widespread recognition for its unique appearance.

Hanhs truck is painted with her favorite cartoon characters, including Hello Kitty. Photo from Hanhs Facebook

Hanh’s truck is painted with her favorite cartoon characters, including Hello Kitty. Photo from Hanh’s Facebook

Hanh said the characters are extra-meaningful because she was born in the year of the cat, according to the 12-year Vietnamese zodiac. She thus loves Hello Kitty and Doraemon for being cats.

Discussing her future path, Hanh said she may live her truck life for another five to seven years, before quitting and spending all of her time on her family life.

“I think I will maintain my business,” she said. “But I will hire other people to go here and there in trucks for business trips on my behalf, and merely supervise everything from home instead.”

In the meantime, Hanh said she feels proud to be able to do something few women can do. She said many women have sent supportive messages to her, saying they have been inspired by what she does, which has made her happy.

“I want to prove people that women can do things that are normally done by men,” Hanh said. “So, if men do their businesses to be breadwinners for their families, women can totally do so as well.”

“To all my fellow women out there,” she said, “if you want it, just do it.”

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