Born in a low-income household, a Vietnamese millennial has climbed the ladder from selling balloons on the street to running a successful bike rental and homestay business.
Cao Thi Hoai Thu, 29, is a well known name amongst tourists and adventure tour guides in Dong Hoi town in the north-central province of Quang Binh.
Thu’s journey to the top of the tourist scene in Quang Binh has been more than a decade in the making.
At the age of two, her parents divorced and she went to live with her mother in Cam Lo, a town in Quang Tri Province, 130km from Quang Binh.
In her junior year of high school, she sold balloons to children in her neighborhood. A year later she moved on to selling vegetables.
During college Thu earned money from a part-time job and commissions from several side gigs, including replacing cooking gas cylinders and water jugs.
After witnessing the skyrocketing demand for motorbike rentals in Vietnam, Thu used all her savings to purchase two second-hand motorcycles and begun a rent-a-bike business in Dong My Ward, Dong Hoi, the capital of Quang Binh.
She dropped out of university during her second year, and devoted herself to the hospitality industry.
Thu then relocated her business to Bao Ninh, a seaside town located 40km from the heart of Quang Binh and opened a homestay in 2015 where she continued renting out motorbikes. She named her business Tung’s homestay.
She has now grown her motorbike fleet to more than 80 bikes for rent and boasts customers from all over the world.
Thu's says she owes her success too quality service and her great personality.
“Travelers, mostly from Europe, come to Dong Hoi en route to the caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park,” she said. “If you cannot speak their language, then it’s difficult to do business with them.”
Thu taught herself English and managed to speak the language fluently after six months, which helps her business continue to flourish.
Many tourists and travelers say they are in awe after hearing her story.
“I only found out about her through the Internet. After we met in person I came to appreciate what she’s built,” Andrew John, a British tourist, shared.