Travel can open us up to a million new experiences. It’s exhilarating and daunting and forces you out of your comfort zone. Travel allows you to try different things, take risks, and learn something new. If you’re looking for a reason to set off on a life-changing journey when we return to our new normal, then this amazing story should inspire you to pack your bags. This is how four South Africans made it through a global pandemic. 

In September 2019, Ashleigh Bergh and Shaun Heath embarked on a wild journey to Southeast Asia, where they set up home in Vietnam. Their love for food and adventure is what drew them to this part of the world. So they sold everything they had, said goodbye to family and friends and their fur babies—who are with their folks—and set off into the unknown.

South Africans

Ashleigh and Shaun landed in Ha Noi on September 13. They settled into their new surroundings within two weeks and began planning their Asian adventures. The following month, the couple received news from their friends, Niekie and Lerize, that they were inspired to travel as well. Before they knew it, their friends had packed up their lives in South Africa and arrived in Ha Noi in November.

South Africans

And then there were four

For those who have lived and worked abroad, there is nothing better than the reunion of friends in a completely new country. The possibilities seem endless because they are endless. So, the four of them explored and experienced Ha Noi and everything it had to offer. Taking in the sights, the sounds, the flavours of the country and relishing the newness of everything.

A few months in and Chinese New Year was fast approaching—which meant that there was a two-week holiday coming up. The obvious plan for their 

holiday was to travel, and where better to go than Cat Ba Island. The idyllic island sits on the southern edge of the famous Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of a maze of limestone karsts. The first night on the island, they partied the shoes off their feet, ate authentic street food, sipped on exotic cocktails, and made new friends. This was life.

Cat Ba Island

Say what now, Rona?

The very next day, the COVID-19 headlines blew up news channels everywhere, and people grew concerned about a possible global pandemic that came with the virus in Wuhan. Nevertheless, the adventure on Cat Ba Island continued as the virus had yet to reach Vietnam. Life went on as normal. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and when they got back to Ha Noi, life as they knew it, came to a standstill.

South Africans Global Pandemic

Once news got out that COVID-19 had reached Hong Kong, Thailand, and Vietnam, the country reacted quickly. By February 1, they shut down schools, kindergartens, and centres. Malls, gyms, banks, and apartment blocks implemented temperature checks and the use of hand sanitizer. As the weeks went by and February rolled into March, the four expats started going bananas. And in this spell of madness, their at-home business was born.

Going bananas for all the right reasons.

The four South Africans, during a time of uncertainty, took initiative and started baking. For the most part, banana bread is a staple growing up, so they thought why not treat their neighbouring expats to a taste of home. To start off, they had one 12pcs muffin pan. So, they woke up early one morning, got baking, and tested a batch. The result? Divine! Ashleigh posted on a local Facebook page to find out if there was an interest, and the responses were incredible. Some people ordered up to 20 muffins every two days.

Banana muffins
Baking muffins

A few weeks in, and they managed to cover their costs, including electricity. They bought a second muffin pan and split the profit between the four of them. Waking up in the morning, happy tunes filling the banana-scented air, mixing up batter—this was hope in a time of fear. Lerize and Shaun bagging muffins. Niekie working out the delivery route, and Ashleigh writing little ‘Can’t-Wait-To-Feed-You-Again’ notes. These were the little things that kept hope alive.


Keeping hope alive

They called their business ‘Wake and Bake’ because that’s literally what they have been doing for the last two months of the Coronavirus Pandemic in Vietnam. As of May 11, things have returned to normal but they still get messages and reviews from fellow South African expats asking for orders of banana muffins. While this experience was a combination of keeping hope alive and trying to survive in the throes of a global pandemic, the adventure isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

Some parting advice from the four Wake-and-Bakers: Practice social distancing, wear your mask, pump the multivitamins, wash your hands, and keep a little bottle of sanitizer with you at all times. This too shall pass.

South Africans in Vietnam

Until the next banana muffin expedition in Vietnam, stay safe!

Written by Ashleigh Bergh and Lauren Coetzee

Hang out with gang and follow them on their adventures in Southeast Asia. 

The Traveling Tastebud

The Traveling Tastebud belongs to Ashleigh and Shaun. They document all their foodie experiences around Asia.

Niekie de Vries

Follow Niekie as she adventures around Southeast Asia, documenting amazing adventures on land and at sea.

Lerize Conradie

Travel with Lerize as she explores and discovers beautiful places with beautiful people in Southeast Asia.

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