With a warm voice and gift for telling stories explaining local culture and customs, YouTuber Lê Hoàng Nam has lured 3.2 million subscribers to his Challenge Me channel, which is one of the most popular YouTube channels in Việt Nam.
Since 2014, he has published over 690 videos, many of which explore mysterious and interesting places and unique customs throughout Việt Nam and neighbouring countries.
“I think I have a lot of advantages in following this career – a professional YouTuber,” Nam told Việt Nam News. “I have the experience to edit stories, act as an MC, present adventure programmes and bring it all to film.”
|Nam's team in Phú Quốc National Forest in 2020. — Photo courtesy of Lê Hoàng Nam|
The Academy of Journalism and Communication graduate said he had some difficulties when first editing the videos but his passion drove him on to produce alluring content.
“At first I just wanted to film the challenges I overcame so that I could keep records of what I had done as a young man,” he said. “It turned out that the very first clips were warmly welcomed by audiences and various networks. I even earned some money from the first ones.”
Nam, 37, said it was his natural curiosity to understand things around him, especially mysterious things, unknown details in history, beliefs and strange phenomena.
“I think it would be good if I use experience to clarify all those mysteries and show them to the audience,” he said. “Things like haunted areas, holy objects or strange people who admit they have had previous lives.”
|Nam's filming scene at an ancient monastery in Tả Phìn Commune, in Sa Pa Town, northern province of Lào Cai in 2019. — Photo courtesy of Lê Hoàng Nam|
Nam said most of the things he queries and wants to explore are in the same areas the majority of people want to know about.
In the first years of his YouTube career, he explored bizarre things that attracted people’s attention, while recently he has focused more on the normal life of various groups of ethnic people.
“Each person in each place has his or her own problems and interesting features to explore,” he said. “My topics never end and no longer receive contrarian opinions like those in the first period when I concentrated on stranger things.”
Nam said he had certain criteria for the places he chose to explore. The destination should challenge him, with some risks, pristine landscapes or unknown mysteries.
He often chooses high mountains or high peaks [bridges & buildings] to challenge him, to put himself at risk in a way other people would not dare.
His first video recorded him swimming to the holy tortoise tower in the middle of Hồ Gươm (Returned Sword Lake) on a cold night in downtown Hà Nội, and proved a significant mark in his career.
A new level of audience feeling
Nam said each field trip brings him valuable experience. He takes one or two trips a month, each lasting four to five days. After each trip, his team produces up to ten videos. His team now includes himself as the main host, a camera man, someone taking care of food and accommodation, and a driver.
|On a trip to Tà Năng, central highland province of Lâm Đồng, in 2020. — Photo courtesy of Lê Hoàng Nam|
“Some clips we spent several days to edit,” he said. “But I don’t feel tired at all. The more I engage in this career, the more I love it.”
Now he publishes a clip every two days.
“Normally, I don’t have any script before, though I can search for information before departure,” he said. “We do everything fairly spontaneously. Sometimes on seeing something interesting along the road, we stop the car and film.”
His videos often gather millions of views and thousands of comments.
“Initially, I did not read comments as many blamed me for wrongdoings, which discouraged me for the next trips,” he said. “But later, I sometimes read them and was moved to find out that many people I did not know understood me very well.”
Nam said in this pandemic period, he cannot go anywhere, but instead had to stay at home and edit available footage.
The trip to the holy fish stream in Cẩm Thủy Commune, central province of Thanh Hóa, in 2018, was the most remarkable for his team, as they climbed down a cave to seek out the biggest holy fish in the water.
|Nam explores Erawan Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, in 2018. — Photo courtesy of Lê Hoàng Nam|
The way down to the stream inside the cave was the most challenging and dangerous undertaking for his team so far. They bent their bodies through tiny cracks between stones, and almost got lost in the cave when seeking the way out.
“We regretted not listening to the warning of locals before entering the cave,” he said. “No one was willing to guide us down there. Yet we found the fish inside. We overcame the challenges we set.”
After the trip, Nam’s channel reached one million subscribers. The three episode videos were among the best viewed on his channel, and the third episode attracted over 9.4 million views.
Hoàng Tuấn, one of Nam’s fans in HCM City, said the trip had inspired him a lot.
“Nam’s team were really brave to insist on doing what they did,” he said. “I admire him and support him with all my enthusiasm. He’s really the greatest inspirer I have ever known.”
Tuấn said Nam also helped the locals at his various destinations.
“Many of his videos feature honest people, who are in need of both spiritual and material sustenance,” Tuấn said. “But they treat people so well. They support Nam in whatever he asks for.”
Nam also donated some of his income to needy people in Đà Nẵng during the pandemic in August 2020 and people suffering from floods and landslides in Trà Leng Commune, Nam Trà My District, in the central province of Quảng Nam in early November the same year.
Nam said he had never felt bored at work, yet realised he should make some changes to keep his audience entertained.
“I want to recruit a few more new faces as MCs for my channel as well as people sharing the same interests to develop it,” he said. “I hope my channel will act as a span in a big bridge to advertise the Vietnamese people, landscape and culture to the world.” — VNS
|Nam in Tân Lạc, northern province of Hòa Bình in 2018. — Photo courtesy of Lê Hoàng Nam|