THRILL-SEEKER: Phan Thanh Nhiên conquers Everest in 2008. Photo courtesy of Lasta Company
Phan Thanh Nhiên, born in 1985, is the youngest of five siblings. He starred in Hai Phượng (Furie), the acclaimed action movie released earlier this year. Although he won plaudits for his acting abilities, Nhiên’s career in action started years ago when he was the youngest Vietnamese to conquer Everest in 2008. He also won the first and only silver medal for Việt Nam in track & field at the SEA Games 26 in 2011 in Indonesia. He’s a pioneer in developing extreme sports in Việt Nam.
Inner Sanctum: How did you start your journey to Mt Everest?
I was born in a poor family and wanted to make a better life for my family. I started studying at the College of Physical Education and Sports 2 in HCM City.
My friends persuaded me to apply for a Vietnamese reality show titled "Vietnamese Climbers Conquer Mt Everest" in 2008. At that time I had no idea of what Everest was.
My friends told me that we would be able to drink for free at the audition.
Inner Sanctum: How was the challenge?
Thousands of people registered for the show. Twelve were selected for the final round. We spent many months training. Gradually, I got closer to the first phase together with Bùi Văn Ngợi, 24, and Nguyễn Mậu Linh, 31. At the age of 23, I became the youngest Vietnamese to set foot on the peak.
It’s a severe journey. Many people die on the way and most of the bodies are never recovered. At the beginning, I accepted the challenge for money but I felt scared, of course. Who knows if I’d survive.
Inner Sanctum: How did you prepare for the adventure?
We tried to climb different peaks before Everest, such as Fansipan (Việt Nam, at a height of 3,143m), Kinabalu (Malaysia, 4,095m), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania, 5,895m), and Island Peak (Nepal, 6,160m).
Though we passed various challenges, conquering Everest is a severe struggle.
Inner Sanctum: How did you overcome obstacles on the way?
The first thing I had to do before joining the adventure was agreeing to discard my body on the way if I died. It’s scary, isn’t it?
Nothing can describe the harsh conditions. We faced death every day. We followed the guidance and climbed in a group. We could die if we had a rest for too long or walked too fast.
Many felt regret at first. Others told us we should stop to save our lives because Vietnamese people’s physical strength is not suitable for this mission.
I saw many dead bodies buried in the ice and snow. Looking at them, I urged myself to continue because if I didn’t, I would meet the same fate. Anyone would feel dispirited seeing that, but it’s also motivation to continue the journey. I had to reach the next station to get oxygen before it was exhausted.
Sometimes, I wanted to stop and sit down. But I thought of my mother and the nation. I wanted to put the name Việt Nam on the peak.
Inner Sanctum: How did you feel when you reached the summit?
I carried 35kg of weight – my shoes alone weighed 7kg. You can imagine how hard it was. But the national flag and the camera were always in my coat pockets. I needed them to announce to the world that Vietnamese people had conquered Everest.
I will never forget the five minutes I stood on the legendary summit. There were only snow and wind surrounding the three of us. We were more than proud.
In my mind, at that time, the only thing I could remember was taking the national flag out from my chest pocket. We shouted loudly “Vietnamese spirit together with the world!”
Inner Sanctum: How’s your life now?
After Everest, I had a difficult period finding a job and setting up my own business.
Then I auditioned for Furie with Ngô Thanh Vân and director Lê Văn Kiệt. I discovered another talent and passion – acting. I never believed that one day I could be a famous actor. Though it was my debut, the role of police officer Lương in Furie received encouragement from many people.
Now I focus on my business, running Everest Việt Company, providing team-building activities, trekking tours, climbing services and zip-lining at the Chày River and Dark Cave in Quảng Bình Province.
ACTION STAR: Phan Thanh Nhiên, a rising star in action movies and the youngest Vietnamese to conquer Everest. Photo courtesy of Phan Thanh Nhiên
Inner Sanctum: What’s the next challenge?
I want to take my son up Everest before he’s 12. This would be another world record. The youngest is Jordan Romero at the age of 13. With a passion for adventurous sports, I let my son practise sports at an early age.
Of course, I respect his passion and choices. I would never force him to do what he doesn’t like. Before the mountain, I will help him practise physically and mentally.
I’m also training for a new record before I’m 40. I will stand on the summit with a bare chest for 10 minutes. VNS