Ep.9 - flowful meets... La Vie Est Belle - Nature & Body Connection at Cat Tien National Park

The spirit of the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam did bring 3 people together: Phuc, Phil and Thuat. In this episode, we talk to Thuat how his community movement saved the Cat Tien National Park and to Phuc and Phil about how they are about to turn Thuat’s dream into a community that offers a peaceful space to connect with nature and body. Read the full interview here!

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Show notes:

  • body and nature connection
  • inner transformation
  • outer transformation
  • connection
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • Cat Tien
  • Safe Cat Tien
  • community
  • environmental protection

More information:

Music is by Andrew Healy:


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Read the full interview here:

Today, flowful meets… Phuc, Phil and Thuat. All three of them have put a lot of love and energy in a piece of land close to the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam. Initially, we wanted to visit the Forest Call Lodge  and his owner Thuat and Phuc and Phil, a couple that started a project called La Vie Est Belle , which focusses on body and nature connection. Well, turned out that it is the same place. When we arrived at this beautiful and peaceful place called Forest Call Lodge we learned that Phuc and Phil just took over the place from Thuat.

Thuat, a former government official who handled foreign researchers and donors involved with the nearby Cat Tien National Park, wanted to find an independent way to build a better world- and founded the ecolodge Forest Call Lodge in 2014. Thuat dreamed of a place where people can experience a peaceful life with environmental and social consciousness. A place where education plays an important role and where people can come and heal themselves in a quiet place.

Phuc and Phil share this vision with Thuat, and are aiming to build a community model in that people, animals and all beings are free and happy. The Vietnamese-French couple wants to create a space for participants to experience the outer and inner nature through activities such as meditation, yoga, nature immersion, art creation and leading a simple autonomy life.

While Phil started to potter at sustainability 16 years ago, had Phuc her turning point 7 years ago. After going through an inner transformation, they wanted to share what they learned and started their project La Vie Est Belle in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, Vietnam’s largest city.

Only the Dong Nai river lies between the Cat Tien National Park and La Vie Est Belle, a place for body and nature connection.

Only the Dong Nai river lies between the Cat Tien National Park and La Vie Est Belle, a place for body and nature connection.

Phuc: At the beginning we did a kind of homestay thing. In our house we had two bedrooms, it is a two bedroom house and then we could do AirBnB. People come there and they practice yoga and they eat vegetarian. So they shared the same atmosphere with us and a lot of them it was their first experience with yoga and meditation and then after three or four days they started to feel something. A lot of them came out and say that they will continue with yoga during the travel and also when they come back they will search for something in their town. For the local people every two weeks we have an in-house retreat.

Because it is in the city and they don't really have the space to relax and things. And after kind of one week working, a lot of my friends really feel stressed and tired. So where is the solution for that? So we organized the more kind of community-based in-house retreat for people. Every time we receive around 15 young people and then we gather for one day from 8 am to about 5 or 6 pm. We designed different activities for them to get in touch more with themselves using yoga, meditation, art therapy and movement therapy.

We did every two weeks that is kind of in town retreat activity and is was all non-profit. That means that people bring the food, vegetarian food, in and we share the space in our house, and we did not charge any money. From the project in Saigon we really need something we want firstly for ourselves, in order to be closer to the nature and closer to ourselves as well. And at the same time we can share with others I really realized before teaching was just theory, I really realized that self-happiness only can be maintained with the connection with ourselves, with the other humans, and the nature or the universe in general.

If we lost one of the connections we cannot find the true happiness. Because of those things we decided we should search for something in order to implement the idea and the concept.

Phuc and Karla during the interview at the yoga and meditation sala at La Vie Est Belle.

Phuc and Karla during the interview at the yoga and meditation sala at La Vie Est Belle.

La Vie Est Belle offers a lot of nature and space to connect with your inner and outer nature.

La Vie Est Belle offers a lot of nature and space to connect with your inner and outer nature.

What started as an idea to find a place for them away from city life, a place to live in harmony with the nature, being closer to their selves and doing things they love the most. But having the community experience in mind, they knew that they want to share the space with everyone.

Phuc: We want to, I am saying we, because it is not only me, it is me and Philippe, and we want to create a kind of community model in which people live within that community, they feel happy and free, they feel that they have a life purpose and they live a life connected to themselves, and the people around, and the nature. That's why this space definitely should be in the nature. That kind of thing is kind of vision right, you cannot reach that in a month or even in a year. That is something that is our dream. But in order to reach this kind of vision we create an experimental space where people can really experience those things. Those things are the nature, outside the outer nature and the nature, the inner nature, the nature within themselves.

Some of them can participate directly as a guest, stay for here 3 or 4 days for a week or something. Some of them are volunteers. With the volunteers, we only receive volunteers here who can stay here for a minimum of 3 month. We want to build a more kind of volunteer based and it is run by the community itself.

We wish that it will be kind of a community model that people can copy. We are not afraid that somebody will copy it. We wish that it will be copied by as many as possible.

It's a space for people to experience the inner nature and the outer nature in order to get connection with themselves, with people and with the nature. In order to be free and happy...

La Vie Est Belle believes that working in nature and giving time to listen to your needs goes hand in hand.

La Vie Est Belle believes that working in nature and giving time to listen to your needs goes hand in hand.

But Phuc and Phil didn’t have that connection all their lives.

Phuc: For me, it was for my personal story, or for my personal discovery of ourselves, and like when I've worked in corporate, I feel like a lot of things are missing. I had a lot of things young people at my age at that time dream of, like a nice apartment, a car with a driver, and good position in a company but then I wasn't fulfilled with this kind of things. My life was purely in the office, with the client, or in the space of the office. And in the car, and 5star hotel, or whatever. I found that it was missing something and I started to discover what was the missing part. Once I found out that it was the connection, the real connection with me and with nature. So I really, really feel my life very much different. Like I feel kind of more creative, more free and I don't have to bother too much about what people are saying. Of course we listen to them, but we don't take it personally, we don't let what they say, or their words control us. I feel my life is more free and happy and Philippe has the same thing, had the same story. Before he worked in art and everything was good and after like some certain change of life and he really had to rediscover himself.


At La Vie Est Belle yoga and meditation play an important role and are the start and the end of the day.

At La Vie Est Belle yoga and meditation play an important role and are the start and the end of the day.

Peaceful morning in the nature at La Vie Est Belle.

Peaceful morning in the nature at La Vie Est Belle.

One can really feel that Phuc and Phil found the connection to themselves and to nature; both have such a grounded and calm energy around them! Going through this inner transformation, they figured out that there is a huge demand for connection everywhere around them, especially among young people and even more in urban surroundings.

Phuc: I found out that it is really, it is an urgent need for a life model for a lot of people but especially if we cannot plant the seed within young people then it is too late afterward. When they can find something properly at their early age it is better than with 15, 20 years after. During the time I was working with the NGO community as well, the special thing about NGO communities in Ho Chi Minh City is they are all young. Most of them are like 20 or 25 to 35 something. So they are very young people. A lot of them it seems like they did the. volunteering work as a way to find, to search for themselves and a lot of them do the work of giving. But they are not really happy themselves. In order to give you have to have something.

I think it is the time to do something. For the young people and for people in general but especially for the young people. That is why we do everything on a level that people with a very low salary can afford it for a few days.

And then a lot of the young people they came in with their own kind of stress, with their own kind of loss. Even some with depression. And then after a few times joining us, they really touch something, and they find something for themselves. One of the things that a lot of people they say is 'Oh, I haven't spent enough time for myself.' That is a very frequent feedback that we've got from the testing project in Ho Chi Minh City. From the different projects that are participated in the NGO community as well, people always feel that they want to spend time more for themselves but there is no place or it is either one is too expensive or the other one is it's not proper for them to do such kind of purpose. Based on all of their feedbacks, we think that it is definitely necessary to have something like that. When we had our concept set up, we talked to different people and a lot of them really, really find that it is something really missing in Saigon.


Living from and with the forest is Thuat's idea of an established community forestry.

Living from and with the forest is Thuat's idea of an established community forestry.

Agriculture, forestry and fishery done in a sustainable way are supporting biodiversity in Cat Tien National Park.

Agriculture, forestry and fishery done in a sustainable way are supporting biodiversity in Cat Tien National Park.

Luckily Cat Tien is not far from Saigon, and when they heard that Thuat decided to spend more time with his family and was looking for someone to take over the Forest Call Lodge, they didn’t wait long.

When we visited Phuc and Phil, they basically just arrived and were still on a process of taking over the ecolodge, making plans, and slowly transforming into La Vie Est Belle.

Phuc: For the moment we have the daily routine, in the morning we wake up at 5, and then we have meditation at 5:30 for one hour, and then we have yoga class, and then we have community breakfast, and then after that we start doing the gardening for one two or hours, and after that we spend a few hours relaxing before lunch time. In the afternoon we relax until 4 o'clock before we again start doing gardening or kind of building stuff. After that we have community dinner and then the last activity of the day is another meditation for one hour.

We have the routine of the space kind of community routines but then at the same time we still provide a lot of space for people who want to do things for themselves during the free time. One of our aim here is, that we try to even for us the founder, or the volunteers, we aim to have like only 5 hours working per day and the rest of the time we spend more time for ourselves, or things we love, but for the purely for the work of the space 5 hours max. Of course at the beginning we need to spend more time to rearrange and do things but we target that for the first two month and then after that we will have to follow the target of 5 hours working per day.

One of the things that we want after two month setting up everything and having everything pretty organized in a simple way, then we will open the routine to the communities here, to the local people. If they want to practice yoga, they are welcome to practice. We are more than willing to offer them for free but that will be not the aim.

The aim is how to making them not taking it for granted. Because when you receive something for free people have the tendency to be less committed. They do not take it seriously. So probably in some certain way, it will be exchanging things or work. What we did before is that people pay some certain amount for the day they do not commit, instead of paying for the day they commit. But I really have to see how people feedback and how people say about that before we fully implement this into the real thing.

From La Vie Est Belle, the Cat Tien National Park is just a boat ride away.

From La Vie Est Belle, the Cat Tien National Park is just a boat ride away.

I’m wondering, even though Phuc and Phil just started in Cat Tien, can they share any mistakes or lessons learned already?

Phuc: A lot... There are a lot of mistakes. For me, I wouldn't call it mistake. We think it is a lesson. Let's say for example working with people, especially working with the young people, before I always had like a tendency to give people advice. And then at some certain point I realized we talk too much. And so I realized that we should listen more instead of giving advice. It is really better if you can really empower them to find the solution or the answer for themselves. They come to me or to anyone for a question, or a problem and then sit down and then we say, why don't you do this or why don't you do that. Before I did that and then I slowly understood it is not something good. People still feel they depend on me. And the other thing is they do not feel confident or empowered. But if they can find the solution themselves then they implement it and they feel more confident about themselves.

In the future, Phuc and Phil definitely wanna focus on working with local people. For now, they have a ratio of 70% tourists and 30% Vietnamese but they’re aiming for the other way around. But they also wanna connect with their neighbors in Cat Tien and the local authorities to give them a better understanding what their project is all about.

But this is more long term. For the next few months, they particularly have one goal.

Phuc: One of our aims for the next 2 years will be that we want to sustain ourselves within this place. We want to minimize the purchase from the outside. So it is 100% vegetarian, so all the vegetables and fruits and things in order to provide enough for the amount of people here, and for ourselves. Or other systems, to make us more self-sustained.  Say for example, like if you have to depend too much on water, electricity or whatever from the outside, then it means that you one have to pay much as well and the other thing is that you still have to really depend and your freedom is limited.

We start doing the garden, so we start having the plan for the space, like where to have the kitchen garden and where the soil need to be recovered at little bit and where we can use the soil directly. So it is like the natural farming will be one of our key things to start. At the same time we still carry our routines and different activities in order to bring people here. In the next two month we will start having the retreat, the kind of every two month retreat for people. It is a special designed retreat for four or five days. For those people who do not have the chance to stay here long time, so they have more focused time for them self.

We will do for sure yoga and meditation. Like those activities in order to help people to get in touch more with themselves. Yoga and meditation, art therapy and movement therapy that will be the methods that we will use. But then based on the group and the really the topic of the retreat that we will dig more into and design it specially.

Birds at Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam.

Birds at Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam.

La Vie Est Belle is located at the door step of Cat Tien National Park.

La Vie Est Belle is located at the door step of Cat Tien National Park.

This still sounds like quite a workload and in the latest body & nature connection workshop I co-facilitated, I once again experienced that sharing energy and connect with people and their energies can be really exhausting.

Once a week I give myself a lazy day. I have a space to breathe, not to really kind of every day, every time in that kind of routine. Here we have a lazy day, once a week, after the first months. For the moment, we still work every day but then the aim after the first month will be implementing one lazy day a week. So I can breathe. Now, I really can't feel that I am living in a square that is full of routines and things. I think once we really feel that what we are doing is meaningful to ourselves and to the others than we have more motivation to do that. So, and once we see the impact, or how people change we see that it helps to inspire us more. Whenever I come to nature I feel that this is enough. I really do not have a desire to have more. I think there is more motivation when I am in the nature.

It is thanks to Thuat that the nature not only at the Forest Call Lodge but also in Cat Tien is like it is and one can connect with its beauty. A few years ago, the Cat Tien National Park, which is the most diverse ecosystem in Vietnam by the way, was at risk.

In 2011, the Vietnamese government planned to raze 400 hectares of Cat Tien to generate 2 hydropower dams. Fighting for Cat Tien and the local people’s life, Thuat started a petition urging the authorities to prevent construction and created the Love & Save Cat Tien supports group. His petition got signed by almost 5,000 people, and an open letter that Thuat wrote was not only brought to the Vietnam National Assembly, it was also answered. Two years and a lot of effort later, authorities decided to listen to Love & Save Cat Tien- and didn’t build the dams. What an amazing success for a grassroot movement!!!

After those years of fighting, Thuat started to dream of a place where people and nature live together in peace.

Thuat: I wanted to be independent. And when I'm independent, I wanted to bring something that I saw and studied in Japan. So I want to be a normal farmer and I want to live with my garden. So I bought this land in 2013 and I made a garden together with my wife, and we did organic farming and we didn’t use any chemical, any herbicide and pesticides, 100%. Many people, like my staff, they did not understand, they argued with me to use herbicide to kill the grass, but I did not allow. That is the reason why many birds come and many animals from the park and they feel the place here and they come. That’s why the name Forest Call; it means the forest calls many animals to come back. I wanted to make a little forest here from zero.

'Love & Save Cat Tien' founder Thuat showing the protected and saved forest.

'Love & Save Cat Tien' founder Thuat showing the protected and saved forest.

Furthermore, Thuat strongly believes in the concept of community forestry, whereby the local community plays a significant role in the management of the forest and gives the local people the majority say in making decisions.

This can be indigenous people, ethnic minorities, individuals, and communities who have geographic, economic, social, and cultural relationships with local forest areas. It involves several interests, includes people with all types of income but first of all it maintains healthy and sustainable forests and serves at the same time local livelihood needs. Thuat already puts time and energy in implementing the concept at Cat Tien.

Thuat: I had the idea of this place since I studied in Tokyo, Japan, and I see many people who are independent and can work very well in their organic garden and they connect with the whole world and many people and newspaper come and learn from them. So I think we can do something like that in Vietnam but it is really difficult, but we can do.

Cat Tien National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Vietnam with loads of biodiversity and wildlife.

Cat Tien National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Vietnam with loads of biodiversity and wildlife.

Gosh yeah, we can! Thanks so much Thuat for your strong will and for your persistent effort to protect Mother Earth! Phuc and Phil, you wonderful human beings, we wish you all the best for La Vie Est Belle and can’t wait to have a lazy day in the garden with you again! And they just told us that they are now having weekly lazy day and monthly retreats for the community. Furthermore, they are now under fully volunteer-based operation and gardening is still on the way.

The theory of change of La Vie Est Belle is as easy as powerful:

Life in cities can be stressful and traffic, deadlines, eating pre-packaged foods, and money worries get us down. People are missing something essential in their lives- connection. This makes us shift our priorities to things such as shopping, making more money, and social media, and we get even more lost. Phuc and Phil discovered that by themselves and started an inner transformation through meditation and yoga. Once they found out that it’s all about connection, the connection with oneself and nature, they came up with a vision and started La Vie Est Belle.

Phuc and Phil want to create a kind of community model in which people feel happy and free due to the connection with themselves, the people around, and Mother Earth. They aim to create a model that everyone can copy in order to create such connection spaces all around the country.

As they are aware that not all people can leave the city to reconnect, they want to become a place where people can recharge, deepen their connection and learn ways to take this inner and natural connection back into their daily life’s in urban environments.

Phuc from La Vie Est Belle

Make sure to visit the La Vie Est Belle if you’re around Vietnam, join Phuc and Phil’s in their peaceful home- and just breathe. Check them out on facebook, stroll over their website or find them on AirBnB! And if you’re in Cat Tien, don’t forget to visit the beautiful National Park together with Thuat!

You can find all links in the show notes below and on our website www.flowful.org. Spread the word by sharing this episode, our website or whatever! We almost do all those social media things.

Music is by beautiful soul Andrew Healy.

Thanks for listening! Be flowful!