Vietnam War, ‘Boat Person’ and Cancer Survivor: Ha-Le Thai Shares Her Story In New Memoir, Waratah

January 7, 2020

Ha-Le Thai has had more than her fair share of setbacks – her childhood was framed by the Vietnam War and as a young adult she fled the country on a boat seeking asylum – but it inspired the Sydney woman to find her inner strength.  

She tells all in her memoir, Waratah, including how to a three-year-old Ha-Le who didn’t understand what it was, the Vietnam War was like a “monster”. 

“My first experience of the Vietnam War was when I was in Da Nang, in central Vietnam. I recall hearing the piercing sound of an army plane over my house,” she said. 

As Ha-Le grew she learnt more about the war, including seeing the horror of death at five-years-old, with her family’s home neighbouring a ‘death house’ in Tam Ky. Here, people would identify their family members who had been killed in the war and take the bodies away in coffins. 

As her knowledge of the war grew, so did her fear for her family, including for her dad who was a soldier in the South Vietnamese government army. 

When the war finally ended in 1975, there was hope for Vietnam, even though the country had been torn apart. The hangover from the war continued to last however, and good families were being persecuted. 

In 1988, around the same time discovering she was pregnant, Ha-Le made her final attempt to flee Vietnam with her husband, Minh.

“After multiple attempts we fled our beloved country on an overcrowded, leaky boat. It almost cost us our lives. Our hopes were to arrive in Hong Kong which we thought was accepting asylum seekers,” she said. 

“When we arrived, the country had closed off immigration and we immediately became illegal immigrants and prisoners. My baby girl was born a detainee.”

Ha-le was imprisoned with her family in Hong Kong, as they sought asylum in a few Western countries. Finally, they were accepted into Australia. 

“I’ll never forget the feeling when the plane touched down at Sydney Airport. When we arrived, I had mixed feelings; I was pumped and excited for a new life, but I also felt like an alien. Many people had blonde hair and we were a group of refugees with black hair from Hong Kong,” Ha-le said. 

“I soon discovered that Australia was very welcoming and already a multicultural country. The Vietnamese community was quite strong by that time.” 

This new start in Australia gave Ha-Le the freedom to strive for whatever she wanted, and so she began studying for a career in early childhood education determined to give children the best start in life, knowing that many children growing up in Vietnam hadn’t had the privilege. 

“After finishing my Diploma in Early Childhood, I opened a childcare centre in 1998, and soon obtained a Bachelor of Education,” Ha-Le said. 

She continued her studies, which also included natural healing, inspired by three cancer diagnoses over 15 years. 

Today, as well as being an author of several books, Ha-Le runs individual and group coaching sessions to inspire people and families to have a happier life. 

Her book, Waratah, named after the Australian flower known for its resilience, aims to help people “consider their life as a masterpiece that they can shape and frame.” 

Waratah, a memoir about Ha-Le’s life is available now via select Dymocks stores, Booktopia, Angus & Robinson, Fish Pond and via Amazon. For more information visit https://halethai.com.au.


About Ha Le Thai
With a heart blended between Eastern colours and a Western education, Ha-Le’s survival strategy was to transform her thought processes and approach to life. She resolved to break all the emotional traps that she had been bottling inside since her traumatic childhood marred by a dysfunctional family, child abuse at a very young age, and the onset of the Vietnam War. 

As life’s challenges continued to unfold, she altered her beliefs and values and decided to look at her culture with a new lens altogether. During the transformation period, she decided to shake off anything that did not serve her well. She now understands why people succeed or fail in life and what they need to do to overcome their hindrances. She is thankful for her inner strength and the warrior within her that helped her to survive and overcome all the nightmares that she had experienced in the past 50 years. With all of that behind her now, she now proudly calls herself – The Warrior. Ha-Le’s journey has inspired her to write her memoir, Waratah, and this is her gift to share to the world on how she became triumphant.