Most migrants from Vietnam come from poor central provinces. Many head for the UK, sending home cash which is spent on new cars, motorbikes and home renovations.
But the journey isn’t cheap.
Smugglers charge up to $40,000 for travel documents and a plane ticket, usually to eastern Europe where the overland trip to the UK begins.
Some fall prey to traffickers; by the time they make it across the English Channel they are thousands of dollars in debt and forced to work in brothels, nail bars or cannabis farms.
More than 3,100 Vietnamese adults and children were identified as potential trafficking victims by the UK government between 2009 and 2018, according to a report by Anti-Slavery International, ECPAT UK and Pacific Links Foundation.
Cuong eventually headed to London, where he drifted for several years, selling drugs and training new weed farmers.
But in 2014 he was arrested for smoking cannabis. His fingerprints tied him to the Bristol grow house.
Crown Court records show he was convicted for growing cannabis and sentenced to 10 months jail. Eventually the UK Home Office deported him.
He joined more than 1,600 returnees to Vietnam either by choice or by force since 2014, including at least 22 who were under the age of 14, according to Home Office data.
Hundreds of other children have been identified as potential trafficking victims by the Home Office.
Some are back in Vietnam in debt and at serious risk of being re-trafficked in what amounts to a “merry-go-round” of crime and poverty, according to independent trafficking expert Mimi Vu.
Adjusting to life in Vietnam has been tough for Cuong, who returned broke and now lives in a bare house in Haiphong.
But he says he is reformed and hopes to open a salon to help provide for the baby he is expecting with his new girlfriend.
“In the past I had to be tough and aggressive,” he says. “Now I have to be soft and nice.”
PICTURES BY MANAN VATSYAYANA