Miss Universe 2008: Profiles
Contestants of Miss Universe 2008 pose at Saigon Factory Outlet Mall in Binh Duong Province during their shopping trip Sunday morning

Eighty contestants from around the globe participated in the pageant’s opening ceremony on Saturday at the Caravelle Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City and had a swimsuit shoot at their New World Hotel Saigon residence.

Thanh Nien spoke to a few of the enchanting beauties to find out about their aspirations.

Promoting her country’s image

At a height of 1.78-meter tall with a flawless complexion, Miss Thailand Gavintra Photijak attracts locals’ attention for resembling Ha Kieu Anh, one of Vietnam’s former beauty queens.

The 21-year-old Public Relations student at

Bangkok University expresses hope that more resplendent pagodas and grand bridges will be built in her country to broadcast the image of Thailand to the rest of the world.

Dynamic beauty

Behind her gentle and charming smile, Miss Belgium Alizee Poulicek has a strong personality and is keen on sports such as horse riding, jogging and aerobics.

Her other hobby includes traveling and discovering new places.

The 20-year-old girl, who is of Belgian and Czech origins, had lived in the Czech Republic before returning to Belgium six years ago.

She hopes to pursue a successful career in media, fashion and acting.

Passion for food

Mexican beauty Elisa Najera, who possesses dreamy eyes, is very passionate about cooking.

Currently studying food processing at university, Najera plans to run a restaurant with her mother, who is a chef, after graduation.

“I will use what I learn from school to make delectable, nutritious and affordable dishes,” she said.

Other contestants

A psychology student, Dasa Zivkovic from Montenegro in southeastern Europe easily creates a good first impression.

She can sing well and said she is mesmerized by Oriental music.

“This pageant is my first major trial and presents a golden opportunity to prove myself, whatever the results may be,” she said.

Miss Egypt Yara Naaom is strikingly beautiful.

At 1.76-meter tall, she is a part-time model who starred in a major film last year.

A senior at the Institute of Cinema in Cairo, the 20-year-old girl dreams of achieving success in set designing.

Paraguayan beauty Giannina Ruffinelli, a21-year-old psychology student, aspires to run her own clinic to help the poor after graduation.

Indian contestant Simran Kaur Mundi, 1.80 meters in height, is a 22-year-old graduate who works with a cinema chain in Mumbai.

She has great confidence in herself and loves listening to music, reading, composing poems, drawing and playing basketball.

Donning ao dai

All the contestants have marveled at the bewitching, demure beauty of the ao dai (traditional Vietnamese dress).

While trying on the outfit to prepare for Thanh Nien’s charity show Duyen dang ao dai (Charming ao dai) tomorrow, Jenyfeer Mercelina from Curacao, an island nation in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea, was so mesmerized with her first ao dai that she did not want to take it off and also asked to try on several others.

The beauty with seductive curly hair dubbed the ao dai “a friendly costume.”

Miss South Africa Tansey Coetzee, who said this was her first trip abroad, called the outfit the “magic ao dai.”

“The outfits fit us perfectly and accentuate our beauty regardless of our nationalities,” she said.

“Whatever the outcome of the contest may be, the memories of this pageant, including putting on the ao dai, will never fade from my mind.”

Indonesia’s representative Putri Raemawasti was also enthralled by the costume, particularly its intricate hand-embroidered patterns.

She ordered famed local designer Thuan Viet to make some ao dais for her and presented Viet with a traditional Indonesian paper fan with her autograph in appreciation of his efforts.

Vietnamese culinary delights

Miss Russia Vera Krasova is so excited about sampling Vietnamese cuisine that she insisted Miss Vietnam Nguyen Thuy Trang guide her around HCMC and introduce local dishes to her.

Krasova’s favorite Vietnamese dishes thus far are pho (beef or chicken noodles), banh cuon (rice flour pan-cake with meat fillings), banh xeo (rice crepe) and lau mam (a hot pot soup of salted fish cooked with vegetables).

The 20-year-old architecture student has worked at a housing and utilities office in Moscow since last year and is also a model.

A total of 80 Miss Universe contestants are staying at HCMC’s New World Hotel Saigon from June 17-24, before flying to Hoi An, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Nha Trang on June 25, 26, 27 and 29 respectively.

The pageant’s grand finale will be held at Nha Trang’s Diamond Bay Resort on July 14.

Reported by Da Ly-Danh Nghi