Befuddling & bewildering

For reasons not entirely clear, a lot of expats are moving to clean and serene central Vietnam.

By HASHAM WALI on June 06,2019 02:24 PM

Befuddling & bewildering

PHOTO: TRAN BAO HOA

THEY ARE COMING

From inside and outside of the country. From every corner of the globe. From bitterly cold northern realms to sun-drenched southern savannahs. They are coming and they are coming en masse.

It’s no secret that Vietnam has been a haven for foreigners for a number of years now. Those seeking to start a new chapter in their lives have come to these shores in droves, some merely using it as a stepping stone on a longer journey while others have made it their permanent home. The one common denominator, however, whether their stay in this country has been a long or short one, has been that they have chosen either north or south, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Now, trying to argue the merits of one city over the other is an exercise in futility; people tend to either love one or the other and both camps are entirely justified in their opinion. What cannot be argued is the fact that, up until relatively recently, the vast majority of foreigners coming to work in Vietnam have invariably found themselves living in either the capital or the economic hub. This makes perfect sense, as these two cities are where most language centers, international schools, and multinational corporations are to be found. It is also far easier to acclimatize when there is ready access to many of the creature comforts of home, in the shape of foreign goods stores, Western-style bars and restaurants, and large shopping malls.

Things, however, have begun to change. A new player has entered the game. The destination du jour for many newcomers lies neither to the north nor to the south but smack bang in the middle of the country. Central Vietnam, and the cities of Da Nang, Hue and Hoi An in particular, is seeing an influx of foreigners. While this region had been somewhat overlooked in the past, in recent years its economy has experienced a heavy upswing, thanks in no small part to the weight of the tourist dollar, which has led to considerable development and modernization. The number of non-Vietnamese eateries and watering holes has skyrocketed. With the craft beer scene firmly taking root in Da Nang in the form of 7 Bridges Brewing Company, Hoi An’s old town bars filled to the brim every night of the week, and Hue’s Chu Van An street blossoming into a miniature Old Quarter, revelers are no longer short of places to refresh themselves once the sun has set.

PHOTO LE DIEM

PHOTO LE DIEM

Perhaps even more interesting than the sudden spike in popularity of Central Vietnam as the choice for first time migrants to Vietnam is the growing trend for long entrenched Hanoian and Saigonese expats to up sticks and make their way to the heart of the country. Numerous people who have, in some cases, spent in excess of a decade residing in these cities have decided that Central Vietnam is suddenly the place to be. All kinds of folk, from carefree and footloose single guys and girls to family men and women with kids in tow to salty and grizzled old timers, are joining in the exodus to this new promised land.

Perhaps even more interesting than the sudden spike in popularity of Central Vietnam as the choice for first time migrants to Vietnam is the growing trend for long entrenched Hanoian and Saigonese expats to up sticks and make their way to the heart of the country.

So the question must be asked: Why is this happening? The opening of some good feeding and drinking spots is hardly enough to warrant migration on such a scale. After all, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City still boast a far more diverse and eclectic miscellany of food options. The true answer must lie elsewhere. Could it be that many people actually prefer living in Da Nang, Hoi An, or Hue, and now that adequate job opportunities are available, they are simply doing what they have always dreamt of? Impossible. Preposterous. Absurd. The very idea is bunkum of the highest order.

Who in their right mind would want to give up the camaraderie of driving shoulder to shoulder with fellow city dwellers at a safe speed of 5 km/h, all the while being serenaded by the dulcet tones of myriad car and motorcycle horns? Are there seriously people who are willing to trade all that for the sterility and predictability of an efficiently planned road network, with nary a single toot to be heard to break the monotonous silence? Sounds rather dull to me.

And what about the air? The constant excitement of never knowing what the visibility level will be until leaving the house, looking up at the sky and getting to enjoy the wide palette of greys and having the opportunity to express your individuality through your choice of facemask, all of this will be lost. Instead, people will have nothing but blue skies, minimal pollution, and barely a need to use a facemask at all - where’s the fun in that?

Finally, the one thing that everyone constantly harps on about when they mention they are relocating to Da Nang, Hoi An, and to a slightly lesser extent, Hue - the proximity to the beach. In all honesty, it’s too hot to enjoy for most of the day and every time you go there, sand gets into every nook and cranny. The expectation far outweighs the reality and besides, the sea doesn’t hold a candle to the beauty, majesty and unique perfume of Hanoi’s To Lich River.

My prediction is that the majority of the people who move will spend a few months there before realizing the error of their ways and beating a hasty retreat with their tails firmly between their legs. Or I might be wrong. For some strange reason, they might actually take a liking to the cleanliness, order, serenity, and abundance of flavor-packed local food and decide to stay permanently. Each to their own I guess. As for me, I have no plans to join the masses on their journey to greener pastures. I am happiest when seated in a street-side café, strong black coffee in hand, lungs full of exhaust fumes, and the background roar of the city in my ears, watching the intricate ballet of the rush hour traffic. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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