You might think that in a Communist society, the government would want to take from the rich and give to the poor, but in Vietnam, it's the other way round. Take the case of...
I was nearly finished with my update of Danang for the new edition of the guide. I had checked out the Cham Museum and Cao Dai Temple to make sure there were no major changes, I had carefully marked on the map the location of new bridges crossing the river, including the spectacular, fire-breathing Dragon Bridge, and had stood on the 20th floor of the new Grand Mercure and Novotel hotels, listening to PR reps wax lyrical about the benefits of spending £150 a night to sleep in their rooms perched high above the city. I had also found some new restaurants that cater to Westerners' tastes, and a couple of reasonable mini hotels to recommend for people looking for mid-range accommodation. All I needed was a hostel or some cheap lodging to list for backpackers, who are now visiting Vietnam in droves, before I could head off to Hoi An, one of my favourite towns in the entire country.
I was pretty sure that the best spot for backpackers was a small guest house located south of Danang, on the beach just in front of the Marble Mountains, which was already listed in the guide, and was called simply Hoa's Place. So I headed down the coast past My Khe and Non Nuoc Beaches, once known as China Beach to the Americans. My Khe was packed with Vietnamese holidaymakers, and lined with simple seafood restaurants, while Non Nuoc, starting at the Furama Resort, was walled off like some top-secret military facility, hiding a string of ultra-expensive, five-star resorts.
According to Google maps, Hoa's Place was located on the beach just between Vinpearl Resort and Sandy Beach Resort, both of which occupied huge tracts of land surrounded by tall walls and hedges. I turned into a stony lane that ran just 50 metres towards the beach, though all that lined the lane was rubble from demolished buildings, and a single shop where some folks were setting out tables for what seemed to be a wedding party. Since there was no guest house in sight, I turned round and headed on down the road but soon realised there were no other lanes leading to the beach, so stopped to call the number of the guest house.
Hoa answered and told me to head back to the lane lined with rubble, as that was the correct location. Puzzled, I retraced my route and saw a short, sunburned guy with leathery features waving in front of the shop. He greeted me with a big grin, introduced himself and ushered me to sit at a rickety table under the shade of a tarpaulin, then produced an ice-cold bottle of Hanoi beer for me. I took a few gulps of the refreshing beer, most welcome in the searing midday sun, and asked Hoa the obvious question, "So where's the guest house?"
His beaming smile turned into a scowl, and he dropped his head and shook it from side to side. "Oh man, that's a sad story. It used to be here, but the government pulled it down. You know, they want to sell this land to developers for a fancy resort, so they try to force me out." Then the scowl reverted to a grin. "But you know, I don't go! A few days ago, they tell me I can stay two more years, and my friend want to help me build a new place. In four months we have new Hoa's Place - cheap rooms for backpacker like before."
I remembered that the guide I was updating mentioned that Hoa's Place had been on the wane, due to ongoing development of the area, and it seemed I had arrived just in time to witness Hoa's last stand. For 20 years or so he had provided a cozy crash-pad for travellers and was proud of the reputation that he had created, with glowing reviews both in guide books and on TripAdvisor. Now it seemed his efforts were to be terminated, simply to turn a tidy profit for some local politician who had no sympathy with backpackers, as they don't spend hundreds of dollars a day like the guests in these five-star resorts.
I drained my beer and offered encouragement to Hoa, hoping his new venture would be successful and that he could resume his role of being a God-send to budget travellers. Yet as I moved on down the road towards Hoi An, passing endless stretches of fenced-off land that was slated for new resorts, I knew that Hoa was fighting a losing battle. When I checked in to my room in Hoi An, I took out the guide and drew a line through Hoa's Place, but I knew that I wouldn't be content with a simple deletion, so resolved to write this short ode to the memory of Hoa's Place.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.