Vietnam’s endless development – ruin or redemption?

The road from Nha Trang is awash with litter from endless construction sites. Down to the water, rickety cranes swing huge concrete blocks into place. New golf courses and spas abound. This is wild west capitalism, where quick buildings and a fast buck have become the dominant feature of a nation in a desperate to hurry to keep pace with insatiable demand.

It’s not just on this stretch of coast either. The vast sandy beaches between Da Nang and Cua Dai are being sold off and developed at a rate of knots. Beaches that were once the R and R playgrounds of battle fatigued GIs are quickly becoming insulated playpens for those who want sun and sand without the local culture.

 

The question is, who am I and the other concerned travellers, to judge? Speaking to Bien, a part time student and hawker in Hoi An, I was told of how much the locals love the influx of tourists. “It’s good for us,” he said. But his enthusiasm was clearly tinged with concern. “Change is good, but in ten years Vietnam has become a lot more expensive and a lot less friendly,” he added.

Prices have definitely risen, down to both inflation and the willingness of holidaymakers to pay over the odds for home comforts. Nha Trang’s Novitel was charging VND 420000 for a western buffet, roughly £14. Round the corner a huge plate of rice barbecue could be had on the street for VND 25000, 80p. I didn’t try the former, but I’m certain the latter was better and helped support the locals more meaningfully.

Speaking to a travel journalist on the train from Da Nang to Nha Trang, who’s lived in Saigon for two years, he said issues like overpriced hotels and restaurants and poorly thought out, badly develops resorts, were endemic and getting worse.

And while these pricey new resorts and developments crop us faster than ever, rampant corruption means the essential supporting infrastructure is left way behind. Locals who need to use roads and rail are stuck with crappy transport while tourists are easily dropped in by air, not having to experience for too long the realities of Vietnamese life. Their money may be welcome, but it’s clear that only a few are benefitting from the capitalist orgy engulfing this beautiful nation.

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