I just returned from taking my wife and sister in law for a 3 day highland tour by car. Mai and Gia had never been to Kon Tum so. I decided to overnight there, and the second night in Quy Nhon before heading back to Nha Trang. I have traveled this same route many dozens of times in the past few years, but this trip has me thinking of How Vietnam is changing. The money being spent here has to be astronomical. Maybe some of you out there know more about it than me, but here is what I have witnessed.
For a few years, I have had an ongoing friendly disagreement argument with the owner of one of the most popular hotels in town. I saw the seeds of construction and planning and thought that Nha Trang was in
for something big. My friend disagreed and thought that money was just being wasted in a typical fashion that happens here so often. No, no…. There are a lot of people out there a lot smarter than us and the almost bursting bubble of construction had me convinced that something was about to blow. And blow it did!! The Russians, Chinese, and Koreans came. I think massive investment came with them. I have no way of really knowing as there is very little news and my Vietnamese skills are not nearly good enough to follow politics or economic issues. So, here is what I saw on this last trip that has me in shock.
Firstly, in Nha Trang there has and still is a large number of high end hotels and accommodation springing up everywhere. A single tour company that was almost nonexistent has gone from almost no busses 2 years ago to hundreds……. All full with people on excursions to many areas in central Vietnam. I have even sadly had some bring large groups into the small local villages that I travel to often witnessing the timid hill tribe folks hiding in their long houses scared. My area and some others are still free from a lot of foreigners, but who knows how much longer. I think Nha Trang will become a very
different city. Construction is everywhere. Where is the money coming from? As I left Nha Trang, I started on highway 1 which is in the process of being twinned for its entire length of over 1500 km all at the same time. This includes the 100’s of bridges. We drove as far as Ninh Hoa and turned towards Buon Ma Thuot. We turned north on highway 14 to travel down another highway that is being twinned. Currently it is a nightmare and I suggest all of you adventurers that want to bike on your own to reconsider. The road from Pleiku to Kon Tum was finished and I was happy and relieved to have at least a few km’s of non back breaking roads. This area is a relief as it seems unchanged. Pleiku is a growing city but natural it seems. Kon Tum is the same as it has been for years except the roads are much better.
The next morning we headed towards Quy Nhon on highway 19. OMG!! It is also being twinned. Where can they be getting all of the machinery from? It is a total mystery to me. All of the people with homes along
these roads are annexed and money paid so we are not just talking construction costs but home buy outs and relocation. (I now understand the construction of some ghost towns I have encountered.) New townships are springing up in areas that have been in quiet development for years. We arrive in Quy Nhon and spend the night in another slow to change city……. But wait!! The next morning as we drive along the beach to exit, we are stuck behind crowds of workers and police. 100’s of them…. There were loud speakers blaring, mobile units going up and down the beach area with some kind of special team and government boats in the water. Wow!! What was this? Quy Nhon has decided to make an effort to clean up the beaches and force the fisherman to become tidier and moor their boats in an aesthetic manner. Whaa????? The convoys of garbage trucks were overloaded with nets, old basket boats, and Styrofoam. Why the sudden interest in cleaning the city? I bet the tourists are coming. What else could it be? I would not be surprised if this tour company in Nha Trang has made some kind of deal in other coastal areas. I am nervous and sad about these changes. I think the powers that be may have made a deal with the devil. Part of what I love about these people and society is how innocent and eager they are. The new surge in tourism seems
not to be helping the local business so much as almost all services are provided by the tour company. I guess restaurants and tourist gift shops my benefit but many are jointly owned by foreign interest. Just recently I talked with a long time bookstore owner clost to Nha Trangs tourist area. The store was being closed and items moved out. Her explanation to us was that a Russian business person offered her money more for monthly rent than she could make running her 20 year old business.
All the construction and all the development costs money. A person has to wonder where it all is coming from. I am afraid that Vietnam is becoming a very different place….. For better or worse, time will tell.