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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Buying Property in Mui Ne (Some Thoughts)

I HAVE JUST RETURNED FROM NEARLY THREE WEEKS ON THE BEACH AT MUI NE IN BINH THUAN PROVINCE, DODGING THE LIZARD DROPPINGS IN MY THATCHED COTTAGE AND GENERALLY HAVING A GOOD TIME. For those who don't know yet, Mui Ne is a bit like the western coast of Koh Samui in Thailand, "offering vast stretches of white sand, clear blue skies and a plentiful supply of coconut trees." (I got this quote from Easy Property.) I must add that the other day I went satellite surfing with my workbuddy Rory courtesy of GeoEye, and scrolled from the dunes of Mui Ne to what we think was the island of Koh Samui -- and from the sky at least Koh Samui looks a lot more ordered and developed than Mui Ne. And the fine print of this statement is: Mui Ne offers more opportunities to those folk who live for tomorrow rather than for today, and Mui Ne is the new Koh Samui, just as Vietnam is the new Thailand. Easy Properties goes on to claim: "Developers are flocking to Binh Thuan Province with plans to develop tourist resorts, turning the area into a popular seaside destination, eager to market the area for its picturesque beaches and not just its famed fish sauce..." I have to add that for all its charms there is a certain scrappiness to Mui Ne, a present failure to live up to its full potential, to which the local production of fish sauce is just one contributing factor! To my mind there is an unacceptable amount of garbage in the water. That is just one example of waste. Another: the waste of space, the poor use of land. While there are plenty of resorts in Mui Ne, especially towards the red dunes there are a lot of idle lots. Riding along the road you pass rundown wooden shacks with Communist flags hoisted right on top of them: what the hell are they? obviously Government facilities but what are they doing, exactly? Monitoring the lizard numbers? The terns that divebomb you as you walk along the beach? Between sparkling new resorts you find eroded streams, fishermen shacks, sprawling bluetoned homes where families fight at night, and sundry vegetable plots. Teenagers play volleyball in the sand. The resorts themselves seem ridiculously overstaffed, with whole crews of guys manning single hoses. (That last point may be a slight exaggeration. Curiously, the head of the Binh Thuan Tourism Association says one of his biggest problems is the lack of human resources in his province. Nguyen Van Khoa said the number of staff at local venues was very small and few employees could speak Russian, German, Japanese and Korean. In my experience, a lot of staff struggle to speak even English.) Anyway, you get my point -- there is plenty of slack in this market! There is plenty of room for improvement, and plenty of empty lots still lying around, home to volleyball games or herds of grazing cows.

Local teenagers play volleyball on a vacant beachside lot: Mui Ne, Vietnam

According to Easy Property, tourism in Binh Thuan Province posted an annual growth of 30 per cent in 2005, earning a revenue of $30 million for 2004. As I have found on previous trips to Mui Ne, most of the tourists there are Vietnamese -- middle class Saigonese willing to drive 5 hours to the coastal outpost for a bit of R&R. It was hard keeping track of time during my three-week stay at Mui Ne, but I always knew it was Friday afternoon when the medley of bus horns resounded from the resort car park, and the paths started streaming with families. Beer parties on the mosquito-bitten balconies, loud and awful karaoke deep into the night. The pool, which had been my exclusive domain during the languid weekday noontimes, became too crowded for my use. The beach gets pretty crowded too which is strange, because it is not particularly clean. Must be from all those fishermen working just off the shore, and all their support crews on the sand. Not that I blame them, they have a job to do and it was their beach long before the tourists moved in. Luckily, all you need to do is hire a jeep or motorcycle (or if you are truly intrepid, a Dalat style doubleseater lovebike) and you will presently leave the madding crowd behind. For example, go north just past the headland at Hom Ron and a magnificient beach opens up, totally yellow and pristine with barely a tourist and a resort to be seen. Go a little further north, past the little town near the small offshore island, and the land seems like one giant golfcourse -- without any golfers. I got the feeling, when I was slugging my way on the pedals through the place with Nga a couple of weeks ago, that this was prime golf course country. All you would have to do to build your own golf course would be choose a lot, buy it -- and fence it off. All your typical golf course features would already be there, built in -- natural sand traps (the rampant Binh Thuan dunes, your choice of shimmering white or rusty gold), water courses ringed with lotus flowers and swarming with dragonflies, lovely green birds whose eyes glint in the sun, and sandflies. It is unblemished country north of Hon Rom, and all there for the taking. What are you waiting for?

Speaking of golf courses:

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