Woa Hoa!

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November 16th 2010
Published: November 16th 2010
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So, the next destination in Vietnam was China Beach. I wanted to go to a chilled beach and as it had been recommended, it seemed like the perfect choice. I was told to stay at 'Hoa's Place', the only bonafide backpacker guest-house on the beach. I had been warned that it wasn't the most 'aesthetically pleasing' of places but that the character and location were the reasons to go there. Rocking up at early o' clock, it would have been easy to dismiss this stop. The bus drops you in the middle of what seems like nowhere. It didn't help that we were dropped a few ks from where we needed to be, so we then had to communicate the address to the non-English-speaking locals. We finally got there at about 9.30 am and I knew I'd made the right choice. Straight away Hoa came bustling over, introducing himself, taking our names and asking the obligatory questions about where we were from etc but in a way that seemed really sincere. His English was perfect and you could tell he was a real character. I was with just Angelica at this time but knew if I'd been alone it would have been easy to meet people. Everyone was really relaxed and you could tell that this was a place that the guests were really happy to have discovered.

The fact that this place's namesake is still running the joint adds a touch of cool and believe me (a good judge of character I'll have you know), Hoa is the epitome of unintentional coolness. He gets drunk in the day (in a way that is comical not threatening) and his adorable wife cleans up after the guests, wiping crumbs away as soon as they've hit the table. When everything is up and running and the majority of checking in and out has been performed, Hoa departs, sometimes slurring and then comes back ready for some more the next day. You really get the sense that they love what they do. Essentially they play the gendered roles of Mother and Father to those who pass through. As they show each other affection, you can't help but feel warm and fuzzy. They are to look at, a his and hers version of one another which is exaggerated further by the image of their faces emblazoning a t-shirt hanging in the foyer. The slogan reads 'Hoa's Place. Taking it easy since 1994'. It really is that simple. You go there, drink cheap beer and wine and eat an abundance of food. At most, you may have to deal with a hangover but that's fine because if you walk for a few metres you will be on a sandy beach with nothing but a few waves and other backpackers to deal with.

Hoa's Place is cult. You can't help but feel really smug that when everyone else is carefully following the route laid out by their 5 or 6 stop bus ticket from the north to the south of the country, you have discovered a place where the biggest stress of the day will be taking a cold shower to wash the sand off after a day at the virtually abandoned beach. (Don't get me wrong, I also followed the 6 stop bus route, just took a few detours here and there also.) It's like a secret that you just can't keep to yourself because although it's true that the fewer people who go there the cooler it should be, your natural instinct is to tell the whole world because you want them to experience it too. The simplicity of the whole set-up just reminds you that good people and the right setting doth a fun time make. (Cringe but true.) The food was basic and almost the same every evening, the rooms were hot and small and most nights the water would just completely run out around midnight. Being at Hoa's Place is like being in one of those films where nothing but everything happens at the same time.

Unfortunately, capitalism is in full thrust on this beach and Hoa's Place is being bought out. The land is to be sold to big business bodies who wish to turn this sacred area into yet another ugly, non-descript and 'oozing-with-blandness' resort which will be juxtaposed next to a virtually identical complex. In the meantime, Hoa and his Place continue to thrive and everyone who leaves there feels lighter and happier. I have told everyone who is visiting Vietnam to go there and I am probably going to swing by again next year en-route back to the UK. It is a proper gem and going there just affirmed that leaving home for this trip was the best decision I have made in a long time- certainly since I turned 25 anyway! Leaving Hoa's was a sad but necessary move- next stop after swinging by Hoi An for one more night was to be Nha Trang... This is a slightly less, refined sea-side resort, where a strong liver and tolerance of Black Eyed Peas and other such nonsense would be the most basic necessities.


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