Đồ Sơn Dreaming
Everyone knows the Instagram Vietnam: bright green paddies farmed by smiling conical-hatted workers, mist-shrouded tropical forests, the mountainous seascapes of Ha Long Bay. But the country loved by most Vietnamese may look a little different. While foreign visitors seek out wild scenery and exotic experiences, Vietnam’s booming domestic tourism market has a taste for more familiar scenes. Much as in post-war Britain, the family seaside holiday is king.
Taking our cue from Martin Parr’s classic photo story ‘The Last Resort’, we headed out one rainy summer’s day to Đồ Sơn, northern Vietnam’s popular seaside getaway.
Originally set up as a seaside resort by the French in the 19th century, Đồ Sơn now attracts thousands of Vietnamese tourists every summer. We visited on a rainy, cloudy Friday in June, but beachgoers were still braving the waves, and families of four generations wandered the promenade.
Few Vietnamese can swim well, especially on a choppy day like this, but everyone enjoys a paddle. The girls tend to favour these tutu-like swimsuits, offering just the right mix of convenience, discretion and dazzling colour. Shops along the beachfront were also doing a fast trade in lifejackets, inner tubes and Little Mermaid arm floats.
The point is to look good for those selfies you’ll be posting on Instagram and Facebook, whether or not the sun comes out. These guys spent at least an hour on their self-studies, capturing various moods and angles with impressive dedication. Facebook was banned in Vietnam until 2008, but the youth have since joined en masse, expressing themselves in a way unthinkable to their parents’ generation.
Like many tourist destinations, Đồ Sơn is a favourite for Vietnamese couples shooting their wedding album. Albums like this, with the happy couple modelling both traditional Vietnamese áo dài and western-style suit and dress, have become a staple of Vietnamese wedding ceremonies. Expect the final cut to feature turquoise waves and white sands, with the selfie-takers photoshopped out of existence.
When the beach bores you, there’s plenty of fun to be had at lunchtime. Vietnamese males down beer and shots with their meals as a matter of ritual, the chant ‘một, hai, ba…YO’ (1,2,3, YO) resounding across the nation’s restaurants each noon. This group from Bac Ninh province had visited on a team-building trip organized by their German electronics company.
Once the drinking had finished, those who remained standing sang karaoke, while the others got their heads down for a snooze. Vietnam currently ranks as South-East Asia’s biggest per-capita drinker of beer, and consumption is expected to surge with the coming sale of government stakes in the beer market. Stand by for more cries of ‘một, hai, ba, YO’, and more young people passed out in restaurants.
The sun brought young and old back to the beach, along with memories of
‘The miniature gaiety of seasides.
Everything crowds under the low horizon:
Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,
The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse
Up the warm yellow sand, and further off
A white steamer stuck in the afternoon…’
Philip Larkin, ‘To the Sea’