Hoa’s place was everything we had imagined. A stones throw away to a deserted beach, an open air restaurant complete with travelers having Larue beers and a laid back breezy atmosphere. Looking at each other relived and excited to hunker down for at least a week, we took a seat at the table with the three other travelers, whom we would get to know over the next few days. They pointed to the standing fridge, “Grab a beer and write it in the book, it’s the honor system here.” This was going to be a great resting place for us.
Hoa’s brother approached us and before we could tell him, “book us for the week” he informed us, “Hoa’s Place is getting torn down in two days, do you want the $7 room or the $9 room?” We looked over to the other travelers and they raised their beers, “The last guests of Hoa’s Place.”
Hoa’s Place was opened almost 18 years ago by Hoa and his wife. They wanted to build a place of brotherhood for travelers and backpackers. The first few years, Hoa’s Place was just one building with two guest rooms, so Hoa and his wife slept on the floor of the dining area for a better part of 14 years. But that’s how they liked it, close to the action. Hoa got to know all of his guests and took the time to know everyones name. Since Hoa’s opened, every night at 7pm there is a family dinner for all the fellow travelers to talk, laugh and tell stories of their adventures, it would be no different for us 18 years later.
Over the years Hoa was able to get many more rooms in two other buildings next door and even expanded/remodeled the hangout dining area. Hoa was not in it to make a profit, but instead he just made sure his bills were paid and that everyone was having a good time. The main road to Hoa’s was also the main road for the locals to get to the beach and he seemed to know everyone of them as they ventured down to the sandy shores. Hoa had created a very special place for so many people and for so many years. Unfortunately the government wanted what Hoa and many other people in his community had, beach front property just waiting to be developed.
When Hoa’s Place was opened, it was surrounded by fishing villages, the neighborhood he himself grew up in. But this was not the Hoa’s Place we experienced, we saw giant empty lifeless resorts to our left and right, as far as you could see. The local government began offering money to the fishermen for their property. Hoa always resisted and rallied his community for many impressive years, “do not sell your land!”. But slowly slowly the fishermen and their families signed the contracts, in exchange for what Hoa referred to as, “a small amount of money in the long run.” But Hoa continued to resist. The battle for his land went on for many years and for many years Hoa’s Place was always on the verge of closing, until this past April when the police came in and occupied his space. Hoa was going to be forced to leave his land weather he wanted to or not. The date was set, Hoa would move out on April 18th and he would be given new land a few meters away and a small amount of money to rebuild. So here we were the last five guests of the original Hoa’s Place.
The night we arrived, as is the tradition, we sat around the table getting to know each other. Sarah and Joe were a couple from Scotland, in the last few months of their year long travels. They had spent 6 months in India traveling very much the same route David had done a few years prior. They talked of the shores of Gokarna and the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, as the sun set and the lizards began to climb the darkening walls. Then there was Corey, an American trying to sell his moto bike in the south before his Vietnamese Visa ended. It was also Corey’s 30th birthday, and the night would end with us singing “happy birthday” as he blew out the candles on his banana pancake.
The food was so great, and was some of the best we had in Vietnam at that point. One of the best treats was Hoa’s wife’s famous spring rolls that were wrapped in coconut paper and fried, we would later find these again in the south. There was also pork and fish, noodles and rice, a never ending supply of food was coming from the kitchen and we all happily ate and ate, washing it all down with Larue.
The next morning we were jolted out of bed by the sound of a jackhammer in our bedroom or rather what sounded like a jackhammer in our bedroom. The building right outside our window was being torn down by-hand by several men. They would beat the concrete walls with sledge hammers, over and over until they budged, then work on another spot hoping it would loosen. It definitely did not look like easy work. It was 7am and Hoa’s Place was already a full construction site. We were after all the last guests at Hoa’s, which sadly meant everything was being torn down all around us. Trying to escape the noise we headed down to the beach for our first day of sunshine and some frisbee. The sky was blue but a bit overcast and the water was so calm and cool. Not a single other person on the beach except the sad lines of empty resort beach chairs fifty meters away on each side.
As lunch time rolled around it was time to start drinking and to finally get to meet the Hoa we heard so much about. As we approached the restaurant, Hoa saw us coming and jumped from the chair to greet us. He put down his glass of Larue and shook our hands asking our names and where we were from. Physically Hoa is very short and petit, no more then 5’4″ and 100 pounds soaking wet. He is 58 years old and has a young youthful spirit about him. As David introduced himself, Hoa pulled him forward. “Ah David, you asshole!” He laughed, as he gave David a slap on the back. Hoa turned to Morgan and said, “I don’t mean it, it’s like a joke.” Referring to calling David and asshole. “I know that kind of humor very well from my family!” She laughed back. We all gathered around Hoa and cracked some beers as he loudly cheersed,”Happy day!” as sledge hammers roared and walls crumbled down around us.
Hoa is a Vietnam vet and was in the trenches with the US marines when he was 12 years old. He told many stories of the war, but some of our favorite were of the military rations. “I just wanted one of those burgers so bad!” He told David. “If you got B1 you were in good shape, but B2 was gonna be bad, spaghetti!” He went through and recited all the different military issued dinners that were available. After so many years, he is still talking of the American army burgers. Hoa talked of his brotherhood and as the night unfolded many US expat vets stopped by to say their farewell to Hoa’s Place, “fuck you Hoa” they would each say as a term of endearment toward him. “Fuck you asshole.” He laughed back embracing each of them.
The empty beer cans continued to grow and a local expat poured a fancy bottle of red wine for everyone. Hoa raised his glass of wine and cheered again, “Happy day! Bottoms up!” And chugged his glass of wine. David not being one to pass up Hoa’s offer, followed suit. The daylight fell to night and Hoa sang a traditional Vietnamese school song to close out his last drink. He took a look around at the bare empty walls of his restaurant chugged the last of his beer and said, “good night assholes, have a good dinner and just be cool!” “Fuck you Hoa,” was everyone’s response as they gave him a hug and a farewell, and just like that he was on his way home. The last night at Hoas.
The next morning we were awoken by the sounds of construction but were kept awake with the thoughts of where to go next? We had been so caught up in the moment at Hoa’s and having no wifi, we had not yet planned where we would go in a few hours. Over breakfast with the Scottish couple, Sarah and Joe, it was decided that since we were only about 30 minutes from Hoi An, we would all share a cab in that direction. Hoa then called us a car and it was set, the final guests of Hoa’s Place settled their tabs and signed the guest book.
As we drove away more walls began to crumble and Hoa’s place disappeared behind us, on the horizon all we could see was the monstrous resorts growing bigger an bigger. We had no idea where we were going to get dropped in Hoi An, but we all sat quietly in the car thinking about that time we all got to meet Hoa and stay at his place.