Urban exodus, a new trend among young Vietnamese

By Long Nguyen   October 20, 2020 | 05:11 pm PT
Many young people are leaving cities for the countryside, allured by pastoral life and tired out by the rat race.

Early one September morning, Thanh An and My Thuan, both 25, wake up in their wooden house next to a lake and drink their morning coffee by a stream with their five dogs.

Their place, in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong Province, used to have no electricity, clean water or phone signals.

The young couple from Saigon had never dreamed they would one day leave the urban rat race and start a new life in the middle of a forest.

Two years ago An, a graduate of the HCMC University of Finance - Marketing and working in an office, decided to pursue his passion for farming and bought a piece of land in Dak Nong, where he now grows coffee on two hectares and macadamia, jackfruit and banana.

"I have not felt stress for a long time," he said gratefully, adding he will continue to live his rural dream.

The couple is among a slew of urbanites for whom city life has been losing its appeal in the last few years.

A young couple live in Dak Nong Province in Central Highlands after living HCMC at the age of 23. Photo by VnExpress/To Uyen.

An and his wife Thuan in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong where they moved to from HCMC at the age of 23. Photo by VnExpress/To Uyen.

In nearby Da Lat, a tourism hotspot, around 43,000 people have settled down in the last few years and run businesses, according to a recent report. Many of them have rented farms to grow flowers and vegetables and build tourism accommodation.

Dong Thap Province in the Mekong Delta has been seeing a similar influx with young and educated people coming to set up agribusinesses involving tea, essential oils and others.

Here authorities are supporting them and hoping to attract more such people, who can possibly make high-quality products using local agricultural resources.

The central Thanh Hoa Province has rolled out a number of policies that have attracted more than 1,700 university graduates since 2012, and many new businesses are flourishing.

"If the older generation moved from rural areas to cities in the past, young people are now moving in the opposite direction," sociologist Trinh Hoa Binh told VnExpress International.

Since there are new business opportunities in the countryside while city life has drawbacks, "leaving is a choice," he pointed out.

A Facebook group called "Bo Pho Ve Rung" (Leave City For Forests) has got more than 17,000 members within 10 months, with most seeking to buy farmlands in rural areas, especially in the Central Highlands, and sharing their urban exodus experience.

"Seeing many young people leaving cities for the countryside makes me excited and want to do the same: leave for Da Lat, sow seeds, grow flowers, and enjoy the fresh morning air," one new member posted in the group.

The exodus has sparked a rising demand for rural and suburban properties and an attendant surge in prices of land in places like Long An, Tien Giang, Dong Nai, and Ba Ria - Vung Tau Provinces, according to many real estate agents.

In the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, prices have tripled in some places.

A family, moving from Saigon to Central Highlands Lam Dong Province, walks in their garden, which is also their business. Photo by Anna Nguyen.

A couple and their children who moved from Saigon to Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands in their garden, which is also their business. Photo by Anna Nguyen.


With millions of people migrating to cities in the first place, finding a job has become increasingly difficult. According to latest census, more than 65 percent of the population live in rural areas, but the unemployment rate there is only 1.64 percent. The rate in urban areas is 2.93 percent.

Thus, moving to the countryside is also a good option for those struggling to earn a livelihood in competitive metros.

Young, highly educated urbanites see opportunities in the country and move there mostly to start their own business, usually related to agriculture or tourism.

With tainted foods becoming a serious concern for many people, more and more Vietnamese prefer organic, creating increasing opportunities for young farmers.

"Young people are giving rural areas a chance to develop," Binh said.

In Dak Nong, An and Thuan have harvested 1.5 tons of coffee after nearly two years, and hope to have a fruitful business from their production.

Thuan said: "We work until we sweat, then we sit to rest. Sometimes we have to work in the evening, watering our plants with a flashlight." She also sells homemade soap and shampoo.

A man in his house in Da Lat after moving from HCMC in 2019. Photo courtesy of Le Kiet.

A man in his house in Da Lat after moving there from HCMC in 2019. Photo courtesy of Le Kiet.

The trend of relocating from cities to the countryside is also owed to the stress caused by the urban rat race.

Work pressure, traffic jams, dirty air, and others are taking a toll. Last year Hanoi was the 150th most polluted city in the world while HCMC was 609th according to Switzerland-based air quality monitor, IQAir AirVisual.

A report from the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital of Mental Health in 2018 revealed that 6 percent of the city’s population faced depression and 7 percent had anxiety disorders while the number of patients was increasing by 10 - 15 percent a year.

Nguyen Thanh Anh, 33, quit his job at an international headhunting firm in Ho Chi Minh City and headed to Phu Quoc Island to work at a homestay last year as he began to hate "working stressfully around the clock to pay monthly bills without having me-time."

Anh remembered when he first came to Phu Quoc on a vacation with colleagues in 2018, the quiet and verdant island made such a contrast to congested Saigon "and made me ask why I need to exhaust myself with city life when there is an alternative."

Not everyone’s cup of tea

While some people find a new life with a livelihood to sustain them, others learn that rural life is not the bed of roses it seems from afar.

After investing large sums of money to start a business, some find they lack knowledge and experience of agriculture, or the work they do is totally different from their earlier office job.

Exhausting physical work, weather, and plant diseases are factors they have to deal with when starting their new life.

"After a few years my wife and I are exhausted because of tough agricultural work while the loan we took to buy our pick-up truck is still hanging over our heads," Pham Quang, who moved with his wife from Saigon to a rural area outside the city four years ago to farm vegetables, fruits and livestock, lamented.

Lack of cultural and amusement options, nightlife, public transport, and food delivery services in the countryside also makes it hard for young urbanites to adapt.

Nguyen Ha Uyen, 28, moved back to Saigon after working for a hotel in Con Dao for six months because "life was too boring on the deserted island."

"People like your Facebook photos of you growing flowers in your home garden or sitting in front of a quiet sea, but the reality is not that alluring."

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