Big wave of internal migration hits Da Lat

By Xanh Le   August 13, 2023 | 08:09 pm PT
Big wave of internal migration hits Da Lat
Vehicles queueing at a traffic light in Da Lat during the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Trung Tri
Long-time Da Lat resident Nguyen Quy says as much as 95% of the people living in the outskirts of the central highland city have accents from other regions.

In other words, they are not Da Lat "natives."

"Most [of them] have accents from central provinces, some speak northern dialects as well," Quy, who has lived in Da lat for around 10 years, said.

"It used to be not crowded in the suburbs [of Da Lat], but when I visit those places now, there are a lot of people and even more greenhouses than in the inner city."

The 2021 Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index survey showed that the central highland province of Lam Dong, of which Da Lat is the capital, ranked fourth on the list of domestic regions that have attracted the most internal migrants recently, following metropolitan areas HCMC, Hanoi, and Da Nang.

Most migrants cited better environmental conditions in Lam Dong as their reason to migrate.

But there is another reason for many people to move here, as observed by VnExpress reporters: the business opportunities.

Tuyet Nga and her husband used to work as sales executives in HCMC. They had struggled financially for 10 years before deciding to move to Da Lat and establish a homestay.

"All of the money we made [in HCMC] was spent on paying interest on our loans, as we borrowed money from the banks to purchase a house in the outskirts of the city," Nga said.

But then someone suggested that operating a homestay in Da Lat could help earn a profit between VND20 million and VND30 million a month. The couple moved to the central highlands city over a year ago to shoot for the chance to change their life forever.

It turned out many people had the same idea as they did.

"Around five to six out of every 10 people I meet here are migrants from other locations," Nga said. "Most of the business owners here are not Da Lat natives."

And a lot of these people are making their living providing various forms of hospitality services, just like Nga and her husband. The result is a rising number of accommodations for rent in Da Lat, up from only 538 in 2006 to around 2,400 in 2022, more than a four-fold increase in 16 years.

Despite the huge number of accommodations that Nga and her husband’s homestay has to compete with, their homestay is still full every peak travel season. Their current income is better compared to when they were in HCMC.

"Our homestay performed pretty well last year," Nga said. "Not only our accommodations, but those all over Da Lat often run out of rooms during the travel seasons."

Da Lat has long been a popular travel destination in Vietnam. Some 1.32 million tourists visited Da Lat in 2016, but the figure had increased to roughly 5.5 million 16 years later.

But this massive influx of people, both short-term tourists and new residents, is also a burden on the city’s livability.

One of the most obvious consequences is the positive correlation between the population and the housing prices.

"I know of some pieces of land that cost a few hundreds of million dong around six or seven years ago," Quy said. "But their prices skyrocketed to tens of billion dong now."

He added that houses in the center of Da Lat that were on sale for VND3 billion around six to seven years ago are now sold for VND30 billion at the lowest.

"Prices have soared like that in less than 10 years," he said. "It’s hard to buy a house or land in Da Lat at the moment."

Another impact is how harshly the rising population has hit the city’s infrastructure.

Architect Ernest Hébrard's 1923 plan for Da Lat designed a city for between 30,000 and 50,000 residents. Given the number of Da Lat residents at that time, which stood at 1,500, the plan was quite generous.

But the number of people living in the city a century later has soared 150 times to reach 240,000 - almost five times higher than the maximum capacity of the city Hébrard had in mind.

Construction expert Dr. Phan Le Binh pointed out big challenges happening in the city as the urbanization rate has not kept up with the rise in population.

"The most basic consequence that everyone can see is traffic congestion," he said, noting that there used to be no traffic lights in Da Lat. Now there’s traffic congestion almost everywhere, almost all the time.

"A highly populous place is also put under the pressure of the high needs for schools, hospitals, grocery markets, and much more," Binh added. "An increase of one resident will lead to new infrastructure added, so an increase of thousands of people will require huge changes in the city’s infrastructure system."

The last thing Binh pointed out is the environmental impact of the growing population. The rising amounts of solid waste, water waste, and polluted air are all health hazards people can no longer escape in Da Lat.

The amount of forest cover in Da Lat has also been affected. Forest covered 69% of the city’s total land in 1997, but that figure had dropped to only 51% only in 2020, according to the Lam Dong department of agriculture and rural development.

Inner-city pine forest area also reduced by half in the span of 21 years, from 350 hectares in 1997 to 150 hectares in 2018. The reduction is considered by many the main reason behind recent floods and landslides in the central highland municipality.

Architect Ngo Viet Nam Son approved of this reasoning, saying Da Lat’s changes in infrastructure have not kept up with the city’s urbanization rate. He warned that if authorities do not implement any changes in urbanization planning, accidents will keep happening in the upcoming time.

He suggested that municipal authorities create peripheral urban sites known as satellite cities to ease the problems.

"We should not direct people to live in the inner-city anymore, as it is already too crowded," he said. "Creating peripheral urban sites with built-in services and businesses will encourage people to move to the outskirts of the city instead of compiling in the inner-city."

Successfully doing so will also return to Da Lat the image of "a city in the forest, a forest in the city," which was Hébard’s initial vision of the central highland city.

Whether these ideas will become reality in the future is not yet guaranteed, but there is one thing for sure: people will keep flocking to Da Lat seeking for better lives, at least in the near future. Many acquaintances of Nga and her husband have asked for advice from them on relocating to the city.

"We have many things to worry about if we live in big metropolitan areas like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi," Nga said. "Like the kids’ tuition fees and many other living expenses."

"So I think: why not come here? If our businesses perform well, our lives will change forever, who knows?"

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