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'Penniless billionaires' on Vietnam’s tourism haven of Phu Quoc

Sunday, August 16, 2015, 17:57 GMT+7
'Penniless billionaires' on Vietnam’s tourism haven of Phu Quoc
Fisherman Cao Ngoc An in Ham Ninh returns to go fishing at sea after selling land and experiencing a luxurious lifestyle for a short time.

After suddenly owning a very big sum of money through selling land when land fever swept through Phu Quoc Island, many farmers and fishermen could only enjoy the rich life for a short time due to their lack of skills in managing cash.

Some recalled that the wealth flashed to them as quickly as a dream.

In the island district just 45 kilometers from the Ha Tien coast of Kien Giang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, they are labeled as ‘penniless billionaires.’

Land fever has swept through the island as travel resorts and hotels have been developed in recent years.

Poor farmers and fishermen gave in to the temptation offered by the developers and agreed to sell their land for dozens of billions of dong. (VND10 billion equals US$460,000)

It is a big sum they never even thought of before, when they were still working on fishing boats to earn a few U.S. dollars per day.

Many of them later admitted that it was still easier than winning the jackpot in a lottery.

But the other side of the easy money is the disbanding of decades-old villages, since villagers had to concede their land for construction and move to other places.

It has damaged the peaceful life of poor farmers and fishermen, who once lived on vast land plots facing the beach.

And golden-sand beaches, once the place for drying fish and fishing nets, have now become the front of luxurious buildings and resorts.

T.K. in Bai Bon Hamlet in Phu Quoc’s Ham Ninh Commune is one example of a ‘penniless billionaire.’

Before the arrival of the land fever, K. said he could not even borrow VND500,000 ($23) to buy a new fishing net, but suddenly one day a woman came and offered to buy his land for VND12 billion ($552,000).

The man recalled that he thought the woman was joking.

He quickly agreed to sell his land for the big sum.

Many other fishermen and farmers in Ganh Dau, Ham Ninh, An Thoi and Duong To – locales on Phu Quoc – were given similar offers.

On average, each hectare of land facing a beach on Phu Quoc is priced at VND40 billion ($1.84 million).

With so much money, they began buying cars and indulging in parties and donating to relatives to “experience the life of rich people and [our] new position in society.”

But these billionaires only knew how to spend, not earning more money from the available source.

And ‘the life of a billionaire’ ended after a couple of years when the sum ran out.

They became even worse off than before, as they now have no house to live in.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters have found tens of such billionaires on Phu Quoc.

“I thought then that a man holding around VND15 billion [$690,000] was not richer than others at all. VND30 billion [$1.4 million] was okay to me,” said Tran Van Xe, 61, in An Thoi Commune, about his own situation.

Xe said he sold his land for nearly VND15 billion and feels sorry now. He said he does not regret the sum of money he spent but the piece of land he sold, for it has not brought about a true better change in his life.

A state official in Ham Ninh said suddenly coming into a big sum of money has become a disaster for many locals, as husbands stopped their daily job, fell into a drinking habit and abandoned their family.

But this is not true for everyone.

Bui Minh Cong, a mason in An Thoi Commune, is in a different position after selling his land by the beach.

He and his wife sent the sum of tens of billions of dong to a local bank, and the following day he went to a construction site to ask for a new job as a mason.

His money has remained untouched in the bank.

He refused to let the Tuoi Tre journalists call him ‘a billionaire’ and joked, “Don’t address me that way. I don’t lead the billionaire career.”

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