Lauren Cameron gets her groove on at Coco Beachcamp.
As our minivan hit the coastline at Ho Tram and the ocean opened up before us, our party of 10 began breathing a little easier. As expats who had fallen for the charms of Ho Chi Minh City and now called it home, it was a rare occasion for us to be within eyesight of the ocean. We were out of the city at last, with a glorious stretch of white sand and rocky boulders moving beside us as we cruised toward our weekend getaway destination. Coco Beachcamp, rustic beachfront oasis slash live music venue located on one of La Gi’s beaches, seemed like the perfect escape from Ho Chi Minh given its proximity to the city. Just three hours in a private, air-conditioned minivan, perhaps less on a zippy motorbike.
We had heard rumours of this “hippie haven on the coast” but hadn’t quite anticipated the reality of it. As we pulled up, we saw signs promoting the beach party that would take place that same night, featuring DJs, international singers and a heck of a lot of booze. We were like schoolkids for whom Christmas had come early as we checked out the sprawling bar area and treehouse platforms that lined the beachfront – it was like nothing we had seen to date in Vietnam.
While not aimed at those seeking luxury, Coco Beachcamp has been designed most thoughtfully with an infinity pool, beachfront dining and drinking options and a variety of accommodation possibilities ranging from a simple US$1-a-night tent to an air-conditioned beachfront bungalow. There are also a handful of retro caravan campers, colourful beach huts and a variety of garden rooms available for rent. One can even opt to share a luxury teepee tent with up to 15 friends – a rare find in Vietnam! We stayed in a beachfront wooden house hut, and when I say beachfront I mean smack bang on the sand. It was wonderful! With both air-conditioning AND an electric fan inside our hut, my husband was a very happy man indeed. Our cabin also had an indoor shower and toilet. With a rather retro bedspread and a Bohemian tapestry hanging from the ceiling, I felt like we’d stepped back into the 70s. We loved it.
Coco Beachcamp owner Tran Qui Le had spent close to 15 years working in the Vietnam travel industry when he realised there was a dire need for a new kind of accommodation model, something that blended resort-style luxury and outdoor adventure – and for a fraction of the price. Thus ensued the Coco Beachcamp project.
We spoke on the beach at sunset, Le wearing his wetsuit. He had been windsurfing for hours and hoped to have another surf before the sun fully set. With a beer in hand and the salt of the ocean still in his hair, it was not difficult to understand why he opted to give up his fast-paced life in Saigon for the charms of coastal living. Born locally, he had acquired the land that Coco Beachcamp sits on in 2003 but it took close to 13 years to design and build the resort as per his very specific vision.
“I realised that most resorts in Vietnam are all about eating and drinking in a beautiful atmosphere,” he explained. “I wanted to create a destination that was a little simpler in its design, but still beautiful. A place where you can take part in a ton of outdoor activities rather than just lie around checking Facebook.”
The entire site sits on a sprawling several acres of palm trees, dunes and ponds, with pastel beach chairs, swings, vintage armoires and rusting kombi vans found haphazardly throughout the gardens. Guests lay in treehouses drinking cocktails over the beach, ate authentic Vietnamese from the onsite restaurant, played beach soccer or sunbathed by the infinity pool. A duet of sisters took up their place on the beach stage at around 9pm and DJs entertained guests until the wee hours of the morning. But the entertainment options weren’t only limited to late night fun. Outdoor activities on offer at Coco Beachcamp include kitesurfing, windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, kayaking, catamaraning, beach volleyball and yoga, with further plans for expansion in coming years.
“Our dream is to develop a full-on beach sports club, with professional instructors and lessons available for guests and other visitors,” Le said. “Many Vietnamese people are afraid of the ocean or do not know how to swim. We want to help change that. We also plan on opening more bungalows further away from the main entertainment area, for families and people seeking a quieter stay.”
Le and his wife, who works in the film industry, also have big plans to open a farmstay in the local village of La Gi as well as a health spa and film studio which they hope will one day become a national point of pride. If Coco Beachcamp is anything to go by, I strongly suspect both projects will be successes. Le also told me he had signed a contract with Quest Festival that same week, enabling Coco Beachcamp to hold the multi-day camping, music, arts and nature festival onsite this coming May, as well as host Vibe Nation Beach Fest again in March 2018. With live music events held every Saturday night and most Fridays too, it has certainly garnered a reputation as a place where city dwellers can revel in a late-night tune and fall asleep to the calming sound of the ocean (if not to the hypnotic beat coming from the main stage).
As we sat there watching sunset over the water, buffalo-drawn carts taking tourists along the beach drew our attention. Le admitted he disliked this aspect of local tourism and that he did all he could to protect the local coastline through Coco Beachcamp’s operations.
“The environment is a huge passion of mine. We collect and sell all plastic and cans to recyclers, and we give proceeds to the local government, orphanages and local schools every year to support local causes,” he said.