millisphere, (noun): a discrete region containing approximately 1000th of the world's population - a bit over seven million people. A lens through which to study human geography.


JACINDA Ardern, Winston Peters and David Parker's visit to the 2017 APEC conference brought back memories of passing through Da Nang in 2010.

We had visited the Shanghai Expo before plunging into southern China and Vietnam, emerging six weeks later in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

We didn't stay in Da Nang, which is a city about the size of Auckland - why would you when Hoi An is just down the coast?

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The Da Nang airbase, still containing American helicopter hangars, passed by on our right; on the other side was China Beach, the famous rest-and-recreation resort for US personnel during the Vietnam War. China Beach was going through a transformation; houses were being torn down and replaced with beachfront hotels, resorts, casinos and golf courses.

I was writing an essay on the differences between eastern and western capitalism for an economic geography paper I was doing at the time, so in Hoi An I hired a motorbike and driver and went back for another look.

The locals who had protested about their land being taken for this development were still in jail, my driver told me, and he seemed nervous when I asked to be dropped at reception for a look around.

Every 50m stood a guard tower to ensure that the locals did not return to annoy the tourists. A beachfront room cost $300 a night; in Hoi An we were staying in a $30 room in the heart of the old town. The China Beach resorts I saw were mostly deserted.

After visiting half-a-dozen tourism extravaganzas, my driver was visibly relieved when I let him take me to the nearby Marble Mountain - a place in which tourists were supposed to be interested.

From the top I saw more hotels dotting the coast. The $130 million Hyatt/Regency lay below; at the end of the Sun peninsula sprawled the venue for the 2017 APEC conference, the 200-room InterContinental with its 700m of private beach peppered with guard towers.

Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam (population 93 million) and is the biggest city in the south central coast region (population 9.1 million).

A tourist would be well advised to bypass Da Nang, though, and stay at nearby Hoi An, or the old imperial capital of Hue further up the coast, or My Son in the coffee-producing hinterland.

When the Portuguese arrived In the 16th century, Hoi An was a thriving port.

The port shifted to Da Nang after the river mouth silted up in the early 19th century, leaving Hoi An a backwater until its heritage shop-houses were discovered by young backpackers.

Hoi An is a model for sustainable tourism; the InterContinental Da Nang is the antithesis.

Paragraph 25 of the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreement finally hammered out at Da Nang reads: "We commit to promote sustainable tourism and explore its potential for development in remote areas as an important part of APEC economic growth strategies and enhanced people-to-people connectivity. We are determined to reach the target of 800 million APEC tourist arrivals by 2025."

Signing such an agreement in the InterContinental Da Nang on China Beach is full of irony and another example of "not believing one's own discourse".

Apart from the Vietnamese party leadership, the only people-to-people contact for the APEC leaders would have been with the waiters, maids and gardeners.

The American-owned InterContinental, sited there because of its proximity to the Da Nang airport, is designed to provide a luxury tropical beach holiday, safely watched over by guards.

What Jacinda should have done is left David to take notes in Da Nang and taken Winston down the road to Hoi An, an historic port where trade once meant trade.

At the beach there you have to swim with the locals.

Fred Frederikse
Fred Frederikse

When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chairman of the Whanganui Musicians' Club.