There is a large group of Vietnamese in the Philippines. They are mainly found in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. How they get here and what are they doing today? That answer is not as simple as some would think but let’s see what we can figure out, shall we?
From the start, there is several stories to how they got here. The most logical one is they came by boat to Palawan right before the fall of Saigon. They would put the influx of Vietnamese refugees at around Spring, 1975. It could have been a little before that but who knows the exact date?
They came to Puerto Princesa in hopes of making it to the United States and getting US Citizenship. As the story goes, some of them were successful in doing that as well. Other returned to Vietnam as well.
The rest of them are who we want to discuss: the Vietnamese in the Philippines and made a new life in the islands.
One of the reasons so many of them stayed was the government did not abuse them or make their life hard in the transition. The government of the Philippines worked with the Catholic Church of the Philippines and the Department of States of United States to address the refugee crisis.
How did the Vietnamese in the Philippines develop
The Catholic Church set aside a track of land in Puerto Princesa to develop a whole village for the Vietnamese. They could live much like they did before. They had their own shops, restaurants, markets and even a temple. There was also a church as well.
This was their home until 1996 when the Philippine government changed their position and closed the Viet Ville as it was called. The few people who had originally came from Vietnam were set to be forced back to their homeland. In reality, the numbers were quite small. The majority were either in the United States, married a Filipino, or had passed away by this point. This is over two decades after the fact.
Most of the people had moved closer to the center of Puerto Princesa where they could do business easier and they have become doctors, businessmen, or found jobs. In short, they had become part of the social culture of the local society. Outside of cultural and physical differences, they were assimilated.
The truth of the matter is most of the Vietnamese-Filipino today have never been to Vietnam and they only speak limited Vietnamese. They are proudly Filipino and they consider Palawan their homeland. Most of them I know are actually half Filipino and half Vietnamese. That is not to say that there is not some pure Vietnamese in Palawan. I just have not met them.
The Viet Ville served its’ purpose. It kept the people save in a time that they were not well liked in this part of the world because of geo-political issues. The Philippines has provided refugee to other groups like this in the past and this is part of the reason that the nation has many different ethical groups.
The legacy of Vietnamese in the Philippines: Restaurants!
The main thing that they have given the city is dozens of Vietnamese restaurants that are good food and normally quite cheap. You normally can eat for about $4 at most of them. There is a few higher end restaurants but most serve the working class of Palawan.
As you walk across the city of Puerto Princesa, on about every street is one of these restaurants where you can get Banh Xeo, Rau muong, Nom hoa chuoi, and Ca tim kho to on order. They are on about every block on Rizal Ave, for example.
One of the best places in the city to get some authentic Vietnamese cuisine while in Puerto Princesa on Rizal Extension past the airport at Rene’s Saigon Restaurant. I have always had a great experience there.
The culture of having these eateries is under attack though. They use to line from the capitol to the airport. One Vietnamese restaurant after another was the norm. This is no longer true.
They were pushed out by the local government to make well for pricey hotels and restaurants that were professional managed. As most of the eateries have verbal agreement with land owners; they had no recourse but to move somewhere else in the city. Many of them just called it quits.
It is also worth mentioning that many of these that are still around are open around the clock providing meals to tricycle drivers, police officers and any one else out at night.
What happen to the Viet Ville?
Well it basically became a tourist attraction for people visiting Palawan. It has one of the better Vietnamese restaurants there as well. Not very many people live there today but there is still a temple there and the restaurant still is profitable for the people working there.
As a general rule, I always end a day out on Honda Bay where I have been island hopping with dinner at the Viet Ville Restaurant. It is good food, the staff are very friendly and it helps the kids in the village get to school.
There will probably come a day that the village is completely closed down to make way for some hotel or resort. We could say it won’t happen but we saw what happened to the eateries in town and the village is only a kilometer from Honda Bay; a major tourist attraction in Palawan.
The good news is the Viet Ville has served its’ purpose and it has lived to also provide a livelihood to the next generation. If it does not make it to a third generation; it still did what it was designed to do.
If you ever in Puerto Princesa and are leaving toward El Nido, try and stop by the village, have a good lunch, support the local Vietnamese in the Philippines and go on to see the exotic place that they call home today.