You come across them everywhere: Dutch entrepreneurs abroad. Why did they ever leave with the northern sun and is the grass really that much greener across the street? This week: Anne Nguyen Van Plat (55), who runs gay-friendly hotels in Saigon and Hoi An with his husband (44).
If you walk into a hotel as a gay couple, says Anne Nguyen Van Plat, you immediately know whether you are welcome somewhere or whether they are just after your money. And the latter is not nice, just like being watched or feeling unsafe on vacation. So Nguyen started a gay-friendly hotel together with his Vietnamese husband Trung: Pink Tulip Hotel.
The couple was married by law in the Netherlands, but not yet in Vietnam. Nguyen wants to be the first to marry a man in Vietnam, he says, and to make that happen he wants to get back on the barricades for gay rights, like he did in Amsterdam.
Anne and Trung Nguyen in front of their gay-friendly hotel in Vietnam (Photo: private collection)
"Can I wear my dress here?"
"We first wanted to start a gay hotel that is really only for gays, and possibly also for lesbians. That turned out to be something progressive in Vietnam. So we have a gay friendly hotel. Everyone is welcome. We show that by being openly gay ourselves , by organizing a rainbow flag at the counter and by organizing activities. "
"We often receive emails with questions such as: I am transgender or transvestite, can I walk into the hotel with my dress and ladies' boots on? We then give a serious answer to that. We also work together with the local COC and organize exhibitions and performances " The hotel is called Pink Tulip: the tulip because of Nguyen's Dutch nationality and pink because of the gay friendliness of the hotel.
"We get questions like: I am transgender, can I walk around with my dress on?" Anne
In 2013, Vietnam organized Vietpride for the first time, the hotel owner says. Since then, much has changed in gay acceptance. A couple of students from the film academy started broadcasting the soap My Gay Best Friend, which became extremely popular in the country. "Of course there are people in rural areas in particular who do not want to understand or accept homosexuality. But things are moving in the right direction. My Vietnamese friends who are gay all got into a fight at home, but after a while it all worked out well. "
"In the Netherlands, gays had a worse time"
Vietnam is traditional, with accompanying role patterns, says Nguyen. They will not just change. "With Vietnamese gay couples you see very clearly that they also conform to that traditional image. Someone is the male, and the other is the female. I also participate in that by modestly modifying myself, adapting myself and yes to say if I would rather say no, that is typical female behavior, I cannot put my fist on the table and shout: we are both men! As a gay person in the Netherlands you sometimes forget that we have had a much worse time. Gay acceptance has yet to develop. "
As entrepreneurs, the Nguyens are doing well: Booking.com called the couple to congratulate them on the best booked hotel in Vietnam. Because the first hotel in Saigon is running so well, the landlord decided to increase the rent of the property and the land.
"I can't put my fist on the table in Vietnam and shout: we are both the man!" Anne Nguyen
"And not with a few euros, but with an absurd amount. We didn't want that and we started looking for a new place. In 2017 we already bought land in Hoi An to build a second hotel there, but because of that increased rent we decided to close the hotel in Saigon and to focus entirely on Hoi An. In June 2019 we opened the doors of Pink Tulip Hoi An, also LGBTI friendly. "
"The Netherlands is too cold and aloof for Vietnamese men"
With the closing of the hotel in Saigon, Nguyen also stopped a Dutch tradition. "I only put down the Christmas trees in the hotel after Sinterklaas, and took them away again at Epiphany. I have now stopped doing that. I did hang a Sinterklaas in my tree to get a little part of the tradition. But I do not miss the Netherlands. It is too cold and distant for my husband. In Vietnam you do not enjoy sitting alone in front of the TV one evening. Never! "