YOUR INSIDER'S REAL ESTATE GUIDE

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SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE BEHIND THE FLOOD: HOW GREENER CITY PLANNING CAN UNBLOCK HCMC WATERWAYS

We’ve all seen the images online of people attempting to ride their scooters through city streets flooded in waist-deep water, drenched, miserable but determined. In some ways, the images seem to celebrate the resilience of Vietnam’s city dwellers but a look at what lies beneath those flood waters shows another tale of rising tides, stalled projects and a sharp cry for better foresight.

Saigon seen from above reveals a lego-like clusters of low-rise retail and residential buildings punctuated by iron and glass mega-stars like the Landmark 81Bitexco Financial Tower and Vietcombank tower. Small patches of green colour the otherwise very concrete landscape. The developments are separated by the Saigon River, which barges through the centre of it all like a pulsing vein, bringing life to the city by way of commerce as well as increasing the risk of flooding with its ever-rising water levels during the rainy season.

City Planning and Well-Designed Waterways in HCMC

Le Corbusier, the iconic 1930s Swiss-French architect, urban designer, artist and pioneer of modern architecture, once wrote that “The materials of city planning are: sky, space, trees, steel and cement; in that order and that hierarchy.”

Rather than allowing cities to develop in the typical hodge-podge development style of the past, Le Corbusier believed that urban areas could be planned to be organised, efficient and tranquil. Fast forward to 2018, almost a century later and city planning is still a hot topic worldwide, though some cities are just better at it than others, often out of necessity.

The Danish city of Copenhagen, which nearly burned to the ground twice in the 1700s, was forced to redesign itself to survive. This is where forward thinking Danish design really began, Ho Chi Minh City-based, Danish architect and interior designer Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen told #iAMHCMC. Zeuthen is founder and owner of KAZE interior design studio, which has been responsible for landmark commercial projects, luxury residential builds and hotels throughout Vietnam and Cambodia. Danish design is known internationally for its iconic style and insistence on sustainability as well as its focus on building with the same demand for “sky, space and trees” that inspired Le Corbusier.

Now, while everyone (animal or human) can attest to the fact that we would all like a lot more of the above list, are they really necessary in a city where space is at a premium? When it comes to flood prevention, the answer according to experts is a resounding yes.

What Happens When Urban Planning Can’t Keep Up With Urban Development in HCMC?

According to “Effects of Urban Development on Floods” a survey by C.P. Donrad for the US Geological Survey, one solution for alleviating flooding is to design around it. Successful city planning means placing green spaces that can handle excess water in flood-prone zones rather than choosing those areas for large-scale developments. Impermeable surfaces (such as concrete sidewalks and roads) combined with drainage systems that lack the capacity to handle the increased population and development in Ho Chi Minh City have contributed to a year-on-year increase in flooding, property damage and even loss of life.

The most recent storm, a typhoon nicknamed Usagi, which hit HCMC hard this last November, caused widespread flooding throughout the city and one death.

In addition, Vietnam was ranked 6th globally on the 2018 Climate Risk Index list compiled annually by German NGO Germanwatch due to its high number of climate related losses (both financial and human). Weather calamities are inevitable but climate and development experts reveal that the effects of flooding on urban areas are something that is largely within our control.

When the Buildings Go Up in Saigon How Can the Water Go Down?

“There is a connection between the height of a building and how far you have to dig down to build the foundation, especially when you build on a swamp”, Zeuthen explained to #iAMHCMC. “When you penetrate that far into the ground you have to move the soil somewhere, and the water will have to find another way around.” The rush to build all these new apartments in Ho Chi Minh City by 2020 may increase flooding by overtaxing the drainage systems as well as rerouting underground waterways to other areas, she continued. Nearly half the city lies less than one metre above sea level and more than two-thirds are susceptible to major flooding. Groundwater and soil extraction can also cause the earth to sink, which may have an effect on flooding in the future. Development projects should consider these factors from the outset, Zeuthen concluded.

Zeuthen is not the only one concerned.

According to the ScienceDirect article ‘Scenario-based approach to assess Ho Chi Minh City’s urban development strategies against the impact of climate change’ by Harry Storch and Nigel K. Downes, “The influence of planned urban developments to the year 2025 on future flood risk is seen to be significantly greater than that of projected sea-level rise to the year 2100.”

In short, climate change is part of the bigger picture but the speed with which major developments are going up has had an immediate effect on infrastructure demands and flooding in HCMC.

In 2016, Vietnam in conjunction with the World Bank began a flood prevention project near Saigon that was projected to cost more than USD$400 million to deal with overflow but the project was halted because of site clearance problems. However, there is still hope for positive progress. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) has said it is willing to invest in sewage and drainage systems in Ho Chi Minh City and a collaboration between Royal HaskoningDHV, an engineering consulting firm headquartered in the Netherlands, and Deltares, an independent institute for applied research in the field of water, subsurface and infrastructure, have been brought in to create a comprehensive plan. In the meantime, the density of concrete buildings continues to rise, leaving no space under or above ground for water to escape and sustainable development projects are still a minority in Saigon’s urban sprawl.

Greener Solutions for Dryer Futures in Saigon

Melissa Merryweather, Director of Green Consult Asia the first company based in Vietnam to offer professional consulting services for sustainable development as well as the former Chair of the Vietnam Green Building Council, told #iAMHCMC that “Development was very slow for a long time except at the low-cost, or single-family homes end, but the last 10 years has been extraordinary. We see it elsewhere in Asia, this very short building cycle even for major projects, but it is still quite breathtaking. The problem is that you can’t build that quickly and still build carefully and the macro-planning of roads, transportation, parking, and public spaces has to be incredibly well thought out. Public spaces and infrastructure have not been prioritised [in HCMC].”

During the property boom that began in HCMC after Vietnam entered the WTO (World Trade Organisation) in 2007, developers launched their projects on whatever land was available without having much interference from urban planning committees. Some of these new developments, mainly mixed-use retail/residential spaces, have put HCMC on the international map. The Landmark 81 project, officially completed in July of this year, for example, is a source of pride for Vietnam as the 14th tallest building in the world.

However, fighting floods as well as creating a city that is livable, sustainable and economically viable requires strategy that goes beyond how high the city can build. Especially, when that city has a population of close to 8.5 million and housing is in high demand.

“There is public interest in all the things that sustainability is about: in healthy living, in a cleaner environment, in controlling climate change. But the developers just see profit margins so far”, Merryweather said. “However, there is some competition at the top to have a green certification so there are a few projects taking that on board, and there are a few developers who want to bring those benefits to people in Saigon. A few.”

Green Consult and KAZE Interior Design Studio can work with clients to integrate sustainable solutions in the development and design process to reduce environmental impact from construction. It is also possible for HCMC’s urban planners to inspire themselves by green initiatives that have worked in other cities. A few include, rooftops and parking lots designed to store water in the case of excess rain-flow, permeable pavements and percolation trenches, which are porous canals used to trap water. In a neighborhood in Seattle, Washington in the US, stormwater runoff was reduced by 98 percent simply by making the street narrower and placing vegetated swales along the sides of the road. The swales, plant filled canals, are multipurpose; they collect rainwater runoff as well as improving the visual design, air quality and water quality of the city.

Long-term solutions are still in the planning stages but the question remains – Will HCMC be able to rise to the challenge of creating a more livable city out of necessity? Or will it continue to sink underwater with every passing storm?

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE WHY ARE HOUSES SO NARROW IN VIETNAM ? THE HISTORY OF THE TUBE HOUSE

This seems a common question among travellers to Vietnam, especially in big cities like Hanoi and Saigon. The narrow facade, in contrast to the seemingly endless extension behind it, and the stacking up of three to five floors—these characteristics have given this particular type of house a name: “tube house”.

Rumour has it that this is due to an outdated taxation law from the 19th century, which calculated taxes based on the width of the facade. However, the real reasons behind this modern symbol of Vietnamese urban architecture have more to do with practical needs.

The Traditional Origin

If you have ever come across paintings of Hanoi’s Old Quarter in the ’60s-’70s by artist Bui Xuan Phai, you will see the same narrow-shaped houses standing side by side, even though they look more antique and aesthetic than their modern counterparts.

In fact, they look more like the houses in Hoi An today. The difference is that narrow houses of the 20th century had only two floors, with traditional ceramic tile roofs. The interior of those houses was also different, as one or even two air wells were incorporated in the middle of the house for sunlight to enter.

Living History Today

This can still be observed today at places specially preserved for tourism, such as Cafe Pho Co (Old Town Cafe) at 11 Hang Gai and the Old House at 87 Ma May, Hanoi. The many old houses in Hoi An are also exemplary of this style of architecture. These are the remnants of the past, standing proud amidst the storm of modernisation and commercialisation that swept through the big cities in the ’90s and transformed their architecture.

As the Vietnamese economy went through reformation, the cities became densely populated. Central areas like the Hanoi’s Old Quarter became the prime locations for business, and the value of the old houses suddenly soared. The first floors of these houses all turned into shops and cafes, while families continued to live at the back or on the second floor.

Other families sold their houses to move to more spacious and modern residences, and as more and more business owners flooded into the already packed area, the narrow houses became narrower to accommodate the growth in numbers of small businesses.

Building Up the Tube

For decades, generations in a family had been sharing the same space, and when advances in construction techniques allowed them to do away with the tile roofs and build more floors, the houses became higher and higher, so that a big family could live together. This saved people a lot of money, because many Vietnamese still desired their own homes on a plot of land with private entrances, as opposed to living in apartments.

Before long, “tube houses” became a common sight and a symbol of city life. As the cities continue to expand in newly constructed areas, land and houses are sold in the same fashion, with a narrow facade and an elongated living area, mostly for economic reasons. It is an efficient and cost-saving solution for the ever rising urban population, and the choice for middle-income families who prefer earthbound housing.

Since this population increase largely consists of people coming from rural areas, many of whom consider the city a temporary place to live, the shape of the house is not deemed a big problem. Their ancestors’ houses in the countryside, with gardens and trees and familial connections, are still their true homes.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE TOP 10 REAL ESTATES WEBSITES IN HCMC

Buying, selling or renting a house in Vietnam, easy though it sounds, can be a challenge for a foreigner. The country’s real estate transactions have been based heavily on the traditional method of having an agent (or “co” – the housing stork) do all the work. People are now becoming more proactive in their choice of creating a home and taking advantage of online information to save costs and time.

Here are our top 10 picks for quality real estate websites in Vietnam. Despite the fact that only a limited number of them have a proper English interface, their information is valuable and can be translated easily using Google Translate.

Check out the 10 sites below:

1. batdongsan.com.vn

When it comes to housing and real estate, Bat Dong San is no doubt the number one portal in Vietnam. With the largest amount of information in its field, continuously updated and presented professionally in both Vietnamese and English, it satisfies a wide range of enquiries from visitors. Besides real estate information, it also provides visitors advice on architecture, construction, interior and exterior decoration, legal issues and feng shui.

2. muabannhadat.vn

With a friendly website layout, Mua Ban Nha Dat is a great source providing online solutions for marketers and real estate brokers. For investors, brokers and individuals who are active in the field, this site is one of their first choices to get quick market updates and details on upcoming real estate projects all over the country with a few quick clicks. The only downside is that they don’t have an English user-friendly interface, but as mentioned earlier, Google Translate can be a good way to explore.

3. zita.vn

Zita is one of the newest additions to the Vietnamese real estate field. With its clean, sleek layout including a city view home page video, Zita sets itself apart from the other competitors. The information on the site is presented beautifully with a neighborhood browsing feature and an interactive map for visitors.

4. dothi.net

Do Thi provides the fastest and most accurate market information in Vietnam. Through the advanced site browser, users can find all about buying, selling, renting across all provinces and cities in the country. News and featured projects sections are updated daily to keep visitors informed on the latest buzz in the field.

5. nhadat24h.net

Nha Dat 24h specialises in online real estate transactions, featured VIP promotions, advertising updates and latest market news.

6. 123nhadat.vn

With over 2 million real estate listings and an average of 5,000 housing posts per day, 123 Nha Dat provides market information, and post-purchase education and lease-free housing. Users can search for land, houses and apartments.

7. cafeland.vn

Cafeland is one of the leading real estate sites in Vietnam. Besides housing information, the website also provides up to date news and market analysis from experts in the field. The site also has a portfolio section which provides key details on real estate with specific and neatly presented information.

8. diaoconline.vn

Dia Oc Online aims to contribute to the sustainable growth of information-sharing and real estate infrastructure in Vietnam. Besides housing listings and information, consultancy on decoration, interior design and feng shui are also provided to users for reference. The featured agents section is also very interesting and informative.

9. dinhgianhadat.vn

This website lives up to its good name by providing qualified property valuation software to assist customers with making buying decisions easier. Besides real estate news and tips, Dinh Gia Nha Dat also features a cheap land and housing section and a promotion and auction space for buyers and investors.

10. kenhbds.vn

Kenh BDS supplies a wealth of resource materials for home buyers and sellers for big cities in Vietnam. The website is presented so that both buyers and sellers can make the most of its user-friendly interface and information.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE HOW TO BUY A HOUSE OR LAND IN VIETNAM ?

Foreigners who are living in Vietnam may purchase houses for the expressed purpose of dwelling in it. By Vietnamese law, land is a national good, so you can only own the structure built on a property, not the land that it is on. You can enjoy a “land use right” for up to 50 years. This duration can be renewed. Also note that if you’re married to a Vietnamese citizen or a Việt kiều, you will have the same ownership rights as Vietnamese citizens.

Seek professional advice to ensure that all steps are properly taken to ensure a troublefree property transfer.

Alternatively, according to Vietnam’s Housing Law, every foreigner who has a Vietnamese visa stamp on their passport can buy a property in Vietnam. However, if you enjoy diplomatic or consular immunities and privileges, this does not apply.

Besides individuals, foreign companies, branches, representative offices of foreign companies, foreign investment funds and branches of foreign banks that are operating in Vietnam are also entitled to purchase property of residential projects.

A serviced apartment in Diamond Island Luxury Residences

What are the limits of foreigners’ rights on residential property in Vietnam?

The law states that foreign individuals and entities may only buy, receive or inherit apartments and houses in commercial projects and not in areas that limit or ban foreigners.

Although the limit of one property per foreigner has been repelled, the new Housing Law sets a limit on the proportion of foreigners who may live in a determined area: the total number of units owned by all foreign buyers must not exceed 30% of the units in one apartment building, or 250 landed property units in one ward.

The duration of the tenure is supposed to be equal to the land use right owned by the developer, most likely 50 years, with an option to extend the land use right at the end of it. The exact conditions for the extension are still unclear and will be detailed in further regulations.

An expatriate may lease his/her property for any purpose that is not banned by law, but he/she must inform the provincial house management agency before leasing the property. In this case, he/she is subject to Vietnam’s property taxes. If you are an overseas Vietnamese or if you are married to a Vietnamese citizen, you are entitled to a freehold tenure on the property.

If you bought it, you could of course decide to live in the house but also lease it or pass it through inheritance to someone else without any difficulties. To lease it, you will need an administrative authorisation from the Housing Department of the People’s Committee where your property is located.

Can foreign-invested enterprises purchase residential properties in Vietnam?

Foreign-invested enterprises that operate in Vietnam under the investment law but are not engaged in real estate, can purchase residential houses for their employees. They must possess investment certificates or written certifications of investment activities as appropriate to investment forms specified by the investment law granted by a competent Vietnamese state agency. They can buy properties to house their employees, but are not able to use them for leasing or other purposes.

What are the steps to purchase a house in Vietnam?

1. Once you have chosen the property, you will have to sign a reservation agreement.

This legally links the buyer and seller and may include paying a deposit to the seller. Examine closely the reservation agreement before paying the deposit. It prescribes that if the buyer changes his mind, he will lose the deposit, and if the seller changes his mind, he will have to pay twice. You’re well advised to notarise this document to protect your interest.

2. Due diligence is the next step.

You will check the reliability of the seller by examining their ID or registration certificate along with the property’s certificates (for example the ownership certificate). You should also ask for a bank guarantee or insurance to ensure the seller is trustworthy.

3. Once due diligence has been satisfied by both parties, they confirm their engagement and interest by signing the housing contract.

An annex related to facilities that go with the apartment is advised. Make sure the agreement is signed by all related parties and if not, then by the representative who is mandated by the related persons. The contract on residential house purchase and sale must be in Vietnamese, so you will need a Vietnamese translator to help examine its content. Although many developers provide a bilingual version of the contract for a better understanding by all parties involved, only the Vietnamese version is valid under Vietnamese regulations. To help you with the complications involved with the contract, we list some details to look for before signing:

– Is it stated that the seller has the ownership certificate of the apartment and does he give a guarantee over this ownership?
– Is the apartment also a security for a loan?
– What are the responsibilities of the seller in case of dispute over the apartment ownership due to his fault?
– Methods used for payment?
– What are the responsibilities for tax and fees?
– What is the delivery time?

4. Paying taxes and fees.

Normally, if there is no other agreement between parties, the buyer pays the registration fee and the seller pays income tax. The payment shall be made at the tax department of the district where the house is located.

5. The last step is to apply for an ownership certificate.

Both parties can agree on how to handle issuance of the new certificate, although it is most likely that a buyer will have to take it up.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE HOW TO CHOOSE A PLACE TO LIVE IN HO CHI MINH CITY ?

What about the different places to live in Ho Chi Minh City?

Properties in District 1 and District 3 are sought after for their good schools, offices and markets, but District 2 and District 7 are becoming hubs in their own right. And as traffic congestion and property values rise in town, the less congested districts of Bình Chánh and Nhà Bè are increasingly popular among wealthy Vietnamese.

When choosing a place to live in Ho Chi Minh City, take into consideration its proximity to good schools, family, commercial centres and work, along with the character of the neighbourhood, quality of life and the available infrastructure.

Another element that should be considered is flooding. With Saigon’s long rainy season and inadequate drainage system for rivers and street overflow, heavy rain or high tides can cause extensive flooding in the streets.

When choosing your new home, it is important to ask whether it will flood on your way to work. If you don’t ask this seemingly bizarre question, you may find yourself pushing your beloved motorcycle through a street of black water with a drowned carburettor and exhaust. This is one of the reasons taxi drivers in HCMC love the rainy season.

Note also that while it’s cheaper to rent in outlying districts, most businesses function in the Central Business District (CBD). So the savings you make on rent could be negated by your then extensive commute to work.

What about living in District 1?

District 1, with its reverse L-shape, is the location of HCMC’s CBD and the bulk of the city’s Western restaurantsclubsbars and tourist destinations.

It is not surprising that rental prices here are the highest. The CBD spans from Nguyễn Huệ and Đồng Khởi and stretches north to south from the Saigon River to Lê Lợi. HCMC’s Little Tokyo, on Lê Thánh Tôn from Hai Bà Trưng to Tôn Đức Thắng, is another fascinating area.

Because of its consistent vibrancy and upbeat nightlife, District 1 is ideal for singles. The city never sleeps!

What about living in District 2?

Once one of the poorest districts in the city, District 2 is now a fast-developing hot spot. Passing under the Saigon Tunnel on Mai Chí Thọ and seeing the cranes in the distance will give an indication of the city’s plans to create a second CBD. With its close proximity to District 1, District 2 will also be the first stop on the city metro line.

The district’s expat enclave, Thảo Điền ward, has two of the most prestigious international schools, as well as villas and compounds and a fair few Western restaurants and bars. Because of its international schools, District 2 is home to many expats with young families. Its ambience is more suburban than big city, despite rapid development, and the streets are less crowded than in the CBD. Floodings in many parts of the district are still common, though.

What about living in District 7?

District 7 feels like an alternative universe compared to other parts of town. The streets are wide, congestion hardly exists and the atmosphere is mostly free of the blaring horns of downtown Saigon. The district is home to a large population of Korean expats and is the place to go for great Korean food. Inside District 7 is the satellite city of Phú Mỹ Hưng, which is characterised by tall apartment blocks and modern shops and restaurants.

There are lots of Japanese and rich Vietnamese too. You can find great schools and the city’s best shopping malls here. Several peaceful parks are available in the district, and are great for picnics with friends and family. D7 is around 15 minutes from the city centre outside of peak hours, and relatively free of flooding.

What about living in District 3?

Bordering D1 in the centre of HCMC, District 3 is quieter, more local and a touch more scenic than its manic neighbour. The tree-lined avenues snake around a smattering of foreign consulates, French colonial buildings and up and-coming dining venues.

What about living in District 4?

The smallest district in HCMC, District 4 is sandwiched between D1 and D7. This densely populated district had a reputation as one of the roughest parts of the city due to its organised-crime past, but it has cleaned up quite a bit in recent years. It is also known for its cheap eats and has some of the best street food in the city.

What about living in District 5?

This district to the west of D1 is also known as Chợ Lớn, home to the city’s Chinese population. A teeming hub of activity, it hosts one of the largest markets in Vietnam, a deluxe shopping mall and many Chinese pagodas. It is also known for its cheap Chinese restaurants.

What about living in Bình Thạnh District?

This district is a transit hub between D1 and D2, and embodies much of the vibrancy of Saigon several decades ago. Due to its proximity to D1 it has become a magnet for higher-end apartment blocks such as the Manor and Saigon Pearl. It is also home to the Bình Quới area which has some of the greenest spaces in town.

 

What about living in Phú Nhuận District?

Located near Tan Son Nhat airport, Phú Nhuận has one of the highest population densities in the city and can be a bit manic to live in. If you are looking for some escape, it has several parks where you can relax.

From a new interest in food tourism to the increased popularity of Vietnamese food overseas, the culinary path of Vietnam is continuing to evolve. So what’s next? Perhaps, Vietnamese cuisine will be inspired by the Western farm-to-table movement. Or maybe it will go down the road of mass-marketing and we’ll find our favourite Vietnamese chefs hawking frozen phở dinners on TV. Regardless, one thing remains clear: the Vietnamese people have been able to weather wars and occupations, famine, and feast, all the while adapting and transforming their remarkable culinary heritage. Whatever’s next is sure to be delicious.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN SAIGON

What is the best place to live in Saigon? The answer depends on who you are and how much you can spend. Single expats, families or students will all have different preferences.
Our complete guide below will help you decide if you should stay in District 1, District 7, District 2, or even some more local districts like Thu Duc. To read about the benefits of living in a particular area or neighborhood, you can read the whole post or click on one below: District 1 • District 2 and Thao Dien • District 3 District 4 • District 5 • District 7 and Phu My Hung District 10 • Tan Binh District • Thu Duc District • Phú Nhuận District
As Vietnam’s commercial center and a Southeast Asian “city of dreams”, Saigon is as vibrant as it is varied. With nearly eight million official populants and more than seven million international visitors, this city was never going to be easy to understand – and that, friends, is the beauty of it. No matter who you are, where you come from or where you are going, there is a place for you in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions. So let’s get to it. What area of the town has the ideal combination of shops, parks, cute little cafes, bars or fitness centers to suit your exact preference? Unsurprisingly, most of the city’s activity is concentrated center around the center of town, so if you’re looking for a quiet, more neighbourly feel to your home, head to the burbs. Are you a family man? A lady in love? Or are you one of those fabulous lone wolves…? A 20-something with an eye for nightlife or a 50-something (maybe also with an eye for nightlife)? Well, if it’s nightlife you want, you’ll thrive in District 1. Are you looking for a house, an apartment, a villa…? And tell me, where do you work? These are all important questions for you to ask when you choose where to live in Saigon. Real estate here is diverse, as are the rates you will pay, and your choice of a home will depend on so many things. Your age, your choice of accommodation, your length of stay, etc. There are pros and cons to every area of Saigon, and no matter what, you’ll fit in somewhere. Please note: All prices listed are according to Batdongsan.com, and are accurate to the time of writing.

District 1

Are you a fan of late nights and later mornings? Does a thumping beat make your heart move faster? Do you ever feel the urge to break into song late at night and go rampaging around the streets with a group of revelling friends? Well, the good news is that this is very normal in District 1. Apart from night time revelling, District 1 is home to a variety of cafes, restaurants, gyms and swimming pools. Take a stroll in 23/9 Park or go bargain hunting at Saigon Square. All the best tourist attractions in Saigon are concentrated here, while many of the city’s famous sites – such as the Saigon ZooDuc Ba Church and the War Museum – are conveniently close. Rent: Varied. It really depends on how you want to live. I rent a room for $140 US per month now (check out my guide to renting in Saigon for more!), complete with air conditioning, TV, private bathroom, fridge and a very nice bed! But rent for a room here can range from as low as $25 US/month to a mind-boggling $700 US and more. If you’re after luxury, we have all the best insight into Saigon’s most beautiful places to live. The average price for a room rented by the typical expat in this part of town is VND 6 or 7 million per month, and the price increases from there depending on the amount of luxury you are after. But for local rates, we recommend the Vietnamese version of Batdongsan.com. You will need a Vietnamese friend to help you, but if you use this platform you’re bound to find something great. Just make sure you register with the police when you move in, because you’re likely to be living in a local house. Also, check out the brief guide to that site at the bottom of this article, and follow the links below to view the site’s listings.
  • House: A nice house from around VND 12 million per month
  • Room: Ranges from VND 3 million per month to VND 10 million per month, depending on what your budget is. At the lower end, rooms are often unfurnished and without a bond.
Transport: As the center of town, getting around District 1 is easy! From the airport a taxi will cost you between VND 150, 000 and VND 200,000, and all the main bus lines run through District 1. Hospitals: There are also many medical centers District 1. Our favorite general practitioner and hospital complex is the CMI near Notre Dame Cathedral, and for dental work we recommend the Dental Art of Saigon. Other hospitals in D1 include Columbia Asia and Family Medical Practice. Supermarkets: As the center of town, District 1 is home to many, many supermarkets for all your household needs. Our favorites are the Co-op supermarket on Cống Quỳnh street or the CitiMart on Nguyễn Trãi street for their reasonable prices and variety of goods, the Satra Foods on Lê Thánh Tôn and VinMart in the Vincom Center for its range of fresh produce. We also recommend the local Thái Bình market on Cống Quỳnh street as a place to buy fresh tofu, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Prices here are reasonable and the stall vendors are friendly. There is an Annam Gourmet on Hai Bà Trưng street that stocks a variety of international imports. Where to eat: Wherever you like! District 1 is a metropolis of new and old businesses offering an almost endless array of foods and drinks from a wide range of international cuisines. From street ca phe to Starbucks and a range of boutique cafes, coffee in District 1 is an experience. For the low to mid-range foodie, street food here is always excellent, though somewhat tailored to tourist taste-buds. Many restaurants on Bui Vien are also good options for the budget lover. (Check out our interview with the owner of The Five Oysters for the story of how his own restaurant began.) For a more high-end dining experience, check out our range of recommended options. From the delicious Vietnamese cuisine of Viet Village or a tasty curry at Tandoor, to a hearty meal at the New York Steak House – District 1 has it all. Things to do and nightlife: District 1 is the tourist hotspot of town. Here you will find the best sites in Saigon and the widest range of activities. From cycling to walking tours, local parks to the popular zoo, museums to markets and period buildings – District 1 is the place to do things! Check out our suggestions for activities and attractions in Saigon for more. As the backpacker center of town, District 1 holds most of Saigon’s nightlife. The famous strip, Bui Vien, literally never sleeps, and a number of clubs, bars, live music venues and after-hours hotspots in the area or nearby in District 3, will keep even the most energetic of night owls entertained..

District 2 and Thao Dien: the burbs

Sick of crazy District 1? Yes, well many people are. For a lot of people the endless hubbub of Saigon’s center is just too much after a while, and to retreat to a more quiet, slower pace of life is a welcome relief.

These people like to be able to hear birds, to share the street with bicycles rather than roaring mopeds, to sit by a quiet river or relax in a local cafe where everyone knows everyone because there aren’t that many people in the area.

District 2 is also the ideal neighbourhood for your family home. Many expat families live here due to the high concentration of international schools and the comparative safety of its streets. Facilities are aimed at the expat community – from shopping malls to small businesses and hair salons – and the majority of people here are foreign.

Rent: A range of rents are offered in District 2, but since it’s quite a commute from the center of town they tend to be lower on average. An expat in District 2 pays around VND 8 million per month for a room, but it can be as low as VND 4 million per month if you play your cards right.

According to Batdongsan…

  • House: A nice house from VND 12 million per month, to a lot more… Just ask yourself – how big is your family?
  • Room: From as little as VND 2 million per month! It depends on what you are looking for.

Transport: Inconvenient. Local buses run along the Highway 52, but don’t go into the wards. Take bus number 52 from Ben Thanh Market in District 1 to the corner of Highway 52 and Số 1, or take a xe om for about VND 80,000.

Hospitals: We recommend the Family Medical Practice in District 2 (and also in District 1) for all your medical needs.

Supermarket: An Phu Supermarket or the supermarket at Big C are our favorite options.

Where to eat: District 2, particularly Thao Dien Ward, is home to a variety of new small cafes and restaurants. It’s a great area of town for a nice family dinner, or a nice ladies’ brunch. Check out the restaurant and bar at Thao Dien Village, which offers a range of Italian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine as well as a delicious tapas menu.

Things to do and nightlife: Saigon’s arts hub and one of the city’s best spots for live music is located in Thao Dien Ward, District 2. Saigon Outcast offers a variety of workshops from figure drawing to cooking contests, hosts a number of festivals and events, nurtures Ho Chi Minh City’s hottest up and coming musicians and celebrates the arts in this city. Their monthly urban flea market is a great day out for the kids, with its variety of boutique clothes stalls, artists, delicious foods and cute little gifts.

Phú Nhuận: for those who love coffee

Phú Nhuận, one of Ho Chi Minh City’s densest areas and a well known expat enclave for those working nearby or at the airport, is home to a number of interesting coffee shops. It’s also a cultural hotspot, being far from the backpacker area of town and housing many local families and businesses, and prices are generally cheaper for the same reasons.

Rent: In Phú Nhuận you get the best for less. With a variety of serviced apartments or house-share options, an expat pays on average around VND 6 million per month for a nice room – think aircon, ensuite, balcony, fridge, kitchen and big cushy bed – and apartments here are leased for VND 15 million per month and up.

According to Batdongsan.com…

  • House: A nice house from VND 12 million per month
  • Room: From VND 2 million for unfurnished to VND 4 million for furnished, and up.

Transport: convenient. Phú Nhuận is very close to the airport, and a VND 50,000 xe om ride from District 1. You can also catch local bus number 3 from Ben Thanh Market, or take a taxi for up to VND 150,000.

Hospitals: We recommend Fortis Hoan My hospital in Phú Nhuận district for their quality practice and team of skilled doctors and surgeons, but there are a variety of healthcare providers in the area.

Supermarket: The Big C at 202B Hoàng Văn Thụ in Phú Nhuận District is both cheap and well stocked, with a variety of produce from fresh fruit and vegetables to bread and cakes, and sections for appliances and household products.

Where to eat: Phú Nhuận is full of street food and blessed with very reasonable prices. For the vegetarian, head down the alleyway 330/16 Phan Đình Phùng and stop in at the noodle shop to your left. Conversely, have you ever wanted to try a Vietnamese take on the traditional Western burger? Quán Cây Khế in Phú Nhuận District is the place to go. There are a number of cafes in Phú Nhuận which are bound to tickle your fancy – think Harry Potter theme, a country cottage theme or a city-scape theme. Our favorite cafe in Phú Nhuận is the Pet Me Cafe, which houses birds and cats and dogs and a variety of other animals… and coffee.

Things to do and nightlife: Phan Xích Long is the place to be when the sun goes down in Phú Nhuận. Hosting a number of eateries with a variety of different cuisines, from noodles to sushi to pizza. Immerse yourself in live music at Udon, treat yourself to an ice-cream at Bud’s, or deafen the world with your voice at one of the street’s many karaoke bars.

District 3: for the eternally stylish

District 3 is known as the happy medium. It’s so close to town that you may as well be in town, and yet it is decidedly classier than anywhere in District 1. The rent won’t break your bank and what you get for said rent is well worth the money you pay. Some of the city’s most beautiful French colonial architecture lies in this area, as are the majority of Ho Chi Minh City’s most fashionable bars. If you are a fan of high-end fashion, new innovative work spaces and classic dark sunglasses, this is the area for you.

Rent: Being a more up-market area and close to the center of town, District 3 is more expensive. However, cheaper digs are available! An expat in a share house here will pay around VND 7 million per month for a basic room and shared bathroom. But according to Batdongsan.com…

  • House: A nice house from about VND 12 million per month
  • Room: About VND 5 million for a furnished, decent room with an ensuite

Transport: District 3 is almost all in walking distance from District 1, the center of town. You can catch bus 3 or bus 4 from Ben Thanh market to get to the west side of the district, or bus 50 and 52 to get to the east.

Hospitals: The Family Medical Practice in nearby District 1 is your best bet. The clinic staffs only the highest of qualified specialists, recruited from around the globe, and English is a prerequisite for all who work there. In District 3 we would also recommend International SOS Vietnam.

Supermarket: The Co-op Mart at 168 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu is our suggestion for your grocery needs in District 3. From fresh fish to school notebooks, this supermarket is impressively comprehensive.

Where to eat: Visit Indochine restaurant for delicious Vietnamese food in a beautiful, rustic atmosphere, enjoy the variety at Com Nieu, sample Vietnam’s famous Pho, or sit at one of the many street restaurants in the area.

Things to do and nightlife: A link to our list of the city’s best bars, clubs and live music venues can be found at the bottom of this article, and many of said after-hours hotspots are in District 3 or nearby District 1. Nightlife in the very center of Ho Chi Minh City literally never sleeps! But you’ll find a happy medium in District 3, which is largely quiet after midnight but still right next to all the action.

District 7 and Phu My Hung: Think BIG

This is an expat area. Phu My Hung is the most popular spot in District 7, and it is here that the district’s international schools, Western supermarkets, swimming pools and trendy restaurants converge. District 7 has little in the way of nightlife, but is instead known for being quieter and more serene than the rest of Ho Chi Minh City.

Catering to the higher-income population of Saigon, District 7 is rife with high-rise apartment blocks, sweeping tree-lined streets and beautiful modern villas. Like District 2, it is a hotspot for expat families and executives. It’s a long way from the city center, which makes for a nasty commute, but if you’re a fan of clean roads and a bit of peace and quiet, this is the area for you.

Rent: This area was built with a high-end population in mind, and as such it’s generally more expensive.

  • House: A nice house from VND 12 million
  • Room: VND 2 million will rent you a small but cosy room with all the necessary facilities.

Transport: Though travelling to this area is simple, travelling inside it is less so since local buses stop at the border. Catch bus 86 from Ben Thanh to go to the East side or bus 152 from Trần Hưng Đạo street to get to the West, and from there use a xe om.

Hospitals: We recommend FV Hospital in Phu My Hung, or Saint Luke Medical Center.

Supermarket: Given its high expat population, it is little surprise that there is a Western import supermarket in Phu My Hung known as Veggy’s. Apart from this there is the usual Co-op Mart, a Lotte Mart and a number of CitiMarts.

Where to eat: There are a number of fast food joints in District 7, including Pizza Hut, Lotteria and KFC. For Japanese food try Takoika Japanese Soul Food at 549 Huỳnh Tấn Phát, or enjoy a Vietnamese BBQ at 404 Truong Son. For more about eating in District 7 check out this list we found of 6 Secret Spots in District 7.

Things to do and nightlife: District 7 is not a nightlife hotspot, and after the sun goes down most of the area’s population also hit the hay. But a number of classy restaurants make for lovely evening dining, and the beautiful Starlight Bridge at Crescent Mall in Phu My Hung is a popular hangout destination for young couples and groups of friends. If you want a lazy, quiet evening and an early sleep, District 7 is for you.

District 4: for the mafia don

District 4 is Saigon’s notorious crime center, and is noticeably older and less developed than its neighbouring areas. Be careful with your belongings here and don’t walk around alone at night, but enjoy the huge variety of street-foods and the great local markets.

Since rent is cheaper here, a lot of small businesses rent office space in District 4 and as such it’s dotted with suited expats at lunch time. Most of the people who live here are locals, and if you do rent in District 4 we recommend living with other expats. Post in the Expats & Locals Facebook page to find out more.

Rent: As this area is one of Saigon’s poorest, we wouldn’t recommend renting here. That being said, rent is usually lower and there are some expats in the local community. According to the local rent rates on Batdongsan.com…

  • House:  A house, not a very nice one and rented from a local owner, is about VND 6 million per month.
  • Apartment (above 50m2, 2 bedroom): A lot of new apartment complexes have recently been built in this area, and for this reason apartments tend to be more expensive that other properties in district 4. You can rent a lovely, modern apartment for about VND 8 million per month and up, possibly the best bet for foreigners.
  • Room: About VND 1.5 million per month, not very nice or very safe.

Transport: Take bus 44 to get to the very edge of the district on Bến Vân Đồn street or bus 34 for the other side of the district, both from Ben Thanh market.

Hospitals: Since District 4 is very close to District 1, we would recommend visiting one of the many clinics in that area, rather than find a local practitioner in District 4. See item number 1 on this list for all the best hospitals in District 1.

Supermarkets: Though known for its street-food and plentiful local markets, District 4 is not your best bet when searching for a supermarket. There is a Satra Foods on Lê Văn Linh street, but the produce stocked here is not very varied and often more expensive than at the city’s larger supermarkets.

We suggest making the 10 minute drive to District 1’s Co-op Mart on Cống Quỳnh street for a more comprehensive selection of goods. Also, for meat, fish, tofu or fresh fruit and vegetables, why not try out the local market? Take note of how things are priced in the Co-op Mart and use this as a guide as to how much they should cost you on the street – usually a little bit less, and definitely not more! Make sure you wash everything thoroughly when you get home, but usually foods from a local market will be higher quality than at the supermarket.

Where to eat: if you like to eat locally you’re in luck. District 4 is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s top contenders for street-food! From succulent BBQ octopus or some fresh, juicy springrolls, to crisp banh mi, iced flan or a wide range of exciting soups and noodles, we challenge you to eat something you’ve never tried before in District 4.

Things to do and nightlife: During the day District 4 is a hub of local activity. Go for a wander through winding alleyways, drop-in for a coffee in one of the district’s many cafes, or take a dip in Van Don Pool on Khánh Hội street.

At night District 4 is not the safest of areas in Ho Chi Minh City. Vĩnh Khánh street is a popular local hang-out, with a lot of BBQ restaurants where groups of Vietnamese and the occasional expat sit, laugh and drink a lot of beer (often with straws). An alleyway leading up to this street from Hoàng Diệu street (called Đoàn Văn Bơ) is full of different flans, soups, pancakes and other delicacies which are excellent fun to sample, all with that addictive hustle and bustle typical of a Saigon local area at night. Famous Saigon bar The Observatory is also in District 4, as is Cargo Bar and a number of other establishments.

District 10: for the budget lover (student)

One of the biggest perks of this area is the rent, which tends to be nice and low. Unlike District 4, the area is also quite safe and is a popular student hotspot. Food here is cheap and tasty, and given the high student population there are many cafes, pools and hang-out spots in the area.

The streets here are on average smaller and the population is quite dense, so traffic can be an issue, but the district is also very close to Saigon’s center, District 1, so all the city’s best nightlife and the perks of the backpacker area are very close at hand.

Rent:

  • House: You can rent quite comfortably here for VND 9 million per month.
  • Room: As little as VND 2 million per month, but for about VND 4 million per month you can rent a lovely room with a double bed and TV

Transport: Walk from District 1 (about 20 minutes from the center to the edge of District 10) or hop on bus 2.

Hospitals: We recommend the Vạn Hạnh General Hospital, or a visit to D1 for a variety of other options.

Supermarkets: There is a Co-op Mart on Hòa Hảo street in District 10 or a CitiMart on Tô Hiến Thành street, both of which are great options for all your grocery and household needs.

Where to eat: Since District 10 is home to the majority of Ho Chi Minh City’s student population, street-food here is a great option. However, we also would recommend a visit to Lang Nuong Nam Bo Restaurant for delicious Vietnamese food. Try their BBQ’d whole pork!

Things to do and nightlife: Be sure to visit the flower market on Hồ Thị Kỷ street or learn about traditional Vietnamese medicine at the Fito Museum on Hoàng Dư Khương street. The 1985 Cafe on Phạm Viết Chánh street at the border of Districts 1 and 10 is a great little spot for a cappuccino or a delicious freshly baked cake. Open until 10 p.m., this cafe is popular among students and young Vietnamese women, and serves a variety of coffees, teas and sweet treats in a cute, vintage setting.

District Tan Binh: reasonable and comfy

Think friendly and warm. This is the area of town for that guy or gal with a comfortable income, a comfortable career, who is looking to settle locally, long term and wants to live a comfortable life. Popular with office workers and businessmen, Tan Binh District is not exactly quiet but far enough from the center of town to be dark after hours.

Rent: Low. This area has a lot of small companies and businesses and is known for its reasonable rates for both long and short-term stay. According to Batdongsan…

  • House: A simple rental is about VND 7 million per month, but you will find beautiful homes for VND 13 million and up
  • Room: You can rent for as low as VND 2 million a month if you’re willing to bring your own furniture! And lower still if you don’t mind mould… But you will find something really nice for VND 4 million per month

Transport: Convenient! Catch bus number 152 from Trần Hưng Đạo street in District 1 and stay on until the last stop, or take a xe om for around VND 60,000. We recommend the application ‘GrabTaxi’ to find a xe om who will take you where you want to go, and not relieve you of your entire wallet.

Hospitals: The Saigon Ito hospital is Tan Binh District’s best bet for quality healthcare. Other than that, we recommend a trek into the center of town for a wider variety.

Supermarkets: There is a CitiMart at Trường Sơn street that is a great option for household goods, meats, fruits and vegetables, but for the freshest of produce make a visit to your local market. Be sure to bargain! Check the appropriate prices for meat and other produce at the supermarket before visiting the local market so that you can bargain effectively. For some phrases to use when buying your goods be sure to scroll right down and check out the ‘Useful Words’ section in this article!

Where to eat: Tan Binh is known to be a cheaper area of town in general, and the variety of local eateries and street-food vendors here are both delicious and nicely priced. You won’t damage your wallet if you eat out here, and your stomach will thank you for the variety of home-cooked delicacies you will find!

Things to do and nightlife: Tan Binh is not known for its variety of entertainment options, but there are still things to do in the area. If you walk around at night try not to go alone, and be careful with your things! We recommend going in a group and finding a local BBQ joint for a flask of beer and some good, tasty grilled meats.

District Thu Duc: the intrepid

Thu Duc is a student area, and is full of university students! This district is very far from the city center, and has a far lower foreigner population. If expats do live here it is usually either because they work or study here or because they are part of a local family. Rent here is also far far cheaper than rent closer to town, and so is food! It takes about an hour to travel here by bus from District 1, or 45 minutes by taxi, and most of Saigon’s more exciting attractions and activities are closer to the center of town. The buses stop running at 9 p.m.

Rent: Houses here tend to be a lot older and cater far less to the expat community. That being said, if you are intrepid this won’t be a problem for you. Apartments are weirdly luxurious in contrast! According to Batdonsan.com, local prices are…

  • House: You will find rentals as cheap os VND 5 or 6 million per month, but a nice house goes for about VND 10 million per month and up
  • Apartment (above 50m2, 2 bedroom): If you bring your own furniture you’re looking at a mere VND 5 million per month, but nice furnished apartments start at about VND 7 million per month
  • Room: Find something cheap and cheerful for VND 3 million per month

Transport: Take bus number 93 from Ben Thanh Market. A xe om or taxi will be quite expensive since this neighbourhood is far from town, and the local buses are fun.

Hospitals: Unfortunately, Thu Duc is not known for its medical facilities. The closest quality hospital that we would recommend is the Fortis Hoan My Hospital in Phú Nhuận.

Supermarkets: Similarly, this area is more of a suburb than an urban hotspot and so most of Ho Chi Minh City’s bigger chain supermarkets are concentrated closer to the center of town. The closest is a Co-op Mart on Nguyễn Kiệm in Phú Nhuận. Otherwise, try a local market!

Where to eat: As a student area, Thu Duc is a great option for street-food. We also recommend C.U House at 20/11C for some yummy coffee and a cute, urban setting.

Things to do and nightlife: Being so far from town, Thu Duc has its own nightlife! The student market in the far corner of this district is home to many, many interesting foods, beery revellers, super-cheap clothes and glittering trinkets. The petty crime rate here is high so keep an eye out for your wallet, but the atmosphere is intoxicating with that earthy buzz of a local commercial hotspot that many people search for in Asia. Take bus number 19 from District 1 to get here and make sure you come early because the last bus home is at 7:30pm! For more information about this market check out our guide to the best places to shop in Ho Chi Minh City.


District 5: Chinatown!

District 5 is Ho Chi Minh City’s “Chinatown”. It has the largest population of native Chinese in all of Vietnam, and is a fabulous fusion of Mandarin and Vietnamese culture. Famous for pagodas, temples and its local markets, District 5 is less expensive to live in than District 1, but is very close to town. Public transport to District 1 is convenient, and a motorbike ride to the center of town will take from 10 to 15 minutes. If you speak Cantonese or Mandarin make sure you at least visit this area, and if you’re a fan of wontons come for lunch!

Rent:

  • House: Around VND 8 or 9 million for one of the area’s old, quaint little dwellings. Batdongsan didn’t have any newer properties listed at the time of writing.
  • Room: Around VND 4 million for a nice room

Transport: Hop on bus number 1 and you’ll be there before you know it! The ride is lovely, through some seriously old and beautiful parts of town.

Hospitals: Choose from Chợ Rẫy Hospital, Hùng Vương Hospital or Phạm Ngọc Thạch Hospital! You will not stay sick for long in District 5.

Supermarkets: There is a CitiMart on Hùng Vươngstreet, or a Co-op Mart on An Dương Vương.

Where to eat: As noted above, District 5 has a high Chinese population, and this unsurprisingly affects the nature and variety of its street-food. For more high-end dining we recommend a trip into nearby District 1.

Things to do and nightlife: At night District 5 is a convenient 20 minutes from the buzz and all-night partying of Saigon’s center in District 1. Within Chinatown itself, however, why not embrace your inner diva and belt out a few hits at a local karaoke bar.

Overall, Saigon is a huge metropolis with a seemingly endless array of options. No matter who you are there is somewhere for you to live in Ho Chi Minh City – it’s just a matter of finding it. Check out our guides below to make your house hunting, bus taking, partying and market experiences easier.


Guide to Batdongsan.com

Here are a few tips to make your Batdongsan.com experience easier:

  1. Search in Vietnamese for the lower prices, but have a Vietnamese friend to help out
  2. ‘Giá cao nhất’ means ‘highest price’ and ‘Giá thấp nhất’ means “lowest price”
  3. Some rooms, apartments or houses are listed as shared – the owner wants to find someone to move in with him/her. So it’s good to have someone who speaks the language on hand, who can tell you if that super-cheap room you’ve found is in fact already inhabited!
  4. Bring someone Vietnamese with you when you see the room, to help keep the price down and to ask all the important questions like “Is electricity included?”
  5. See our guide to renting in Saigon for more!

 

Useful words:

  • Electricity – điện
  • Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi
  • Month – tháng
  • Price – giá
  • Bond – trái phiếu
  • Contract – hợp đồng
  • I want to buy this *** please – Tôi muốn mua *** này
  • How much is this ***? – *** này bao nhiêu?
  • Too expensive – mắc quá!
  • So cheap! – quá rẻ!
  • Half – nửa
  • 1 Kilo – một ki
  • Rent a room: Cho thuê văn phòng
  • Rent an apartment: Cho thuê căn hộ chung cư
  • Rent a house: Cho thuê nhà riêng

Resources:

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE WILL DISTRICT 4 BECOME THE NEW DISTRICT 1 ?

Ten years ago, if you mentioned you lived in District 4, chances are you would get more than a few raised eyebrows. The small district between District 7 and District 1 was known first and foremost for its gangs and mafia personnel.

For the past two years, this land has become a golden real estate opportunity.

A Strong Two Years

In late October, Singaporean development company Capitaland closed a US$38.9 million deal to acquire a 14,474m2 site in District 4, where it plans to build an apartment community for mid-end to luxury users, with an average apartment size of 79m2. Capitaland expects the property value to increase to US$177 million.

Other recent luxury developments include Phu Long’s Rivergate complex, which went online this year, along with Thao Dien JSC’s Masteri Millennium, Novaland’s Icon 56 and Trung Thuy Group’s Lancaster Lincoln on Nguyen Tat Thanh, and Lancaster Residences on Ton That Thuyet.

Pham Ngoc Thien Thanh, Manager of Research & Consulting Services, said, “Our ex-Managing Director, Mark Townsend, talked about District 4’s potential 10 years ago, because of its proximity to District 1, and because of its low land cost.”

Both Thanh and Trang Bui, Head of Markets at Jones Lang Lasalle, have reported good sales for new residential buildings with hefty rental yields. In early December, Tuoi Tre suggested that most buyers were looking to rent the apartments out for a profit, and that tenants were harder to find with the influx of competitive luxury and mid-end options in Districts 1 and 2.

Thanh explained that land costs in District 4 are only 1/4th or 1/5th of comparable land in District 1, an area easily accessible by four vehicular bridges and one pedestrian bridge. It might not technically be the central business district (CBD), but it’s certainly CBD Lite.

While most of the recent projects here are residential, Trang said that a few key commercial ventures are also appearing. She pointed to the office building e.Town, which will officially open this year, with leasing prices around US$20 to US$24 per square metre, compared to District 1’s US$35 to US$40 for a similar space.

Persistent Challenges

Flooding is still a concern, however. District 4 was named one of the three most flood-prone districts in the city, along with Tan Binh District and Thu Duc District.

Last year, plans were set to spend US$41.8 million to build three large-scale reservoirs in the districts, the District 4 one to cover 4.8 hectares and cost US$2.2 million. #iAMHCMC couldn’t find information about its progress.

Along with water, current residents have also proved difficult to developers. Buildings must be torn down and residents must be compensated, a slow process in many cases.

As land prices rise, District 4’s old reputation hasn’t completely gone away.

As Trang said, “The concern is still there, to be honest. Especially for large multinational companies—they worry about the safety of their staff because of its reputation. However, I don’t see that much concern from the local buyers with the new developments. They see the vibrant road along the riverside [Ben Van Don], and they see things have changed.”

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE GUIDE TO THE DISTRICTS IN HCMC

Apart from work and social life, finding quality accommodation in a suitable area of town is one of the most crucial factors in choosing a place to live in HCMC. The city has a plethora of options available to suit all tastes and budgets from low-cost studio apartments to international-standard luxury homes.

The decision will depend on several factors: what type of accommodation you prefer to live in and can afford, what part of town you want to live in, and what amenities come with your future home. Different districts offer different vibes, from the hectic night-life and tourist buzz in D1 to the almost suburban peace of D2 about 20 minutes away from the central business district (CBD).


District 1

Wards: 10

Area: 7.72km2

Population in 2011: 185,715

The reverse L-shaped D1 is the location of HCMC’s Central Business District (CBD) and where the bulk of the city’s Western restaurantsclubs, and bars, along with tourist destinations, are situated. It is not surprising that rental prices here are the highest in the city, while backpacker and tourist accomodation is plenty. Another notable area of D1 is what is described as HCMC’s Little Tokyo located on Le Thanh Ton Street.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE THE INS AND OUTS OF LEASING LAND IN VIETNAM

Can a foreign business lease land in Vietnam? Technically speaking, the government owns all the land in Vietnam; there are quite a few regulations and procedures in place for foreign investors who wish to lease anything. Before 2009, this was not possible, but since then there have been many legal modifications which now allow foreigners to access land for commercial business enterprises. These kinds of changes have resulted in positive economic gains for everyone, and there is much interest in what the future holds for interested parties.

However, legally leasing land from the government is quite a tricky process, and contains many grey areas. This has been the primary reason that many foreigners are still hesitating to do so. Despite the difficulties involved with the process, there are certainly ways to attain land legally and there are numerous businesses that are successfully operating within the current system.

The first way for a foreign business to lease land is to establish a joint stock company (JSC) that is in accordance with Vietnamese laws and regulations. After this has been completed, business owners must use a parent-daughter company formation in order to acquire the lease. Keep in mind that this kind of model requires the foreign-owned business to use a Vietnamese private party who will transfer the land from the government to themselves, and then lease it to the business. This type of leaseback transaction is compulsory due to the fact that only the Vietnamese government can hold the rights to own the land.

For eligible businesses, the government may grant the business rights to lease the land for commercial purposes, and this is referred to as the Land Use Right (LUR). When this step has been completed the government may issue the party a LUR Certificate (LURC) which allows them to legally lease the land. This registration is the only way that an interested party may operate with accordance to Vietnamese law.

Foreign owned and operated businesses must also have a license to operate in Vietnam before they can be considered for a LURC. Then, if given the lease, the business has the right to operate on that land for the duration of the LUR. Normally, these are issued for 50 year intervals and in special circumstances the Prime Minister may grant an additional 20 years. This kind of extension is not guaranteed and is only given if, upon expiration of the LURC, the business has complied with all the Vietnamese regulations in a suitable manner.

It is also important to note that the foreign investor may not legally sub-lease their land to a private individual, business or any other entity under any circumstance.

Another common way that foreigners can legally lease land is through a joint venture operation, where they team up with another business (usually Vietnamese-owned) that is certified and licensed to operate in Vietnam.

Although there have been many ramifications to the law since 2009, it is still quite difficult to legally maneuverer within the parameters of the regulations, and this obstacle has significantly hindered foreign interest in the market. Experts expect that there may be further changes in the future. The current system is a challenging one.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE HOW TO RENT A CHEAP ROOM IN SAIGON ?

Maybe you wouldn’t believe me. Right? You’re shaking your head right now. But with my 3 million per month accommodation slap bang in the center of District 1, complete with private bathroom, TV, air conditioner, fridge and a nice big window, I am living proof that my claim is absolutely legitimate. The question is, how?

Renting in Ho Chi Minh City is like leaping into a jungle. The possibilities are almost endless, but unless you know exactly what you’re looking for and how to find it, chances are you’ll never get past those first, very obvious obstacles.

I’m talking about the share-houses on the first few pages of Expatblog and Craigslist, the agent who inboxes you as soon as you post on the Ho Chi Minh City Facebook page, or that room your colleague told you about that used to house your other colleague and is in a house with four other colleagues. I mean those options that slap you in the face, almost before you get a chance to breath the Saigon air and hint that you’re looking to rent!

The reality is that the best deals in Ho Chi Minh City often require a bit of digging. But how do you start?

Top Tip 1: Know your Goals

If you’re honest with yourself you know the kind of place you’d be happy to live in, the kind of budget you can afford and the kind of area you’d like to call your neighbourhood. So write it all down.

Too many people come to Saigon and sort of want to rent a room, sort of don’t really know how or what, and sort of just end up somewhere… They don’t take the time to consider what it is they actually want! And they tend to settle, rather than fix a clear goal in their head and aim for it.

And then there’s the question of money. People usually think about their budget first, but it’s actually better to put it last. You can mold a budget to a dream, but if you mold a dream to a budget you’re bound to be dissatisfied! Line up a list of the things you need in a home, be brutally honest, and then figure out if you can pay for them. Prioritize things, cut some non-essential features out, and figure out your budget based on your requirements.

To start this whole process, ask yourself these questions:

Do I like people? Sounds strange, but if like me you are a bit of a hermit, a quiet house where you’re not required to socialize can mean the difference between homeliness and a life of constant stress. And vice versa! Socialites need friends, and share-houses are good.

Do I want to cook? Will you eat outside or inside? What sort of cooking facilities do you require? I have one friend who just orders in every night and has no kitchen, but another friend of mine cooks up oven-baked bonanzas every night! I myself have a portable stove and a rice-cooker in my room, and I cook simple Vietnamese food.

What sort of curfew can I work to? When I first came here I lived a few months in a place where you had to be inside by 11 p.m. or get locked out. And oh my I spent a lot of nights cursing on my doorstep! I now live in the most flexible place ever, and whether I stagger home roaring drunk at 3 a.m. or tuck myself into bed with hot milk before eight, my landlords don’t bat an eyelid.

What kind of facilities will I prioritize? From experience I will always prioritise a private bathroom and fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Other friends need air conditioning, a TV, a fridge, etc… It all depends on your lifestyle.

Do I need light? If my room didn’t have two windows I would feel like a clam, stuck inside my shell all day. Are you a light person? If so, rent a light room because believe me this will bug you endlessly.

Where is most convenient for me to live? Where do you work? How do you get to work? And where is the best place to live to make that “getting to work” process easiest?

Do I want to rent long-term or short-term? Often if you rent longer term your monthly payments will be less. Landlords often offer 12 month, 6 month and 3 month deals. See if you can bargain! That’s always fun.

Also consider these factors:

– Will you need parking/security for your vehicle? What will you drive?

– Do you want a private bathroom? (Yes you do trust me)

– How much of a clean freak are you?

– Is the landlord friendly and do they live there?

– Do you need furniture, or will you bring your own?

– Do you smoke? Have a pet?

– Is there a contract? I live without a contract which is great because I can leave when I want, but some people like the security of having a deal.

And now, only now can you think about money. How can you mold your budget to your dream home?

Top Tip 2: Make some local friends

Make friends with people who speak the local language, know the city well and are willing to help you network. Make friends with them anyway because they’re more than likely great people! But don’t forget to use them shamelessly as your “in” to the rental sector. Go to 23/9 Park in District 1 to hang out with local students, chat with people at your workplace, relax at some of the city’s popular bars like Broma or Blanchy’s Tash, and get talking!

I rent my current room from a good friend of mine who owns a restaurant here. We met almost a year ago, and the rate for my room is very much due to his kindness and the trust we have as long-term chums.

Top Tip 3: Drop your agent and get on the internet

Let me give you a nice, tangible example for this one.

I rented a room through an agent in the first 6 months of being here. I paid VND 7,000,000 per month for a nice little pad, with bathroom, fridge and cooking facilities included. The usual! He was an English bloke and he treated us very fairly. I paid a bond, and I held a contract through his agency. It was all very easy and nice. But in the same building, in a room with exactly the same facilities as me, exactly the same layout and even the same owners, a Vietnamese friend of mine lived for VND 3,500,000 per month. Simply because he had gone straight to the owner!

So how do you bypass the agents and successfully navigate an owner to renter agreement, in Vietnam, in a language you don’t understand?

Step 1, websites. Check out BatdongsanExpatblog and Craigslist and make sure you browse past the first few pages! Get one of your newly captured local friends to help out, and make as many calls, emails and house visits as you need. Make sure you buy them a beer after…

Top Tip 4: Walk the streets

Have you ever wandered around Ho Chi Minh City and looked at the walls? I mean the walls of houses, telegraph poles, things like that. Have you? I would recommend it anyway because some of those walls are pretty darn interesting, but apart from anything else they often have signs on them with rooms to rent.

Not that you would know it without knowing Vietnamese! These signs are often on A4 white pieces of paper, and they usually have a big “phòng cho thuê” or “cho thuê phòng” slapped across the middle. These three words mean “room for rent,” and they are typically big fat advertisements for the kind of room you pay $150 US per month for, no strings attached. That’s how I found my last room, a VND 2,700,000 per month beauty at the top of an ancient Vietnamese town-house in District 1. So stare at walls, people!

Top Tip 5: Learn some Vietnamese will help you find a cheap room in Saigon

This one is a bit difficult and, as mentioned above, you could also very easily just invest in a Vietnamese chum. But the idea of using the local language is that you can then access the local real estate market.

With Vietnamese you can search the local version of Batdongsan, where prices are lower and the range is wider. With Vietnamese you can chat with landlords, negotiate prices, and fully understand things like registration, bond and the rate for electricity. With Vietnamese the price will also always be lower. Because I am a foreigner, a room that goes for VND 3 million to my Vietnamese friend Trang will be rented to me for VND 5,000,000. If I ask the landlord “why?” in Vietnamese he might drop a million, and if I physically turn up to view his room with Trang by my side he will likely quote me the “real” price! Vietnamese language or blood gets you Vietnamese prices. Fair enough I suppose.

Here are some useful words to get you started:

House – nhà (n-yaa)

Room – phòng (f-awm)

Rent – thuê (tt-u-ey)

Buy – mua (moo-ah)

Deposit – Tiền đặt cọc (teeng dat cop)

Contract – hợp đồng (herp dawm)

Water and electricity – Nước và điện (nurc va deeng)

Top Tip 6: Sign long-term contracts for your room

I bet you know this one, but I’m going to put it in this list anyway because let’s face it – it’s a top tip. If you can commit to a long-term contract then it is often a super good way to save money! As mentioned above, landlords often offer 12 month, 6 month and 3 month options and the longer you plan to stay the less you have to pay. Simple.

Top Tip 7: Live short-term in a hostel, deal

If contracts aren’t your thing and you’re a bit of a hipster at heart, why not consider renting a hostel bed for a month? I rented a bed in District 1’s Rou Hostel for one month, and at the end of the month I handed over a measly $110 US. The wifi was excellent, the bathrooms clean, the company was pleasant, the beds where huge and the location was prime!

I have also rented a room at the top of a guesthouse. This room was not part of the guesthouse itself, but an extra room that the owners like to rent out for more long-term visitors, and I paid USD $180 a month. I was literally right on the strip, in an alleyway off Bui Vien. For that little stipend my roommate and I got a TV, a big comfy bed, a private bathroom, a fan, a fridge and a balcony for washing clothes. Sweet! Have a wander through Pham Ngu Lao’s back-alleys and do a bit of wall-watching to find gems like this one.

Top Tip 8: Ask around if they know about affordable rooms for rent 

I will never forget the time I sat down to wontons and hủ tiếu khô, and got back up again with a new landlord and a room viewing the next day. I had just started nibbling at my noodles when a man plonked himself down next to me and asked in startlingly good English how long I’d been in the city and what I did. He’d seen me around often, and he wanted to know what the deal was!

We got talking and the topic of rooms popped up – I needed a cheap, nice room in town. He asked our street vendor about rooms, they chatted a bit, someone called someone else and everyone spoke in very fast very serious Vietnamese. And, at the end of it all, he offered me a room with a local woman just two streets over.

Now, I am not stupid. I did not give this man my full name or any contact details other than a phone number, and I did not intend on visiting the room alone with him – I would bring a friend. Safety first guys.

In the end I didn’t even get the room because someone else rented it first! But the point I’m trying to make is this – talk. Ask people. Ask street vendors if they know anything, ask salon workers, ask that man who tried to clean your shoes even though your ancient sneakers are obviously well beyond the clean-able stage! Ask, and ye shall find.

Top Tip 9: Make sure you’re registered

Did you know that the dwelling for every foreigner here in Vietnam has to be registered with the government? And if you’re a foreigner your landlord must also have a special permit to rent to you!

Ok, so I’m pretty sure the owners of my last room had no permit and just paid someone to be quiet because they never took my passport, but legally speaking it is an absolute must! Just make sure that’s dealt with when you rent, whether legally or not…

Top Tip 10: Tips to make it cheaper

And finally, some sneaky rent-saving tips straight from a professional budgetter to you.

– Live above a restaurant – If he is doing it right, the owner already earns enough to pay his rent and more, so he can charge you less for your room. Be firm, bargain hard and stand your ground. You’d be surprised!

– How much for electricity? – Some places charge you as much as VND 5,000/KW which is absolute daylight robbery! The best rate I have found is VND 3,000/KW but the standard is somewhere between VND 3,500/KW and VND 4,000/KW.

– Rent for work – reduce your rent in exchange for English tutoring, help with renovations, cleaning, whatever takes your fancy! Work part-time for your landlord in exchange for lower rates.

– Rent without furniture – Sounds scary but it is totally feasible. Actually, a lot of my Vietnamese friends do this, and in my last room I did it too. You rent a bare room, and then you buy a mattress and some coat-hangers. The rent is lower and your mattress will cost you a one time fee of up to VND 1,000,000. Mine was VND 110,000, but it’s a very poor excuse for a mattress. I also purchased a stove and a rice-cooker! It’s like camping but in a room.

– Don’t use your air-con or TV! – Read a book instead of watching that mindless box, and use a fan rather than the air conditioner. It dries your skin out anyway!

Conclusion

This guide to renting cheap rooms in Saigon can also be used for those looking for affordable studio or apartments. Please share your own tips about finding the perfect place to stay by commenting below.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE VINGROUP: A CLOSER LOOK AT VIETNAM’S REAL ESTATE GIANT

Name a major player in Vietnam’s real estate sector. You might think of HCMC-based Novaland, but the biggest name in the field is headquartered in eastern Hanoi: Vingroup. A look at Vingroup’s revenues alone doesn’t do justice to how large the company is. You need context.

If Vingroup’s stocks were traded on a US securities exchange, its 75 percent year-on-year growth would win it a place on Fortune’s list of top 100 fastest growing companies.

In 2016, the company reported almost doubling its revenue from the year prior after posting nearly the same banner year in 2015. It also made a splash on the world stage in December with its Vinhomes Central Park development, which was decorated with regional and global awards.

An obvious question arises: how?

Walking with Giants

It becomes an easier question to answer once you look at the broad range of sectors that Vingroup’s assets cover. The group’s holds nearly 1,000 stores, 1 million square metres of retail space, and a group of over 100 other properties across the country that serve as hospitalsresorts and entertainment destinations. Almost any imaginable need could be served by a Vingroup asset.

“I think their strategy is just world domination,” Deputy Managing Director of Savills Vietnam Troy Griffiths said with a laugh. “They’re just a very interesting animal.”

Vingroup’s meteoric rise is a credit to the company’s executives, experts say.

“It’s attributed to the great leadership of the chairman,” Viet Capital Securities researchers said in an interview citing the company’s origin story.

Vingroup founder Pham Nhat Vuong started food-processing company Technocom in Ukraine. By the time food giant Nestlé acquired it in 2009 for US$150 million, Vuong had broken ground on his first major projects in Vietnam, Vinpearl Resort in Nha Trang and Vincom City Towers, which opened in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Vingroup would be formed in 2007.

Today, Vuong is one of the wealthiest individuals in the nation, and the company he started is one of the largest in Vietnam.

The story’s “prodigal son” theme – a journey abroad followed by homecoming and success – is nuanced by the fact that Vingroup’s profile has extended to the world stage. In 2013, the company became the first to attract international investment from US private equity firm Warburg Pincus. The company has invested US$300 million in Vingroup so far. Another US$1 billion has been invested in Vingroup in the same time period.

International Attention

Aside from funding from outsiders, the company has also attracted international attention for its unparalleled developments. Landmark81, a 461-metre-tall building that will open later this year inside Vingroup’s Ho Chi Minh City residential project Vinhomes Central Park, was voted the best high-rise building in the world at the International Property Awards in London in December. The 81-storey tower will be 152 metres taller than the Shard of London as well as the tallest building in Vietnam and the 11th tallest in the world when it is completed. Located in the Binh Thanh District, the development took a prize for the best urban complex in the region.

But the development is just a fraction of the cpany’s expansive portfolio.

After reporting a blockbuster financial year – Vingroup posted a whopping 72 percent increase in revenue, 58.5 trillion dong ($2.6 billion), over last year – the company shows no signs of slowing down. The group is working on an ambitious waterfront development known as Vinhomes Golden River.

About 25 acres located southeast of the zoo and botanical gardens will be used for an enormous development made up of 13 apartment buildings. The plans call for 63 villas to be built around them.

The mixed-use development aims to open with a plethora of amenities. The website boasts not only the standard perks of living in a mixed-use development – a restaurant, a supermarket – but also advertises plans for parks, a museum and an international school. The website calls the site “a city within a city”. A report updating investors on the project in February noted that 73 percent of the more than 2,500 units currently available in the project have been claimed already.

Just as the Vinhomes Golden River project is a “city within a city”, Vingroup’s businesses have grown to be a world unto themselves by the sheer breadth of sectors in which they operate.

The group’s portfolio includes hospitals, schools, groceries and many other businesses. Vuong remains the board chairman and majority shareholder in Vingroup with a 28.5 percent stake in the company, according to a 2015 company report. The majority of the company, 84 percent, remains with Vietnamese shareholders. Foreign investors hold the remaining 16 percent.

Planning for Vietnam’s Future

As the company’s revenue and profiles have grown, so too has the company’s mission matured. Vingroup’s network of Vinmec hospitals and Vinschool educational centres committed 100 percent of their profits to charities in 2016. The company added that it would invest VND 4 trillion (US$176 million) in Vietnam’s healthcare and education.

Allocating financial resources to nonprofits matches peer institutions like the United States’ Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Vietnamese law describes such companies as “social enterprises”. They must commit at least 51 percent of their annual profit to social and environmental projects.

Vingroup’s move into the health sector has led to the expansion of medical services to previously underserved communities. For example, the Vinmec hospital in Phu Quoc was the area’s first international-standard hospital, a move described by Griffiths as “altruistic”. The company has a stated mission of combating chronic food shortages through the Vinmec centres.

Vingroup also supports youth development programmes and programmes to support orphans and senior citizens.

Outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vingroup is completing a 175,300-square-metre mixed-use project in Hanoi, Vinhomes Gardenia. About three-quarters of the units there have been sold in advance, according to the February report given to its investors. Separately, the company’s more than 7,000 villas and condos scattered throughout the country are 81 percent occupied.

Looking forward, Vingroup’s shopping centres and Vinpearl resorts will be a major focus through 2020, according to the company’s 2015 annual report. The company’s five-year strategy statement calls for further expansion of these two brands.

The report provides an insight into Vingroup’s corporate philosophy. It’s mission: creating “a better life for the Vietnamese people”.

Alongside income growth, the company states an interest in greater transparency and management excellence by modelling its executive activities after professional services consultants Ernst & Young and PwC. The 2015 report describes 2016 as “a year of Quality and Efficiency” as the group undertook changes to its corporate governance and human resources development.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE D5 APARTMENT TOWER GOES FROM GHOSTLY TO GLAM DIGS

The traffic—motorbikes crowded with too many occupants, blue buses teetering like ancient mammoths, the odd cyclo rolling by in hopes of finding a client—swarms and ceases at the intersection of Hong Bang and Do Ngoc Thanh streets in District 5, HCMC’s Chinatown. Up until recently commuters who passed through this intersection in the evening were met with an eerie sight: three towers, tall and slender as incense sticks, rising unlit into Saigon’s neon skyline. These towers, known to locals as the “Ghost Towers” of Thuan Kieu Plaza, were abandoned and left to their fate close to 20 years ago.

Every town has a dilapidated house that serves as a gauge of bravery for the neighbourhood kids – whoever can get the closest without getting ghost cooties wins – but when that haunted house towers 33 floors above anything surrounding it, the game changes.

Houses that are rumoured to be haunted can languish unsold in the real estate market for eternity but the land that Thuan Kieu Plaza once occupied was too valuable for developers to ignore. Situated in a prime location in District 5, the project was initially valued at more than US$55 million, according to the real estate news website, realestatevietnam.com.vn.

Then in 2013, the development team An Dong Investment JSC won the right to renovate the buildings for the price of VND600 billion, according to reporting by Thanh Nien News.

In November 2017, after four years of stops and starts the towers were officially transformed into The Garden Mall, a flashy new commercial and residential centre with shops and events to draw in a younger crowd. The complex features a tropical garden with 200 bird sculptures which, according to reporting by Vietnam Breaking News, reflects the hopeful Vietnamese idiom, “Dat lanh chim dau”, or in English “Where there is good land, the birds will come and settle.”

Scandals and Smoke

Completed in 1998, Thuan Kieu Plaza became the first high rise apartment complex in HCMC, yet the development failed to live up to its promise of becoming an emblem of new wealth in Vietnam. According to reporting by Kenh14 in June 2017, the towers contained a commercial centre, 648 apartments and various other facilities for the residents. Initially, the project drew a fair number of occupants, but one by one the people and businesses left, and in their wake only a murky spire of debt and urban legends remained.

Thuan Kieu Plaza was built for an expected influx of Hong Kongese after Britain transferred sovereignty to China in 1997, but the immigrants never came and the apartments were purchased by Vietnamese buyers instead. However, the building’s low ceilings and insufficient airflow, made the Vietnamese quite literally sick. Occupants eventually moved out, citing illness and respiratory issues amongst their complaints. Worse still, the towers were allegedly cursed with bad feng shui. Historically, feng shui, a pseudoscience originating in China, has been used in Asia to orient structures in a propitious way. The design flaws in the Ghost Towers proved fatal.

From the moment they were built the design of the russet coloured towers has been compared to the smoldering embers of incense sticks. In Vietnamese culture, incense carries an important role. It acts as the connection between the human realm and that of the spirits. When a loved one dies people burn three incense sticks because, according to incensetravel.com, odd numbers have a “greater mobility towards the infinite”. The travelling smoke supposedly assists spirits that need help moving on to the next realm.

Legend holds that the towers, like incense, acted as a beacon to lost souls, known as vong hon in Vietnamese. In Vietnamese culture, it is said that vong hon live in a parallel world to ours until they manage to find salvation. These spirits can be people who die suddenly and don’t realize they’re dead, people who stay behind to exact revenge or in some cases they can be people who die far from home and without heirs.

One such spirit is the famous apparition of a Chinese woman who allegedly roamed the buildings prior to the rebuild. She could be seen late at night crying in the halls, the collar of her traditional cheongsam dress buttoned tight around her throat. Other coverage reports unconfirmed stories involving mysterious fires, a scandalous murder-suicide and the outright cursing of the building by workers who were killed in construction accidents.

A New Centre for Saigon’s Youth

Standing outside The Garden Mall, five months after its grand opening, it is easy to see the pains that An Dong Corp took to erase the eerie stories from the past. Now, rather than incense sticks, the towers resemble shoots of bamboo reaching towards the sky.

In emailed responses translated from Vietnamese, Nguyen Hoanh Anh, Brand Director at The Garden Mall, wrote that the concept of The Garden Mall is to create a modern green garden for young people in the city. Weekend events, festivals and street shows attract thousands of people, Nguyen wrote.

Saigon Signature, The Garden Mall’s management service, describes the complex on their website as “an exciting civilized playground for the youth and whoever loves street arts to keep in touch, learn, and exchange experiences.”

Mention of Thuan Kieu Plaza is noticeably left out of both descriptions but that is hardly surprising. The Garden Mall is geared towards HCMC’s youth, many of whom weren’t yet born when the saga of Thuan Kieu Plaza began, and it isn’t in the best interest of the investors and developers to bring up reminders of the past.

The new space consists of 3 commercial floors replete with the typical shopping complex offerings. However, two areas change the space from just another mall to a destination. Vietnam’s first Phuong Nam “book city” is located in the complex and, according to The Garden Mall’s website, contains more than 500,000 books. However, the crown jewel of the development is definitely the Theatre de Cho Lon—a space dedicated to the traditional performing arts of Vietnam.

#iAMHCMC’s staff writer Tran Thi Minh Hieu attended an event in February at the newly finished Theatre de Cho Lon. She described the experience: “[S]ome parts of the mall on the third floor were not completed, it was rather dark and quiet. I did feel as if the place had been abandoned for some time and was being renovated.” However, Tran “could tell that this is a historical place and it carries the pride of a culturally rich Saigon.”

As night falls in Saigon, the ceaseless bustle in Cho Lon continues. Visitors linger around the entrance to The Garden Mall which now carries few reminders of its notorious past. Against the backdrop of the starless sky the towers’ incandescent green spotlights soar optimistically upwards, no longer beckoning vong hon but instead acting as a beacon for Saigon’s youth. Whether or not it will be successful remains to be seen.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE FOREIGN PROPERTY OWNERSHIP: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

What are the rules on foreign property ownership in Vietnam? Taking effect from July 2015, the revised Law on Housing has brought about many positive changes in terms of foreign property ownership. This opened a new chapter for Vietnam’s residential sector, where local and foreign developers alike are working aggressively to tap into this new pool of buyers.

Vietnam’s economy has been thriving in recent years. FDI into the country has been on an upward trend, and its real estate market has been booming since 2014 along with a great deal of infrastructure investments. It is evident that there is an increase in the number of foreigners looking to invest in Vietnamese properties.

The biggest change with this new policy is that now all foreign individuals who are granted entry into Vietnam and all foreign investment funds, banksVietnamese branches and representative offices of overseas companies are able to buy properties here.

In addition, they are allowed to buy not only apartments but also landed property (villas and townhouses), and their home ownership rights have been significantly relaxed. The previous law only allowed foreign home ownership to be strictly for owner-occupied purposes, while the revised one has allowed these properties to be sub-leased, traded, inherited and collateralised. The catch is that the total number of units owned by foreigners must not exceed 30 percent of the total units in one condominium complex, or 250 landed property units in one particular administrative ward or its equivalent.

 Current Laws (Effective July 1, 2015)Previous pilot scheme (Resolution No.19, effective 2009 – 2013)
 Eligibility

YES for all foreigners who are granted a visa to the country and not entitled to privileges and diplomatic immunity

YES with restrictions such as:

  • Individual investors who make a direct investment in Vietnam;
  • Expatriates who are hired by enterprises formed under the Enterprise Law for managerial positions;
  • Individuals who possess special skills that are needed in Vietnam;
  • Individuals who are married to Vietnamese citizens;
Product

Apartments + landed property (villas and townhouses)

Apartments only

Volume

The total number of dwelling units owned by foreigners must not exceed:

  • 30% of the total units in one condominium building;
  • 10% of the total landed property units in one residential compound;

250 landed property units in one particular administrative ward or its equivalent

 One apartment unit only
Purpose

The properties owned by foreigners can be sub-leased, traded, inherited and collateralised

Only for owner-occupied purposes
Tenure

50-year leasehold with renewal possibility;

Foreign individuals married to Vietnamese citizens are entitled to freehold tenure.

 50 years

Source: CBRE Vietnam, Q1 2017.

From whom can foreigners buy houses?

On the primary market: from developers of residential projects.

On the secondary market: only from foreign individual/entity owners (not from local owners) with the remaining ownership tenure (renewal possibility available upon expiry).

However, remitting money out of Vietnam is still a challenge for foreign home owners, who are expected to produce the necessary documents evidencing their source of income such as proof of income in Vietnam (if applicable), proof of inward remittances to Vietnam, a Sales & Purchase Agreement, etc.

Renewal of ownership

For a foreign individual who owns a house in Vietnam, the procedure for extending the ownership tenure is as follows:

1. Three months before the expiration of the tenure for house ownership, if the owner wishes to have the tenure extended, he/she must file an application for extension which specifies the extension length and includes a certified true copy of the certificate of the house, then send it to the People’s Committee of the province in which the house is located;

2. Within 30 days from the receipt of the owner’s application, the People’s Committee of the province shall consider and issue a written permission for one extension of the ownership tenure at the request of the owner. Such extension must not exceed 50 years from the original expiration date written on the certificate.

3. According to the written permission given by the People’s Committee of the province, the Certificate issuing body will write the extension on the Certificate, and send a copy of the Certificate to the Department of Construction of the same province for monitoring.

Looking forward

Vietnam’s property market may not be as transparent as its more developed counterparts, but it does present great opportunities. Some projects that have seen huge interest from foreigners include The Nassi m in the Thao Dien area or Empire City in the Thu Thiem area of District 2.

However, remitting money out of Vietnam is still a challenge for foreign home owners, who are expected to produce the necessary documents evidencing their source of income such as proof of income in Vietnam (if applicable), proof of inward remittances to Vietnam, a Sales & Purchase Agreement, etc.

Renewal of ownership

For a foreign individual who owns a house in Vietnam, the procedure for extending the ownership tenure is as follows:

1. Three months before the expiration of the tenure for house ownership, if the owner wishes to have the tenure extended, he/she must file an application for extension which specifies the extension length and includes a certified true copy of the certificate of the house, then send it to the People’s Committee of the province in which the house is located;

2. Within 30 days from the receipt of the owner’s application, the People’s Committee of the province shall consider and issue a written permission for one extension of the ownership tenure at the request of the owner. Such extension must not exceed 50 years from the original expiration date written on the certificate.

3. According to the written permission given by the People’s Committee of the province, the Certificate issuing body will write the extension on the Certificate, and send a copy of the Certificate to the Department of Construction of the same province for monitoring.

Looking forward

Vietnam’s property market may not be as transparent as its more developed counterparts, but it does present great opportunities. Some projects that have seen huge interest from foreigners include The Nassi m in the Thao Dien area or Empire City in the Thu Thiem area of District 2.

Going forward, as the market further develops and quality standards further improve, we believe there will be a growing presence of foreigners investing in Vietnamese properties after some time studying the market.

These buyers are more likely to look at projects from well-known developers with good track records, and/or those in good locations with capital growth and leasing potential, even though selling prices of these projects can be a lot higher than average.

Some governing laws and regulations

Name of regulationCodeRelevant ChapterEffective Date
Law on Housing65/2014/QH13Chapter IXJul 01, 2015
Decree on guidelines for the Law on Housing99/2015/ND-CPChapter II & VIIDec 10, 2015
Circular on guidelines for the Law on Housing and the Decree no. 99/2015/ND-CP19/2016/TT-BXDChapter IVAug 15, 2016

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE COST OF LIVING IN SAIGON

Everybody keeps filling my ears with how marvelously cheap life in Vietnam is, but I have my doubts on that. I mean, compared to Switzerland, Austria, Japan or Singapore… yes. Vietnam is definitely cheaper. But you have to do your homework, note places where they don’t overcharge you because of your long nose and generally add the costs of visa, occasional visits to your country of origin and all those extra fees that apply if you don’t know your way around very well.

The point is, most Vietnamese believe that Westerners are marvelously rich, educated and noble beings, like some fair princeling out of some cock-and-bull-story. Many see no harm in charging double the normal price for a bag of cucumbers, so you need to be on edge all the time.

From all Asian countries I can only compare it to China and if you take your average expat salary and compare it to the cost of living… China is cheaper, because prices are fixed and that’s it.

But let’s start and break down the costs of living in HCMC:


Renting

Renting a decent room in District 1 will cost you at least VND 6,500,000. Yes, there are cheaper options available, but I am referring to a spacious room in a nice area where water, electricity, Wi-Fi and drinking water are included. If you are lucky, you find a good place in further away districts at a lower price, but usually there is something fishy about it, so the VND 6,500,000 room is what I take as the minimum for a proper accommodation with Western standards.

Phone

The phone itself is at about the same price level as everywhere else in the world and it’s up to you whether you want to buy it. Probably even a bit more expensive due to additional taxes. SIM cards are available for VND 50,000 and one SMS costs around VND 300.


Mobility

Taxi or motorbike taxi comes at around VND 11,000 per kilometer. Taxi is air conditioned and comparatively safe, while motorbike taxis are faster and more flexible. Your own motorbike usually costs anywhere from VND 6,000,000 (functional) to VND 20,000,000 (pretty good) and beyond. One liter of gasoline is from VND 19,000 in September 2017.

Cars are extremely pricy, mainly because of the high import taxes. But in a car you can’t go anywhere anyway during rush hour.

Food

Local food is cheap and readily available on the street. For around VND 30,000 you can get a decent, Asian-sized meal like chicken rice. A bowl of pho comes at minimum VND 25,000. However – buy cheap get cheap. Local street vendors and restaurants often use cheap ingredients like recycled oil or fish sauce infused with chemicals that cause my stomach to turn when just reading their names. While having a dish like this once in awhile won’t kill you, ingesting Aspartame and MSG on a daily basis is something you may want to reconsider.

For a decent meal in a nice, local place you pay from VND 40,000.

Your craving for Western food can be satisfied easily from VND 70,000 upwards. For a proper pizza, prepare to pay at least VND 150,000, rather VND 190,000.

A good steak, and I am talking about a real steak here, is available from around VND 600,000 but rather VND 1,000,000. A really nice hamburger may be as much as VND 190,000. A tasty cut of salmon, char grilled with veggies and mashed potatoes is served for around VND 250,000. For VND 200,000 you get a plate of enough enchiladas to fill even a large bandido to the top.

If you are on a budget, but don’t want to miss grandma’s bread dumplings, home cooking is the way to go.

Some ingredients for cooking (average prices):

– Butter, 250g – VND 80,000

– Baguette, small – VND 2,000

– Camembert, 200g – VND 60,000

– Wheat flour (whole grain, US/Aus) 1kg – VND 70,000

– Eggs, 10pcs – VND 26,000

– Chocolate, Ritter Sport – VND 50,000

– Apple juice, 1l – VND 50,000

– Spaghetti, 500g – VND 30,000

– Coconut – VND 10,000

– Olive oil e.v, 1l – VND 200,000

– Water, 5l – VND 22,000

– Beer (Saigon Special), 0,33l – VND 13,000

– Wine (drinking quality), 0,7l – VND 140,000

– Wine (European import), 0,7l – VND300,000

– Milk (crappy quality), 1l – VND 20,000

– Milk (real, pasteurized), 1l – VND 40,000

– Herbs (dried, various), 20g-50g – VND 25,000

Like all things, you have various qualities available. You can buy a liter of fish sauce for VND 30,000, but I guess it is more MSG than anchovies in there. Good fish sauce you get for around VND 110,000, just containing fish and salt.

For a daily average of VND 80,000 per person and some cooking skill you can ensure good meals, fruit and water, including a coffee in the morning, but no fancy desserts and imported delicacies.

Home cooking is also the way to go if you have special needs. Lactose free food is available, because traditional Vietnamese food does not include milk. Lactose free milk is unheard of in Vietnam though. Rice does not contain gluten, but you never know what else is in the food at restaurants. Organic food is hard to find and pricy. Halal food is available at most Indian and Indonesian restaurants, for a relatively high price though. If you need halal restaurants on a budget, I guess the best practice is to look and ask around a mosque.


Health Care

Health insurance starts from a monthly VND 2,500,000, not including dental. Dental treatment is usually not cheap, but fillings start at VND 200,000, depending on which clinic you go to. Without insurance, you can save money on your everyday medical needs if you only consult a doctor when necessary. The diagnosis is quite cheap at public hospitals if you are prepared to wait for your turn. Of course, should something graver happen and you need to stay at the hospital, then be advised that even a blanket on the corridor floor can drain your financial reserves pretty fast. It also may drain your patience, because sleeping on the floor where a hundred Vietnamese walk to the toilet every night is decidedly un-Western.

Okay, let’s calculate our monthly expenses for an adult person now:

– VND 6,500,000 living

– VND 3,000,000 food & drink

– VND 2,500,000 insurance

– VND 200,000 phone bills

– VND 200,000 mobility

– VND 700,000 visa

– VND 300,000 other necessities

Therefore the total monthly expenses for an acceptable lifestyle are around VND 13,000,000 for a single person without further responsibilities, excluding one-time expenses like purchasing a motorbike, laptop, clothing, shoes and the like. Of course, you can lower the costs by renting cheaper, eating cheaper, taking the risk of not being insured and generally lower your expectations. Also, like in all metropolises throughout the world, you can spend significant amounts of money on luxuries.

It’s up to you.

When it’s not up to you alone, because you have a family, you may take into consideration more than just living from hand to mouth. One of the special topics that appears all the time is:


Education

While education in public schools is relatively cheap, the quality of these institutions leaves something to be desired. Excellent education is available in Vietnam too, but the costs of these international schools are quite expensive, unless your job position in Ho Chi Minh City covers your kids’ education.

 

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN HIGH DEMAND IN HCMC ?

One of the keywords in Vietnam’s real estate today is urbanisation. Today, 34.1 percent of the country’s population live in cities, and this number is rapidly growing. The biggest question remains: where will everyone live? With an increasing FDI presence, a rising middle class and an influx of expatriates from wealthier countries, there’s no simple answer to this question.

Nguyen Van Duc, the founder and owner of Dat Lanh Real Estate Company Ltd., a real estate developing company that focuses exclusively on affordable housing in Ho Chi Minh City, knows this only too well.

With the help of his son, Nguyen Hung Tam, who acted as interpreter, Duc explained why he began devoting his life to affordable housing in 1976. He pointed out an obvious advantage to affordable housing development: “The land available is on the outskirts of the city, so it’s cheaper.” So far he’s built dozens of housing projects for low-income workers, mostly in District 12, and this demand will not let up anytime soon.

Adding Up the Numbers

Thousands of Vietnamese have been pouring into the city limits, attracted by the prospect of employment and educational opportunities. While this increase is clearly good news for manufacturing factories and schools, it has caused strain on the city’s housing and infrastructure developments.

One problem? Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been funneling into HCMC’s high-end real estate projects, but has so far turned a blind eye towards affordable housing. Duc considers the question for a moment before answering: “From my knowledge, there’s only been one foreign company that is investing in affordable housing. And I don’t know the name. It’s not a big presence.”

For local investors it’s also notoriously difficult to gather the money to complete these projects through bank loans. Dat Lanh Real Estate Company Ltd. has found another way to complete Duc’s projects: crowdsourcing from potential tenants.

Many low-income workers and families will learn of a real estate project and will invest money to ensure a place to live when the project is finished. I ask how many projects have required help from tenants, and Duc’s response is immediate: “Most of them.”

Rising Demand and a Shifting Future

Middle- to high-income apartments are only viable for 20% of Vietnam’s population. Recognising the need for change, the real estate market has already seen a shift in development. Last December, for example, Vingroup’s residential sector, Vinhomes, announced plans to develop condos with a VND 700 million price tag in the outer districts of Hanoi, HCMC, Nha Trang and other larger Vietnamese cities. While this goes in the right direction, more substantial plans are required to address the needs of the millions of students and workers who want affordable living space.

For Duc, the question of an adequate supply of housing depends on several factors. He’s adamant, for example, about the need to revise the necessary amount of square metres per apartment. In HCMC, every apartment needs a minimum of 45 m2; Duc would like this to be changed to 30 or even 20 m2, like the building limits in Binh Duong.

Duc expressed his desire to find a like-minded foreign partner who could help fund affordable housing projects in Districts 12 and 9, though many foreign companies are likely put off by the low return on investment (around 10 to 20 percent). “It’s true,” he said, “the profit is not very high. But the benefit is, we always run out of the product.”

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE DEUTSCHES HAUS: GERMAN WORLD-CLASS DESIGN IN HO CHI MINH CITY

Deutsches Haus is “the symbol of the strategic partnership and friendship between Vietnam and Germany.”

On the 1st of August 2017 Deutsches Haus, Southeast Asia’s most eco-friendly and well-constructed building, will open its doors on the corner of Le Duan and Le Van Huu in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, right beside the InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel.

The 25-storey, 40,000 gross sq m building represents the union of the Vietnamese and German governments, showcasing modern German technology and acting as a model of sustainable design.

In 2011, Germany’s Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a declaration establishing the partnership between Germany and Vietnam, designed to strengthen the political, economic and cultural relations of the two countries.

For the past five years, Germany has been Vietnam’s biggest trade partner in the European Union, totaling a trade volume of US$8.92 billion in 2015 alone. The Deutsches Haus is to be the central platform for German and Central European companies doing business with Vietnamese and other ASEAN businesses, as well as the place to be for cultural exchange and relations.

The project aims to receive the USGBC LEED Platinum certification – the highest level of green certification possible. This will be the first building in Vietnam to receive LEED’s Platinum level, and is one of a few in Southeast Asia. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a globally recognised certification that ensures a building uses less water and energy, has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, pays particular attention to its construction material (and their effects on health and environment), and much more.

Examples of LEED Platinum certified buildings include the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, U.S., which contain the world’s only Platinum certified greenhouse; the massive Taipei 101 building in Taiwan; Canada’s Manitoba Hydro Place, quoted by CBC News as one of “the most energy-efficient office towers in the world”; Kohinoor Hospital, Asia’s first LEED Platinum certified hospital; and other select stadiums, hospitals, office buildings, conservatories, universities, convention centers and homes around the world.

Currently, there are only a total of 40 green certified buildings in the country, based on two certifications: LEED, and LOTUS (a certification similar to LEED, but more attuned to Vietnam’s climate and conditions). The first building to garner a LEED certification in Vietnam was a manufacturing facility owned by Colgate-Palmolive. The Diamond Lotus is a LEED-certified condominium project that will have three connected apartment complexes covered in bamboo, to be built in the coming years.

The design of Deutsches Haus has been entrusted to world-renowned architect Meinhard von Gerkan, who has over 50 years of experience. Gerkan has designed Tegel Airport, Lingang New City, the National Museum of China, the Hanoi Museum, Hamburg Airport, both the National Assembly and the National Convention Center in Hanoi, and many others. The design he undertook for Deutsches Haus is meant to express Germany’s role as an industrial and technological leader in the form of sustainable architecture, as well as German-standard architecture abroad.

The building’s double façade will eliminate the heat of the sun while allowing a great deal of sunlight to pass through, minimizing artificial light usage while ensuring a comfortable interior. In addition, this “double skin” will reduce noise and provide superior thermal insulation.

This façade is unique in Vietnam and is to be a milestone for future developments. LED lights will be used throughout the building for brighter and more energy-efficient lighting; the building’s air will be cleaned through a superior hospital grade filtration system; personal comfort is pushed to the forefront with particular attention to localised temperature control, centralised dehumidification, shading and daylight control and integration of all non-life systems; rooftop solar panels will be able to power the building’s lobbies during normal business hours; and a thorough plan for the building’s water system includes rainwater harvesting, grey water flushing systems and the reuse of treated sewage for irrigation and cooling.

The city is certainly in need for a greener urban environment: according to numbeo.com, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked the ninth most polluted city globally. This is more than evident in the amount of noise and smog one encounters while cruising around the city by motorbike. Although initiatives are being taken by introducing electric buses and other green projects, until the population adapts more sustainable practices, greener buildings are a necessary beginning.

The building will feature premium office space; a residential living space on the top floors; the largest rooftop terrace in the city; a pool and a fitness center; a multi-functional conference, exhibition and event-space; a restaurant; public areas with workspaces; coffee shops; a mobile washing station for cars and motorbikes parked at one of the four basement parking levels; raised floors (functioning to hide wires and regulate room temperature); and a fully-featured lobby. The lobby will feature screens projecting weather, German and European news, the building’s environmental stats, and will include an air freshener system, German artwork, and architecturally congruent seating. The building will also be the new home for the German Consulate and other German and European institutions.

This is a serious undertaking in a city full of delimiting regulations and architectural mishaps. The building is an example for the entire country to follow – projects integrating some of its features have already began construction in Vietnam. The Deutsches Haus is to be an environmentally and culturally sound representation of the city’s international future – and it seems to have been entrusted to the right hands for the job.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE HIGH-END HOTEL DESIGN IN VIETNAM: THE UNTOLD CHALLENGE

 See how a high-end hotel evolves from concept to creation.
 Designing a high-end hotel demands a surprising combination of special skills.
 The biggest misconceptions about Interior Design.
Have you ever wondered what goes into making a high-end hotel? You might think it’s as simple as choosing some comfy pillows and shiny golden wallpapers, finding a few art pieces, some colourful and ambiguously-shaped sculptures, throwing it all together and—ta da!—luxury. But you might be shocked to know the true depth and scope of storytelling, conceptualization, and meticulous planning that goes into creating a high-end hotel, far beyond just decorating. Whether or not you realize it, everything you see and interact with as you move through one of these luxury establishments is the result of fine-tuned and precise planning. High-end hotels need an entire team of creative professionals and experts to oversee this process from conceptualisation to final execution. This is where KAZE, a design studio based in Ho Chi Minh City, consistently delivers. KAZE means “wind” in Japanese, and this ties into their core design philosophy, which is quality in function, design and purpose—yet with a feeling as natural and free-flowing as the wind. This design philosophy is evident in the work they do for their clients all over Vietnam; a rare example of excellence, expertise, and professionalism in Vietnam’s developing market.

The team at KAZE has worked extensively with reputable international hotel brands in Vietnam, from Le Meridien to the Renaissance Hotel by Marriott, and the scope of their clientele extends beyond high-end hotels to many commercial and residential developments throughout Vietnam. Such a diversity of projects requires a wide diversity of skills and specialties within the KAZE team itself. To get an insight into exactly what goes into the fascinating process of high-end hotel design, we sat down with Managing Director Khoa, Interior Architect Hanh, and Junior Designer Phat.

From Start to Finish: The Process of Designing a High-End hotel in Vietnam

Luxury is a defining element of any high-end hotel. But what, exactly, do we mean by luxury?

“Before I studied Architecture and began working in a design studio, I thought luxury was all about design and aesthetic” KAZE’s Interior Designer Hanh says. “But now that I’ve worked on an International hotel, defining luxury in a broad sense comes with my ability to translate the branding guideline. To curate an experience for guests through architecture, landscape, art, and culture in a way that is new and original, yet aligns with the hotel’s brand and image.”

“It’s not just about the design, it’s the whole package,” Junior Designer Phat agrees. “The look, the style, and the 5-star service.”

You might think of luxury as gaudy, shiny, golden, almost excessive—but these Old Hollywood depictions of luxury are no longer the norm. These days, when you step into a high-end hotel, you’re likely to encounter more modern, minimalist artistic and design elements and cutting-edge technological solutions for the demands of 21st century hotel guests.

“I think nowadays, the definition of high-end is changing,” Khoa adds. “It’s not about material, it’s not about big space or small space. It’s about the experience, and that experience includes the rush of interacting with a new gadget or a cutting-edge technology that you’re being offered as a guest, that you might not have seen before or even knew existed.” 

Think about your own experience at a hotel. If the lobby, restaurant, and public facilities were pristine and luxurious, but your room was drab, dark, and uncomfortable, would you come away from that hotel with a positive impression? 

Of course you wouldn’t! Most of our time as guests is spent in the smallest, most intimate spaces in these hotels, and it is therefore in these relatively small rooms where the design team at KAZE begins their design and storytelling journey with any high-end hotel project. 

“When I work on small spaces like hotel rooms, it’s very complicated because you have to go through every detail in the room,” Phat says. “Because every little detail matters in the big perspective of being a 5-star luxury hotel.”

“Space planning is the most challenging,” Hanh says. With a space as limited as a hotel room, every inch of the space must be carefully accounted for and meticulously, precisely planned. “From the brief of clients, to the space from the architecture. It’s the most difficult part.”

According to Phat, it’s actually the initial phase of high-end hotel design that proves the most difficult. “I think the first stage is quite challenging, finding the direction for the project that can run consistently to the very end. It’s crucial that we have a clear story in order to convince the operator to agree to our design.” 

So how does the team at KAZE begin conceptualizing a design story for a new client? They won’t start from scratch, and in fact they’ll have an extensive brief of requirements from their client related to aesthetic, practical needs, and branding that they must take into consideration. 

Could you imagine writing a book for someone who tells you what they think should happen at the end? You would then have to come up with an interesting plot and finer details like setting and character development that meet their expectations. This is the tremendous “design story” challenge KAZE faces with every new high-end hotel client.

After hours of planning and brainstorming, an initial schematic emerges from the creative minds at KAZE. But the team can only move on to the next phase if their client says “yes” to the story. 

“[Creating] the schematic takes the longest,” Hanh adds. “Our client may have something specific in mind, and if our story doesn’t align with their vision, we have to go back and change the story…so that eventually it becomes the client’s story. It takes time for us to find each other, making this the costliest and most time-consuming stage of designing.” 

To help their clients visualize the story, the team at KAZE actually uses modern technology to create 3D renderings to bring their concepts to life. 

“There is often a perceived gap between what the client wants and what is actually possible,” Hanh says. “So it’s our job to not only create a story that aligns with the clients’ needs as closely as possible, but to convince the client that our story will result in the very best experience for their guests and for their brand reputation.”

The next phase deals with “kinetic design”—deciding exactly which materials will be used, and how they will be used. This is, in fact, their specialty.

“A lot of people think that designers just do creative stuff,” Phat says. “They don’t know the level of structural knowledge, detail work, joinery work and mechanical and electrical stuff we need to know and combine to see our design come true.”

“Most clients don’t know how long it takes,” Khoa adds. “They think it can be done in 1 or 2 weeks.”

“My relatives think I’m just arranging cushions and wallpapers in a room!” Phat chuckles.

Clearly, interior design is a much more involved process that requires a broad diversity of skill sets, brainstorming, teamwork, and specialized responsiveness to the needs of each individual client. “You can’t be lazy in this field,” Hanh says. “If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll never manage the long hours and late nights it requires to be an Interior Architect.”

It’s a long and winding road from the start of the journey, when a client gives KAZE their initial brief, to the moment the first hotel guests immerse themselves in that experience curated by the collaborative effort of a creative and diverse design team—but it is that moment that makes those hundreds of hours of hard work, dedication, and passion worthwhile.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE TALL TOWERS: SAIGON’S RACE TO THE CLOUDS

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

Saigon’s skyline is defined by a few standout tall towers concentrated in District 1. Peering over Ho Tung Mau street is the city’s third tallest tower, the 40-storey Saigon Times Square. Nearby at the half-moon of road around the Tran Hung Dao warrior statue is the Vietcombank Tower Saigon, the second tallest tower in the city and the seventh tallest tower in the nation.

At 258 metres, Bitexco Financial Tower comes in first. It is about 100 metres taller than third place and about 50 metres taller than Vietcombank Tower Saigon.

Though, all that may soon change.

Even accounting for all the planned towers in Ho Chi Minh City, Bitexco Financial Tower will still remain among the tallest structures in the city, but the incoming Ben Thanh Towers at 235 metres and the 195 metre-high Saigon One Tower are formidable competitors. The city’s iconic lotus-shaped tower will eventually be dethroned for tallest tower by the 461-metre Landmark 81.

Not only will it be the tallest tower in Vietnam, but the tallest in Asia by a petty amount: the development that currently holds that title is Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Towers, which will be a mere 20 centimetres shorter than Landmark 81.

But when will these towers be finished? What exactly will the skyline look like when it’s done?

Let’s dive deep into Saigon’s towers and gaze into the future.

Ben Thanh Twin Towers

The Ben Thanh Twin Towers project—not to be confused with the Ben Thanh Tower Condo, which has the Air 360 Sky Lounge at the top—will one day be two daring spires designed like a pair of postmodern sculptures overlooking the roundabout in front of Ben Thanh Market.

For now, however, it’s a walled off plot of half-laid foundation and dirt.

Bitexco Group began the Ben Thanh Twin Towers in 2012. They were planned as a 55-storey mixed-use development: the majority of the space would be dedicated to condominiums, but the tower would also be the home of office and retail space.

Total investment at the time was about $400 million. The project was expected to be completed in 2015.

The conceptual design seems a little haphazard, but the building’s planners have actually designed it with intentional symbolism.

The project’s two towers symbolise the popular Vietnamese symbol of two dragons. This well-known iconography depicts a pair of entwined dragons circling towards a sun. It’s a common image at pagodas and other prominent cultural locations, like the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural. The dragon is frequently associated with flight, ascendance and progress.

Similarly, important Vietnamese sites like Ha Long Bay have incorporated the word dragon into their names (the Vietnamese word long means “Dragon” in English).

A popular Vietnamese saying: Rồng gặp mây translates to “Dragon meets the clouds,” meaning something is in a favourable condition.

The project’s two towers will reach 235 metres and 225 metres—touching the clouds, indeed.

When Will It Be Finished?

The project is now expected to be completed in 2020, according to Bitexco Group’s website.

A Bitexco group representative confirmed the new timetable for #iAMHCMC in a phone interview, but wouldn’t go into more details on why the project has been delayed for as long as it has. They noted that builders have nearly finished the basement portion of the Ben Thanh Towers.

Empire City

Also arriving in 2020 is the Empire City project. This 14.5-hectare city-within-a-city development features a shopping mall, an office campus and a 5-Star hotel. The crown jewel of the development is an 88-storey building that will lord over the new development named Empire 88.

For now, the building’s planned height will make it taller than the in-progress skyscraper that’s also vying for the title of tallest tower, Landmark 81. However, the Empire 88 will top out at 333 metres, significantly less than the 461-metre Landmark 81.

It’s not only height that defines this tower, but also a groundbreaking design that brings green elements into the project. And we’re not talking about solar panels or sustainable materials.

The name “Sky Forest” comes from the buildings’ use of actual trees and plants about two-thirds of the way up the Empire 88 building. At this height, the building will have five square-ish platform shaped floors jutting out of the building that will be covered with living plants and trees.

Dubbed the “Sky Forest” by the architecture firm leading the design Büro Ole Scheeren, the international architecture firm unveiled the proposed design last November.

Concept drawings show the Empire 88 tower along with a group of three towers arranged around the terraced public space rich with plants and trees. The architects said they wanted to capture the feel of Sapa’s iconic, terraced rice paddies. The architects have planned a multi-tier, stacked park with graduated platforms. Viewed from above, the space might mirror something like a fingerprint with the platforms’ edges creating continuous lines that wind through the three Empire City towers.

When will it be finished?

The Keppel Land-led project expects to open its first residential properties in the second quarter of 2020.

The 88-storey tower should not be too far behind.

Keppel Land reports that 680 units within the Empire City project have already been sold to prospective residents.

Landmark 81

The Landmark 81 tower had been scheduled to “top out”—the phrase used in skyscraper construction where the highest element has been constructed—in May. But builder Coteccons hit that landmark 45 days ahead of schedule by giving Ho Chi Minh City an architectural asset now taller than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. With the 61-metre spire at the top of the building, Landmark 81 stands at 461 metres, about 10 metres taller than the Malaysian towers.

The 81-storey tower is the centrepiece of the Vinhomes Central Park project in Binh Thanh District.

While it remains under construction, developers have been quick to point out that this will not only be the tallest building in Vietnam but the 23rd tallest in the world.

The Vingroup-owned, US$1.5-billion tower is being built with a cinema, indoor skating rink, gym and clubhouse for residents, including a pool, gym, spa and outdoor lounge. Residents will be able to choose from apartments with up to four bedrooms.

The architectural design appears like a cluster of bars consolidated around a tall steeple. The result is a building of staggered heights facing towards the Saigon River. On their website, Atkins, the British architecture firm who designed the project calls it “modern and unusual,” a symbol of the rapid ascendance of Ho Chi Minh City. Retail developments will be the base of the building.

Even before the building is completed, the development had already amassed awards. Landmark 81 garnered the “best residential high-rise development Asia Pacific” at the Asian Pacific Property Awards 2016. “Atkins is proud to be involved in this award-winning project for Vingroup, as it represents a new benchmark in high-quality, sustainable, high-density, vertical living. This building type will be particularly important as Asia moves forward,” said in remarks reported in a press release created concurrently with the award.

When will it be finished?

The project appears to be on track to finish construction by this year. When completed, it will be only one metre shorter than the Lakhta Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, the 22nd tallest tower in the world. It will be less than 10 metres taller than the 24th placeholder, the Changsha IFS Tower T1 in Changsha, China.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT REAL ESTATE IN HCMC

We sat down with property experts Mauro Gasparotti and Rudolf Hever from Alternaty (Alternaty.com) for a deep exploration of Ho Chi Minh City’s real estate scene.

Do you think Vietnamese people as a whole have a different perception on land value?

Mauro: Yes. Valuation is probably the most important and sensitive subject for Vietnamese. I think the true definition of value, which is what a willing buyer and seller would pay for is not applicable. It’s more of what the people are asking for next door.

The other thing that affects the value is the process of the acquisition of land, the years of pain of getting the land from a certain status to a much more sellable status. From a valuation point of view, foreigners don’t consider this when they come in. You could spend years on relationships and a lot of money to get this land, so there is a mismatch to what a normal developed country would perceive as value and what the Vietnamese think of it. Vietnamese want to get paid for this process, and that’s why a lot of development comes at such a high prices, because this would make the project feasible.

The Vietnamese also put a future value into the asking price. They put what the value will be in 5-10 years time, they try to put the growth of the country as a factor. It’s a long exercise to understand value from both sides. For Vietnamese it’s what has been the history they needed to go through to get to this point where they can sell the land; for foreigners it’s what the price is that would make their project feasible on this land.

There’s no transparency. That’s why the big guys like Vincom who get the land easier can also move the process along faster than the single developer who has spent 10 years trying to get the approval and now he wants to get paid for this 10 years.

Is there in your experience any other country that is similar to Vietnam in the market’s disregard to value?

Mauro: Myanmar. We have been asked to open an office there. I clearly saw the dynamic of the market when I was there. Nobody can tell the real value of the land, everybody is relying on the future value it, as well as how easy it is to build on it, how clean it is – also a lot of corruption in the back. That’s when you see speculation, you see a bubble, you see overpriced land, and not many transactions. And now you see an oversupply in the hotel business; two years ago there was an undersupply. Vietnam is past this stage now and much better than before.

Cambodia is different. It’s easier to get the land process approval. You know exactly how much it will cost you, so Cambodia is an easier market to do business with, and they rely on foreign business as well.

Is the average land value in the primary streets in HCMC overvalued?

Mauro: Yes, but if you asked me this question five years ago I would have said yes as well, and now the value is 30% more, so I was wrong then. I could be wrong now. The reality is that if I run a cash flow model on any commercial property, and I pick US$20,000 per square metre of land, there’s no way I’ll recover from that.

However, because of this barrier of entry, it will always keep your commercial property high in terminal value. If you look at the hotel business for example they badly need 3 and 4 star international branding. But then you look at the land price and it’s not very feasible to pay US$20,000 per sq m if your room rate is US$70.

But you’re more likely to sell your end product for a premium. So you pass this high price on this land to the high price on your building. The whole system works somehow on this high land value, high barrier of entry in District 1, and then high value on the completed building. So somehow, I am sure, there are certain projects that are actually feasible.

Then you go outside a bit of District 1 – District 3, near the airport – the land price drops a lot, but still pretty high, but it’s feasible. Noise is another story [laughs].

Do you think this system is sustainable?

Rudolf: I look at it in a more optimistic way. It is what it is, but it is changing, the market is developing, there are more laws being passed encouraging foreign investment, and you can see this in the statistics of FDI [Foreign Direct Investment]. I think over time, in terms of the big picture, we are an emerging marketing. We are going the right way, although it’s a rollercoaster, but over the long term it’s getting more developed and transparent.

FDI is increasing? By how much?

Rudolf: I don’t know off hand but real estate is usually the second or third largest recipient after manufacturing. Real estate is one of the major benefactors of FDI.

How important is the real estate market for the Vietnamese economy?

Mauro: [Pause] I think it’s crucial, I think [the Vietnamese] look at it closely as an indication of how strong the economy is itself. They are very attached to the land as core value, and I think it’s a good way to move the money out of the stock market, which seems very risky at the moment.

A lot of the big guys I mentioned before will change the dynamic of the market, whether there is a huge bubble of oversupply I cannot answer now but the belief is that they are building because there is demand and they believe people will invest. I think this is sustainable at a level that the bank will need to come in with more support. The market is a long way from being developed but it’s good news that we’re talking about something that can always improve and get better.

If you see the whole District 2 it’s a beautiful example of a new satellite city. So there is a lot of good news out there, I wouldn’t be too worried. And being here for eight years I passed two big bubbles: 2008-2009, and then 2011-2012, so I am very realistic about the market, but I see a lot more educated buyers and developers now.

Is local financing still too weak to support real estate development?

Mauro: I think yes, I think there are banks that rush into something when they are asked, and then they step out as quick as they rush in. There is really no long term strategy for the bank itself, and they only support a certain level of buyer, which is the mid- to high-end buyer that has easier access to the bank, while the people that really need it, it’s much more difficult for them.

We were doing a project in Cambodia one year ago, a satellite city with a townhouse. We were amazed to see the amount of support the low-income buyers got from the banks to buy these low-cost townhouses. There was a whole structure of payment set up according to the salary the people had and there was a lot of cooperation from the developers and banks coming together to help this structure. I don’t think Vietnam is there yet. I think it’s more based on the personal relationship between the buyer and his bank, than a sustainable, clear structure. As a foreigner living in Vietnam, or as a foreign company, it’s not an easy structure – so there’s a lot of improvement to be done at that level.

Rudolf: I think we all know that bank financing and debt financing is a big mystery to most people in Vietnam, and very few have access to it. But on the level that there is access, I don’t think there is a shortage, just simply looking at the amount of activity going on in HCMC and Phu Quoc. But as Mauro said, once we go down to the middle tier and lower tier enterprises, then it’s quite difficult. There are also sources of financing overseas. A few big players like Vincom and Novaland are using offshore bonds. Then you have other groups Singapore’s CapitalLand, who obviously get funding from Singapore from the head office. And then you have groups such as SonKim Land, who are mid tier developers who are locally based, but who are partnering with foreign investors who then bring cash either at the corporate or project level, which can be private equity or listed funds.

The government recently issued new regulation that facilitates the purchase of property for foreign residents. Can you tell me more about that?

Rudolf: I think there is growing interest from offshore to invest in Vietnam. But in reality the number of actual groups and projects that are viable and are able to handle a foreign partner are very small.

Legally speaking is that easy for them to do?

Rudolf: In terms of individual buyers, there are less restrictions. There is interest, people are definitely curious about Vietnam. You see more articles on Bloomberg, Newswire, these big news outlets, are now running good stories about Vietnam. But it’s still not an easy decision making process to commit to buying. Over time it will get easier, and the laws have improved dramatically, but there are still grey areas in terms of exactly what you can and cannot do and the mechanics of a purchase and sell. But we’ve come such a long way, and there will be more interest. You will see more and more developers going overseas with a broker to sell property. You see a lot of properties in Thailand, Australia and U.S. sold offshore. Vietnam is now getting into that group. It’s still seen as an emerging, a more risky case, but I think it’s an incredibly huge market to get into.

Mauro: If you buy property here and rent it, it’s actually a decent yield compared to other countries. With some properties you get 7-9% return on your initial investment, which is pretty attractive for people. But the problem is how do I get my money out of the country. The foreign buyers are those who are familiar with the country. It’s not just overseas people who put the money in, there is usually a wife, girlfriend or whatever who is familiar with the country. Thailand has a proven track record of enter and exit. Foreigners are more keen and safe there. Vietnam has just opened to foreigners, so I think there will be a couple of rounds of track records to be proven to the market, and I think this will be seen over the next couple of years as some properties are developed, such as Estella Heights.

In terms of the number of projects, there is no match. I think there are more projects in Ko Samui than in the whole of Vietnam. So that’s just in terms of volume. I think Vietnam has a lot of room for what Phuket and Bali have a lot of – these villas, second home projects that are decently built. Usually [in Vietnam] it’s either a US$1 million beachfront property or the township project with no real design. Vietnam needs a mid-type of prical structure with a managemental top, not much branded management, just something nice enough to show that there is value here. This is missing in Vietnam.

Which real estate sector suffers the most in HCMC today?

Mauro: To me it’s malls. This sector is still not truly developed. The demand is not there on the Vietnamese side. The mixed tenants are not there. Usually there is the same type of tenants. You don’t see what you get in Thailand: where people can spend all day at a mall, where there is a large variety of shops and a large food court, with everything from low-priced items to the branded level. I don’t think malls in Vietnam are a sound market yet – land is too expensive for the amount of land retail needs. Considering the land price you need to go high-rise to make your money. I think the only mall that has proven to be nice is AEON Mall. I think that was a good shot. But it took a long time to be executed.

Malls are popping up everywhere. Is there an oversupply?

Mauro: I don’t think there is an oversupply, I think there is a lack of demand and even the right design. There is no mall where I want to spend more than two hours at, as opposed to in Thailand. In Vietnam the feeling of a mall is still just a box where you can buy something and get out. There is a lot of room for further development, even open malls where it’s outside and there’s bars and clubs and something where you make the whole place more than just a shopping location. I think retail, and more specifically the malls sector, is the most difficult to make work, but there is a lot of potential.

I think office passed its bad period. I think it’s doing well and will do well. Residential – that’s where there might be a problem. Residential is still being supported by sales. But that’s a market where you want to keep selling and moving. That’s the riskiest market at the moment. People don’t know if it can be a huge success or disaster in the next two years. Apartments for rent need to be much more developed, a nice rental structure, where developers actually help the tenants rent the space for a decent price, and decent management. The rental market is actually very small. There is a lot of room for improvement here.

Hotels – I think there is a big need for 3 and 4 star hotels, mixed-use hotels, limited service hotels. I think these have the most potential in the non 5 star area; 5 star hotels we have all the property we will need to have for the next three years, that’s it.

What is your opinion on Vincom’s Landmark 81 project?

Mauro: I saw the pictures as everybody else. I think there is a need for Landmark 81. Did you see Bitexco? Again, from a feasibility standpoint it’s not a good return on investment, but it does give somehow a stronger character to the whole city. So I think this is something we should give it credit for. Vincom is different, because they are able to get the money on everything surrounding the Landmark 81 development. That’s the strategy: they’re going to spend money on something that’s not making any money itself, but this value is then going to be passed to every surrounding development they are going to have. I like the area, I think there is a lot of potential. There are a lot of critics on Vincom’s design and choices, but there is respect for them in that they actually deliver.

For a land lease for foreign companies, you are given 50 years. What happens after 50 years?

Rudolf: There are a few different issues. First of all, let’s go down to the other side, which is a developer selling projects to individual investors. There’s new rules and regulations, so yes, a foreigner can buy, but as an individual buyer foreigners can lease only 50-70 years renewable for a freehold area, but the renewable part is the grey area. In terms of talking about a development project, a local or foreign joint venture company can build the project; it just depends on the actual land and area, if its leasehold or freehold. But even a foreign developer, or a joint venture partner with local participation, can buy and sell for freehold some projects. For example a typical case is SonKim Land for The Nassim project. SonKim Land is local, but they joint ventured this with Hongkong Land. It’s freehold for locals, but foreigners can only buy it with a 50 year lease. Same thing with Estella. It’s actually now a 100% foreign-developed project but they can still sell as freehold.

Mauro: It’s funny because as a foreigner you buy leasehold, but if you sell to locals it converts to freehold. This structure makes the whole system open to hope that you never really lose the value even if you are foreign investor. So within 50 years you have a likely chance to sell it.

Imagine the prime minister of Vietnam approaches you and asks you to give three actions to take in order to boost the real estate market?

Rudolf: One is continue along the transparency route. Transparency is a key and risk factor for foreign investors. It has improved over five years but it still has a ways to improve to encourage development.

Mauro: I still think education for the real estate players is important. So my suggestion would be start to really work with developers, architects, PMs, everybody around real estate to educate them what the future of Vietnam is set to be and get everybody on the same page. Once you get a developer who knows what they are doing the project get smoother and the structure is better for the long-term value for the country. Same with architects, get them to a more professional level.

Education goes from the normal public structure all the way to certificates the government requires for the real estate professionals. 70% of the brokers selling homes are random people that are requested to call other people to try and sell it. This to me is wrong because there is a lack of information, a lot of confusion.

More regulation, more help and support. Having people run real estate as a profession. I’m not sure what are the requirements now for an architect to be considered a professional. If you see them make a mistake, you would withdraw the license that they have. A lot of Vietnamese developers – and I won’t mention any names… if you go to Nha Trang, there are a lot of structures that are dangerous in the way they are structured. A lot of property management companies have no real regulations in the way the work needs to be performed, just financial regulation to what they can charge to the developer. Yes there is a certificate to be a broker, but it’s just an easy month course. All of this is missing from the country. The fact that the professionals here are not guided to maintain a certain level of professionalism.

The other suggestion would be for local authorities to work much more with developers. There is a lack of international flights to Phu Quoc, one of the reasons is that local authorities and developers are not sitting down to develop the destination in the right way. Hotels don’t have a small marketing fund to promote destinations. I think if this coordination between local authorities and private investors was there, it would benefit everybody. Danang was able to be seen as an international destination within three to four years of development, because a lot of international brand hotels came on board, and because local authorities were much more open to foreign investors and players. I’m still surprised we receive the Danang newsletter from local authorities every two months. This to me is a huge step ahead. They understand what foreigners need, they listen to them, work with them on promoting the destination. I think this will give a lot of value to Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, Ho Tram, Nha Trang, all the destination that need more coordination. They should sit down with investors and consultants and make a master plan not just from the land value point of view but a 20 year planning for the whole city.

Do you think it’s a bit naive to think that the Vietnamese can change to work for the benefit of the group?

Mauro: It’s a big step forward. But Danang did it, and it’s a good example of how it can be done.

Would you recommend a foreign friend to buy now in Vietnam?

Mauro: I would recommend to buy. Not everything. To me the right land is not the prime land, it’s the right development, the right spot that can be developed well, if the design is right, if many other things are right. It’s not just about having the prime land, but the land that makes the most sense. For the residential, yes – we bought a unit at Estella. I will buy some Novaland property. There are some products that have opportunities, but not which many people look at because of land prices.

Rudolf: Both of us have been here eight years. I myself would have never thought of buying anything until six months ago because of the future and pricing, but everything now converged to make sense. This time around there seems to be more real demand, I think the years of 2012-2015, where we worked through all the excess and the foundations again, gave me confidence that we went through that period of consolidation and that now we have much more solid footing. And now the economy – I follow it quite closely and all the indicators are looking positive; FDI, interest rates, foreign trade, everything is looking quite solid. Last quarter we had a little bit of a down, but everything for last 2 years has been building solidly. All our regional peers are suffering. So Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia – usually they’re always looking good and Vietnam is the black sheep. Now it’s actually the reverse.

Many economical factors are looking very bleak on a global scale. Is the Vietnamese economy dependant on these factors?

Rudolf: Yes and no. But I always look at myself, why I am based in Asia and why I am based in Vietnam. Because globally it can be a good place to be. Putting all the factors together, in the next 5-10 years Asia, specifically Southeast Asia and Vietnam, is a good place in terms of balance.

So you don’t think we’re in a real estate bubble now?

Rudolf: Globally it’s been risky for the past five years. But if you keep saying there is a crisis every day, in five years you’re going to be right at some point. There are always cycles, but I think the gloom and doom scenario is possible but highly unlikely.

Mauro: I don’t see a bubble like I saw a few years ago. I don’t see that scary situation where you say, oh my god, if that bank or whoever stops doing this, everything will collapse. I’ve seen much more growth from private investors. There are probably two sectors where you may say there is a lot of supply coming but demand is uncertain: one is residential, which is what probably everybody is looking at. I receive a message every day that somebody is building a condo somewhere in HCMC, so that’s probably the part that is most scary. The second home market is the other. Some planned projects are fine. But a lot of not well-planned products we will see selling only 15-20% at launch, and that’s it. This is the scary situation where there is no buyer.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE HO CHI MINH CITY SUBMERGED AFTER HUGE STORM

Huge areas of Ho Chi Minh City suffered massive flooding last night [September 26] after the city bore witness to one of the worst storms in living memory. The skies turned black at about 4:30 p.m. and what followed was of biblical proportions. Two hours later and the rain was still pouring down. The affected parts went way beyond those normally flooded. Residents in Thao Dien in District 2 have grown used to seeing floods every time a heavy rain coincides with a high tide. This was different, the popular Buddha Bar was inundated to a depth of almost a foot as staff battled in vain to stop the onslaught. Parts of Thao Dien were still flooded this morning; some 16 hours after the storm started.

In the city centre it was utter chaos as traffic struggled to come to terms with the conditions. Pasteur was more than a foot deep and premises were breached along its length. Le Thanh Ton was the same, which when you consider how much higher than the riverfront it is, is incredible. The Thu Thiem tunnel was closed by 6 p.m., and conditions only worsened. The traffic was intolerable and motorbikes stalled as cars, showing total disregard for bike riders, ploughed through at speed. The Bitexco Tower was breached with flood water rushing into the ground level shopping area. Even the higher ground of the city like Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Tran Hung Dao didn’t escape the floods.

By 8:30 p.m. the traffic was in total gridlock in parts of the city. Nguyen Huu Can was totally blocked, after the tunnel under the Thu Thiem Bridge flooded, making navigation to the Saigon Bridge all but impossible. Many took the turn onto the Thu Thiem Bridge only to find that after crossing the river the roads on the other side were completely grid locked and severely affected by floods. By this time the Thu Thiem Tunnel had been re-opened which helped matters immensely.

As District 2 continues to build on floodplains and marshland it is a worrying concern for people living there. They keep building the roads higher but many properties are now below road levels. The loop road that runs under the highway into Thao Dien is currently being doubled in size and raised about two feet. That is all well and good but all that water has to go somewhere.

District 7 was also in chaos with even the huge dual carriageway of Nguyen Van Linh resembling a river at one point. Tan Son Nhat International Airport was badly affected, with many flights cancelled or delayed. Vietjet Air had three flights, due into Ho Chi Minh City, diverted to Cam Ranh International Airport, which serves Nha Trang. Five Vietnam Airlines flights from Melbourne (Australia), Hong Kong, Guangzhou (China), and Hanoi landed at alternative airports and were forced to wait until the weather improved.

As always the superb spirit of the Vietnamese people shone through, with hundreds of examples of people helping each other out. Many motorbikes were simply getting washed away by torrents too strong to resist, but on every occasion, locals rushed in to help the drivers recover their machines.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS, DISTRICT 9 IS UP FOR GRABS!

For developers, much attention falls on one particular sector: District 9, a 114 k2 block of land which lies on top of District 2. Many reasons draw their attention to this uprising section: the land is cheap, the parcels are large and as of now, not much of it has been seriously developed.

Although land development stopped in this space during the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, recently builders have seen a major upswing in market interest for district 9. Troy Griffiths, the Deputy Managing Director for Savills Vietnam, explains the area’s current situation. “To be honest,” he admitted, “I think that District 9 is starting to run out of these large available parcels of land.”

If you look at a map of Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll notice something striking: the districts in the centre of the map, like Districts 13 and 4, are smaller than the outlying districts, like Districts 9, 12 and Binh Tan.

This development is normal, and follows established historical patterns seen in other cities, like Paris and London. When transportation was limited, districts needed to be smaller. Now that we have motorbikes, cars and a metro on the way, larger spaces can be carved onto the map; and it’s these larger spaces that are catching the eye of developers and real estate consultants not only across the country, but also across the world.

Expansion Plans

Griffiths shares his view on this development strategy. “It’s the pattern of the city’s development,” he said. “There are nodes with density that have grown and then become filled and occupied so that developers are now having to look for cheaper land. And this pushes them further and further away from those established nodes.”

And who’s taking advantage of it? “Everyone,” Griffith asserted. “You’ve got the local developers and then you’ve got your internationals, your Keppels and your CapitaLands.”

Land Grab

The parcels of land might be sold with ease, but that doesn’t mean that District 9 will be the new District 1 in a year’s time. The Vinh Tran, an employee at the Ministry of Construction, recently reported that although the government has a large stock of land in District 9, that is the way it will stay in the foreseeable future.

Rather than developing the stock, the city municipal department, along with other companies who have invested in District 9’s land plots, prefers to bide its time for the moment, focusing on other projects closer into the city. One big reason for this seems to be transportational issues. The construction of the metro is a big topic in Ho Chi Minh City at the moment, and even now, years before the metro will be finished, it’s affecting real estate prices.

As VietnamNet reported, 37 percent of apartment units for sale are along the Metro Line No.1, which connects Ben Thanh Market to Suoi Tien Park in District 9. When you add the metro to the recently completed Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay highway system, a 55-kilometre-long road that connects District 9 to District 2 and Dong Nai, it’s clear that developers see big plans for this district.

District 9’s Top New Projects

Condos

Name: Sun Tower; Developer: N.H.O. Khang Viet; Year of Completion: 2018; Units: 379; Price: US$650 per square metre.

Name: Him Lam Phu An; Developer: Him Lam Land; Year of Completion: 2017; Units: 1,092; Price: US$900 per square metre.

Villas and Townhouses

Name: Lucasta; Developer: Khang Dien; Year of Completion: 2019; Units: 140; Price: US$800 per square metre.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE REAL ESTATE IS A TOP FDI DESTINATION

Vietnam is expected to remain one of the world’s most attractive markets for foreign investment in 2018, especially the real estate sector.

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the total registered foreign direct investment (FDI) is US$5.8 billion, indicating a decline of 25 percent compared to the year prior in the first quarter of 2018. Meanwhile, FDI spending experienced a year-on-year increase of 7.2 percent. This year it was US$3.88 billion.

The real estate sector is one of the biggest FDI recipients. In the first quarter of 2018, real estate was the third-highest attractor of FDI with US$486 million worth of registered capital, equaling 8.4 percent of the total registered capital. FDI inflow in the real estate sector continued to be behind that of the manufacturing and processing sector (US$3.44 billion) as well as the retail and wholesale sector (US$531 million).

A series of major FDI-funded projects conceived last year are expected to be carried out in 2018, such as Dai Phuoc Lotus in Ho Chi Minh City by the China Fortune Land Development; Future Otis Hotel in the central city of Nha Trang by Taiwanese P.H Group; and apartment projects in Ho Chi Minh City by CapitaLand.

Ho Chi Minh City has been the largest recipient of real estate FDI in Vietnam. According to Ho Chi Minh City Department of Construction, in 2017, the city had attracted US$1.01 billion worth of FDI in the real estate sector alone, equaling 43.4 percent of the total FDI inflows of the city.

The large amount of FDI in Ho Chi Minh City’s real estate market is attributed to improvements in the infrastructure system and administrative procedures, a growing middle-class population, and a stable economy.

In a recent survey by the real estate consulting firm Savills, Ho Chi Minh City has been ranked third out of 50 cities worldwide for property rental growth and fifth in terms of investment prospects.

At the same time, the FDI inflows in the real estate market in Hanoi have been more modest compared to that of Ho Chi Minh City. Only a few number of projects in Hanoi received investment from foreign groups such as Ciputra, Gamuda Land, Hanoi Garden City, Park City, Booyoung Vina, Daewoo Cleve, and The Manor Central Park.

However, according to real estate company CBRE, many foreign investors have started to pay special attention to the northern real estate market, particularly Hanoi. This year, the US$4 billion smart city project in Dong Anh District, Hanoi, will begin construction. The project is jointly led by BRG Group and Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation Group.

The project involves building a smart city with a modern transport system using the latest technologies. This huge construction project is expected to heat up the real estate market in Hanoi.

The northern real estate market of Vietnam is also expected to experience growth in the coming year. Alex Crane, General Manager of Cushman & Wakefield Vietnam, said in a recent market report that 2018 would carry a significant increase in FDI in the northern market.

Investors from Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China, have been reported as the biggest foreign investors in Vietnam.

Most of the major merger and acquisition deals in 2017 were led by Asian investors. For example, VinaLand Ltd, managed by foreign-owned VinaCapital, sold all of its stake in Vina Square to Tri Duc Real Estate Company.

Hongkong Land signed an agreement to develop Thu Thiem River Park with HCMC Infrastructure Investment. Creed Group from Japan has taken over the Lacasa project that was initially invested by Van Hung Phat Real Estate.

Meanwhile, Western investors seem to be less active in the real estate market. They tend to focus on real estate related services like managing office buildings, resortshotelsserviced apartments, and shopping malls.

According to Savills Vietnam, market differences such as local rules and legal issues could prevent these investors from participating in Vietnam’s real estate market.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE MEET THE EXPERT: CHARLES GALLAVARDIN ON SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE IN HCMC

Today, the demand for more sustainable design in HCMC is steadily getting off the ground. Charles Gallavardin of T3 Architecture Asia sat down with Citypassguide.com to give his perspective on green buildings in Vietnam. Charles and his wife started T3 Architecture in France in 2007, specialising in green architecture. When Charles arrived in Vietnam in 2011 to begin T3 Architecture Asia, the demand for green building was low, although interest was growing. We spoke with Charles to determine what changes were taking place to catalyse this newfound interest.

What is the definition of a green building for you?

It’s a building well integrated into the place it’s set up at. It should take the landscape into consideration – the shape of the building is quite important, to be protected from the sun and allow for natural ventilation. The idea is to avoid direct light in a hot tropical climate; that’s why we design overhangs or balconies, to take the facade away from the sun, so you keep your main walls in the shadows.

Secondly, you have to take care of the roof, and make sure there is a double ventilated roof to keep the air flow and make the top floor always cool. Then, ideally, you try to use green building materials, sourced not too far from where you are.

Why does Saigon need such type of construction?

Saigon is one of the more polluted cities in Asia now. There is a huge issue concerning air pollution. The demand of energy is getting higher than what can be produced. What we can see for many years is that Vietnam is mainly doing a “copy-paste” of buildings they saw in Western countries with full glass facades but they didn’t realise that the climate is totally different and that they have to create their own style to make their building more appropriate to the climate, to save energy, save costs and make the building more comfortable.

Do you think one of the main challenges to building green buildings in Vietnam has to do with people’s perception?

Yes. I think when you discuss this with most Vietnamese, of course they want more parks and more green areas. But in reality, in urban development in Vietnam, this is still considered a quantity issue. Which means they try to plant vegetation to increase the number of green area per square meter per inhabitant, but without having in mind that it’s better to have many small parks than having long green areas along the highway. It is the same story with green buildings: a green roof doesnæt make your building green.

Do you think one of the main concerns for people who don’t understand green buildings too well is the fear of additional costs?

I don’t think so, because finally we can do green buildings quite cheap, depending on the material you use. But the green principles are very basic and you can find it everywhere in the traditional architecture of Vietnam. Traditionally you have your long and narrow plot, with the shop facing the street, the house on the backside and a courtyard in the middle. The air ventilation is efficient and you have natural light in your house and your shop. The house is far from the street so it’s far from the noise. For 20-30 years, Vietnamese have lost their knowledge of how to create a green house, but recently some young Vietnamese architecture firms take traditional building materials and traditional Vietnamese architecture and incorporate it in a more modern sense to make the house more green.

So green houses are one issue, but can you tell us about the problem of green urban areas? Is this something that can happen in Vietnam?

Yes, it could. But what we can see in the development in Vietnam, it’s always private investors who wield the city, and their model is a Singaporean one, but with a lower budget and less knowledge. There are really few alternatives for high-rise buildings and private houses. So when you have a private house, the plot is usually very small, and you have very few green areas. And for high-rises, you need to build these by large streets if you follow regulations, so then you have very narrow green areas.

One solution would be to make the city very dense, with apartment blocks lower with some streets more narrow, but keeping some spaces open for parks and public gardens, like we have in Europe.

Is the government aware and sensitive about the need to do something about that?

Yes, they are. There are many discussions about this. But if you’re a private investor and you finance infrastructure, the government cannot complain too much about what you do. You try to optimize your plot as much as possible.

Is it possible to bring more awareness to private investors by showing them the financial reward in doing so?

Yes. In America and Europe, the government pushes green building by giving a loan or some advantage. The government in Vietnam doesn’t have a lot of money, so they’ve let the private investors do the development. But private investors’ awareness is going up because they see people want more green spaces, nice areas around their apartments, so it’s starting to change.

Is it feasible to build a green house or building using only locally sourced material?

Yes, it’s possible. There are many materials available; less than Western countries or Singapore, but enough to build something green. The prices are the time.

What about reusing old material. Is that something that happens in Vietnam?

Yes, a bit. For example, many architects reuse wooden shutters for part of the facade to use as ventilation. But not so much, since the quality of the construction is not so good and when you destroy a house there’s not much you can use.

Some years ago I met with an architect and he told me something that surprised me. He said that Vietnam is one of the best countries in the world for recycling. When a house is being dismantled, the Vietnamese will often take every brick and every cable, to try and reuse it for some other purpose. Is this true?

This is partially true. They reuse material by placing it on natural soil to make it not porous anymore, and then they pour cement over it to make a concrete slab. But then you have the problem that you don’t have enough natural soil then to absorb the water during rainy season, and it makes flooding a very important issue in the near future.

Energy consumption is growing, meaning the price has to go up, which means it makes sense to have more energy efficient practices and buildings, correct?

Yes, this happens in every city. When energy prices go up, green houses and buildings become more and more normal. Of course, for Vietnam, electricity cost is very low, even compared to the standard of life. One issue, even though it’s never easy for government to say that they have to increase electricity costs, especially for poor people, it’s a real way to make developers and private investors more concerned about energy savings.

In 10 years from now, what do you think the state of green buildings will be in Vietnam?

Green construction has been developing more and more, first in hospitality projects; you have international guests, so five or six years ago in the private sector and even residential projects, Vietnamese started to be more concerned about energy and cost savings, and the quality of the environment. Thanks to Vietnamese architects and small agencies, we can do something more.

Almost none of the existing high-rises in Ho Chi Minh City are really environmentally friendly. If the price of energy rises, most of these building will have to be rebuilt or adapt to the new demands. And you provide this service?

Yes, full renovation to adapt an existing building and make it less costly in terms of energy, and most important of all we make it more comfortable for people!

How big of a project is it for someone who wants to make their home more green?

Usually, you have to touch up the facade and main structure, so it’s a bit costly, but you don’t have to demolish all. It can be from some very simple like adding shutters, to touching up the roof at VND 3 million per sq m, up to VND 10 million per sq m to redo something very properly and almost reconstruct the house.

Is the wiring in Vietnam efficient?

In terms of fire hazards and electric shock, no.

And LEDs?

There is a huge market for LEDs. They are replacing halogens with LEDs everywhere, more and more in residential projects. But before thinking about advanced technology and costly equipment – which is important also – the first thing is to try and hire a good designer when you are creating a building. And if the design is well done you are sure to have very low consumption. And of course you put some LEDs and solar panels. One of the problems in Vietnam and in developing countries in general is people don’t think of the basics. Once you do this, then you can think of the high-tech equipment and energy efficiency.

SAIGON INSPIRATION REAL ESTATE THE FOREIGN INVESTOR GUIDE TO REAL ESTATE IN HCMC

Are you a foreign investor and want to know about real estate laws in HCMC? Confused by the new Property Law? Indochina Legal clears up the confusion:

One of the most notable changes introduced by Vietnam’s new 2014 property law and its regulations is the revision of the right for overseas Vietnamese, foreign individuals and organisations to own residential houses, as follows:

Overseas Vietnamese (or Viet Kieus) can now own residential houses in the same way as Vietnamese citizens without further residency requirements or any limitations on the type or quantity of houses, or the terms of ownership. They must hold a valid passport with an entry verification stamp marked by the Vietnamese Immigration Department (VID) and a document evidencing their Vietnamese origin.

Foreign individuals have the right to own residential houses, subject to certain restrictions as compared to Vietnamese citizens and Viet Kieus. In order to own houses, a foreigner is required to have a valid passport with an entry verification stamp marked by the VID and cannot fall under diplomatic or consulate preferences and immunities. Requirements of residency, investment in Vietnam, work permit, social contribution and/or marriage to a local Vietnamese is not necessary for residential housing ownership. However, as to ownership duration, foreigners married to Vietnamese citizens or to Viet Kieus are entitled to an indefinite term, whereas foreigners who are not can only own residential housing for a period of 50 years. This can be extended for another 50 years, subject to approval by the provincial People’s Committee where the house is located. Unlike other foreigners, those who are married to Vietnamese citizens are also exempt from notifying the housing administration authority at the district level prior to leasing their houses to others. Apart from that, the new legal framework grants foreigners the same rights of Vietnamese in the cases of subleases, mortgages, etc. of residential housing.

Foreign organisations are allowed to own houses provided that (i) ownership term shall not exceed the period stated in their investment certificates issued by Vietnamese competent authorities, including any extensions; (ii) use of the houses is for residential purposes only, for their personnel; and (iii) lease-out of the houses is not permitted.

It is worth noting that foreign organisations and individuals shall not collectively own more than 30% of the total number of apartments in an apartment building or not more than 250 separate houses in an area where population is equivalent to that of a ward. In addition, house ownership beyond real estate projects (e.g. a villa built by individuals) is not allowed. For national defense and public security purposes, foreign individuals and organisations cannot own houses in certain areas. With respect to these limitations, the local Department of Construction will publish on their official website the projects where foreigners cannot own houses, detailed numbers of apartments or separate houses eligible for foreign ownership, and the number of houses where foreign ownership has been recorded. To our understanding, the database is not yet completely developed for all cities and provinces in Vietnam. Meanwhile, payment for purchase or lease of residential houses shall be made via credit institutions operated in Vietnam. So far there has been no specific instruction on foreign exchange control for relevant inbound and outbound foreign funding of residential housing.

Despite certain remaining limitations, the NHL has provided a more open approach to ownership of residential housing for foreigners. The hope is that these changes will ultimately defreeze the real estate market and create a new wave of foreign investment in Vietnam.

Website: www.indochinalegal.com