How to Rent A Cheap Room in Saigon?

By: City Pass Guide

What if I told you that, with a couple of top tips, you could rent a great room in Saigon for $150 US per month all inclusive?

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 Batdongsan, Expatblog 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.


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.

towersImage source: images.millenin.com

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.

towersImage source: lonelyplanetwpnews.imgix.net

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.

towersImage source: cdn.wallpaper.com

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.

towersImage source: en.vinhomestancang.co

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.

towersImage source: ccr.vn

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.

Video source: DC Film

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.

Banner Image source: lonelyplanetwpnews.imgix.net


High-end Hotel Design in Vietnam: The Untold Challenge

By: John Mark Harrell

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.

KAZE

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.”

KAZE

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.”

KAZE

“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.

KAZE

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.

KAZE

“We can use one type of material in many different ways,” says Khoa. “And we spend a lot of time exploring how we can use this material. By pushing beyond what’s normally expected, we find a new interesting way of implementing that material to express the design.”

The process then continues through the practical application of those materials—construction, staging, and final execution, culminating in that magical moment when guests step into the hotel for the first time.

Interior Designers at KAZE: What Skills are Most Important to Develop High-end Hotels?

It takes a team of highly qualified professionals to properly take on any high-end hotel project, and each team member will bring a variety of skills to the table, but which of them is most important? Creativity? Technical skills? A sense of style?

“Different designers have different strengths,” Managing Director Khoa says. “And actually, interior design is a product of the long process of a big team with members who have different skills. One designer might have talent in creativity, but he alone cannot make the project. Other designers are very strong at technical or business management. So the whole team will make the product possible.”

“We can create, but if we don’t have knowledge and experience of the kind of project we’re doing, it’ll turn out very badly,” Hanh points out. “Interior design is never just one person’s job... it’s the team’s whole effort that matters.”

Interior design: It’s more than just decoration

We asked each team member what some of the biggest misconceptions about interior design are.

“That it’s just decoration!” says Hanh. “Even architects think interior design is a way of adding colour and cushions on top of a sofa. But we actually deal with all the details of each material selected and how we can apply it to the detailed millimeter, yet not adding to the cost. Along the way we have to compromise on our ambitions, to adjust to a budget constraints while still delivering what we promised.”

KAZE

“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.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


Designing a Luxury Hotel with KAZE Interior Design Studio

By: Katie Kinnon & Molly Headley

Create a concept; mood and function first

Planning a project at KAZE Interior Design Studio, District 2

How to Create Comfort in KAZE Interior Design Studio’s Projects

The Finished Interior Design Project

Creating an Interior Design Concept in Vietnam

What do you want to feel when you walk into a top hotel? This is one of the first questions that the team at KAZE Interior Design Studio asks themselves when they start creating interior design and architectural concept for a new project. Is the hotel meant to create a mood of bespoke luxury or minimal tranquility? Who are the expected guests and how will the lighting, furnishings, flooring and colour scheme transport them?

A hotel is, after all, part of a journey, a place to get away, whether for business or pleasure. A good interior design studio creates that journey from the first sketch to the moment that the final piece of artwork is placed on the wall.

KAZE Interior Design Studio

KAZE Interior Design Studio in Ho Chi Minh City is the leader in luxury interior design in Vietnam and Cambodia. In addition to a broad design portfolio including residential, food and beverage establishments, and office spaces, the studio has taken on massive hospitality projects, which have brought numerous awards to the studio. Vinpearl Resort & Spa Long Beach in Nha Trang, Renaissance Riverside Hotel in Saigon and Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh are a few notable names on a list of more than 100 projects.

Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen, Founder of KAZE Interior Design Studio, was brought up and educated in Denmark where, she explained, the design approach is very different to that of Vietnam. For a hotel designed for a Vietnamese market, she said that she would avoid using too minimalistic of an approach because the clientele would feel like something was missing. Instead, she tries to give finished projects a Vietnamese flair that local clientele will also enjoy.

First Steps in the Design Process at KAZE Interior Design Studio in HCMC

The Client Brief

Fong-Chan explains that with her years of experience she has come to quickly understand her clients psychologically and often knows what they want more than they do. She will offer recommendations on how the concept can be improved after receiving the brief. Fong-Chan will then return to the KAZE headquarters where the whole team will sit around the large table in the meeting room and discuss how to implement the project, always focusing on a “function first” approach. This approach means that aesthetics are only considered once space’s use is decided upon.

KAZE Interior Design Studio

The Planning Process

This is when the ideas go from the brainstorming phase to reality. The office becomes a hive of energy as project designers sketch plans and junior designers figure out how to create the right ambiance. Fong-Chan explains that her team is passionate about what they do and that’s why KAZE is a success. “Being a good designer comes from inside, you put your heart and soul into things you care about”, she reiterates.

Fong-Chan states there are four parts to every project, the statement of purpose, layout, ambiance, and storyboard. When executed correctly, interior design can make people feel a certain way. For example, the purpose of a reception area in a hotel is to welcome guests and so the way furniture is positioned, the brightness of lights and even the scent (which are often created specifically for the brand) create an ambiance of warmth, comfort and relaxation.

KAZE Interior Design Studio

3D renderings are essential for each project. They need to be self-explanatory and easy to understand. However, they can be difficult to get right due to the level of precision needed. It can be hard even for good designers to see things in 3D. A designer needs to be able to describe what the space will look like down to the tiniest detail, like where a coat hook will go. This helps to create a full picture of how everything will be pieced together. The 3D renderings are literally the map that will be used to build the project; therefore, nothing should go into the rendering that cannot be created in reality.

How to Create Comfort and Beauty; The Vietnam Hotel Design Challenge

Every designer has a different way to approach a design. Fong-Chan tries to use a modern holistic approach when she designs any space. This is especially important when it comes to a project like a hotel where the success of the project is tied directly to how guests feel when they are within the space. Her design projects focus on what makes people feel good, using psychological experiences rather than just aesthetics.

Designers need to work out the proportions of the room as well as what will be in it so that when it is built an individual can walk around a room without bumping into anything. The team also research how people will interact with the space, ensuring it is ergonomically friendly in every detail. For example, if a guest wants to flick on the lights, where should the light switch be? If it is at the right height and in an intuitive location then the designer can choose a subtle design so that the switch doesn’t ruin the aesthetic of the wall design. If the switch is too hidden and in the wrong place, guests won’t care about the beauty of the design, they will be too caught up in their feelings of frustration. Some designers get so caught up in their vision that they create functionality problems that will end up marring the hotel’s TripAdvisor page with bad reviews based around comfort, soundproofing, and the user experience.

KAZE Interior Design Studio

KAZE interior design studio puts a lot of love and care into the materials they use. The way Fong-Chan describes her process is akin to that of a chef creating their favorite dish. She becomes excited when speaking about why wood is used in one instance, but plastic is used in another and the different finishes that are available for each material. It is important for Fong-Chan to use local materials because construction workers know how to work with them and look after them properly. This also helps the project’s sustainability as expensive materials don’t need to be imported.

Completing a Hotel Interior Design Project in Vietnam

Fong-Chan explains that KAZE only works with people they know and trust. From construction workers to cleaners “when people have a good relationship with each other they will go the extra mile.” This is important because the biggest hurdle to completing an interior design project is to meet final deadlines.

KAZE Interior Design Studio

During the construction process, KAZE interior design studio office often goes into a frenzy of activity, with project plans and Gantt (production timeline) charts being thrown into the bin and new ones being created. Sometimes, Fong-Chan admits, the end of a project can feel like an unattainable dream. However, when the hotel or resort is finally finished and Fong-Chan walks through the completed space with the client, she always feels a sense of pride at what the team at KAZE Interior Design Studio has achieved.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


Quality over Quantity: KAZE Confronts Cheap Construction

By: John Mark Harrell

Foreign and local developers often prioritise profits over future-proofing.

The next generation is pushing for a bright future.

One of the secret “perks” to living in Ho Chi Minh City is that, for most residents, an alarm clock isn’t necessary. Every morning at around 7:00 am, 7 days a week, construction crews diligently start their work, ostensibly eager to do as much possible before the sweltering heat of midday. The shrill shouting of workers and the rumbling of jackhammers drilling into concrete is the near-constant soundtrack of one of Southeast Asia’s most rapidly-developing urban hubs.

In the past decade, HCMC has seen some dramatic new developments radically transform the city’s skyline, from modern urban developments in the Phu My Hung ward of District 7, to the Vinhomes mega-complex and Landmark 81, which is currently Southeast Asia’s tallest skyscraper. Relatively loose zoning restrictions have allowed massive developments, for better or worse, to break ground just about anywhere that space allows in this growing metropolis.

KAZE

Elsewhere in Vietnam, huge new projects in major urban centers and tourist destinations like Nha Trang, Da Nang, Phu Quoc, Ha Long, and Hanoi have expanded rapidly to attract more tourists, provide more housing and office space, and lure foreign investors. Vietnam’s economy is one of the world’s fastest-growing, with steady increases in foreign investment, tourism, and GDP predicted well into the next decade.

Is Growth Outpacing Sustainability?

What does this rapid growth mean, practically, for locals and expats living and working in Vietnam? More foreign investment, as well as foreign development companies breaking ground on new projects in Vietnam, could introduce their expertise with more advanced and modern building techniques, including sustainable materials and future-proof designs, in a relatively young development market.

According to Danish architect Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen, founder of KAZE Interior Design Studio in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, this is most often not the case. 

“Big investment buyers come to Vietnam to invest in a development project and flip them for a 20% yield,” she says. “So the local real estate market is getting watered down with cheap, quick projects that turn a high profit margin regardless of actual build quality.”

This attitude and mindset toward development makes it very difficult for interior design professionals at KAZE to take on new projects with the full extent of their expertise. “Consultants are used more as tools, not valued for their consultancy,” Fong-Chan says.

KAZE

In practice, this means developers most often seek the cheapest and most cost-effective solutions, rather than the smartest solutions that will save them and their end users from trouble further down the road. Interior design firms like KAZE, unfortunately, are often sought out merely to “rubber stamp” the process the developer has already determined in advance. With little to no thought given to environmental concerns and sustainability, this is a growing concern for many professionals who work with local developers.

Part of the problem stems from the young development market in Vietnam interacting with larger development conglomerates investing from afar. “Locals often don’t have lots of experience,” Fong-Chan says. “And [foreign developers] don’t have experience working with locals. Some developers have no idea what they’re doing—they’re first time developers.”

Newer technological advancements and sustainable building practices are eschewed in favour of more old-fashioned techniques that are cheaper and produce faster results. But those results aren’t always pretty; seeing cracks on the walls of brand new buildings in Vietnam is a common phenomenon, largely due to the construction materials, like bricks and mortar, not given enough time to dry out and “settle” before completing the construction process (as they dry, their composition and dimensions change). 

Building materials are most often chosen based on how cheap they are—not whether their production or use is environmentally-friendly. Not only can they be damaging to the environment, however, they can actually be hazardous to human health as well. White asbestos is still widely-used in construction projects throughout Vietnam, and it wasn’t until 2018 that the government unveiled a roadmap to eliminate its use entirely by 2023.

One only has to look to the development of other huge metropolises throughout Asia to see similar patterns from their earlier stages of development. The infamous high-rise apartments in Hong Kong, for example, are exemplary of cheap, quick construction methods with little concern for end users and low-quality materials that degrade quickly overtime and increase long-term costs. 

“In many cases we’re creating really bad living environments,” Fong-Chan says. “We’re not learning from mistakes that the other big cities have made.”

Beyond the developments themselves, these new high-rises often put a strain on local infrastructure. As the city eliminates green spaces due to the influx of traffic brought about by huge new housing developments, unseen problems are just beginning to come to light. In its current state, no water treatment or sewage system can support the number of new high rises being built at such a dizzying rate. For a city already struggling with pollution and increased flooding due to climate change, all these new developments could place even more pressure on an already overloaded system.

Hope for the Future

So what does this mean for the future of Vietnam? It’s a complex problem that developing countries all over the world struggle with as investors respond to market demands. 

“Ultimately, the demand for quality is missing,” Fong-Chan points out. “Developers are not saving the environment or costs for the end user. They’re just looking for a quick turnover.”

Because of inefficient building materials and lack of energy-saving methods, it is most often the end users who are footing a higher monthly bill as a result. If foreign investors are only fixated on short-term returns, many of these new developments will actually cost property owners and business owners more money further down the line.

KAZE

The challenge, therefore, is to increase consumer demand for buildings that are not just fashionable and functional now, but whose design and quality will stand the test of time. As the younger generation becomes more conscious of the environment and their own health, through growing global interconnectedness and education, there remains hope for the future.

Increasingly, we should be asking: should big foreign corporations not take some responsibility for the host country they are building in and making money off of? Shouldn’t we demand that they bring more innovative, advanced, sustainable solutions, instead of just exploiting the environment for a quick profit?

“KAZE is in the industry, questioning the direction we’re going as a community,” Fong-Chan says. “We are always pushing to create new sustainable communities with new developments.“

KAZE

New developments do create new communities that didn’t exist before. It is in these developments that the tremendous opportunity lies to build something that exists in harmony with the environment and promotes human health and happiness—not just for a quick return now, but for the benefit and economic well-being of Vietnam for generations to come.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


A KAZE Perspective: 2019 Interior Design Trends in Vietnam

By: Katie Kinnon

Find out what it takes to be an interior design trendsetter in Vietnam

KAZE Interior Design Studio creates trends from District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City

The upcoming interior design trends for 2019 in Vietnam, according to KAZE

With any design industry, whether it’s fashion or interior design, people always want to know what the upcoming design trends are. Follow City Pass Guide as we speak with the team at KAZE Interior Design Studio in Saigon to understand some of the major interior design movements of 2019.

KAZE Interior Design Studio recently reached their 10-year milestone since the founding of this innovative firm. With over 100 high-profile projects across Vietnam and Cambodia completed during the last decade, KAZE is undoubtedly one of the top interior design studios in Vietnam.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

What It Takes to Be an Interior Design Trendsetter in Vietnam

While design trends come and go, such as the industrial style design we currently see everywhere in Saigon, Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen, the owner of KAZE Interior Design Studio in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, explains that she doesn’t like being tied down to what’s popular.

“I hate to be a prostitute to anything trendy.” She has never wanted to be a fan of other people and even from a young age, she has always believed that people should be a fan of themselves.

She doesn’t consider herself to be trendy in any way; in fact, her husband is the trendier one of the two them, in her opinion. However, Fong-Chan does believe that her trends are born out of functionality first and then followed by unique design.

“Interior design in Ho Chi Minh City is vastly different to that in Europe and doesn’t always focus on function first. That’s where KAZE really stands out from the crowd because it targets what people want and need. But they don’t always know it until they experience it.”

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

Creating Trends at KAZE Interior Design Studio in Saigon’s District 2

Fong-Chan believes that what she calls “positive” trends come from making a person feel good. In terms of KAZE Interior Design Studio’s measurement of success, if the intended users of a project like it and feel good when they walk into the room, then Fong-Chan and her team have done their job.

For KAZE’s larger projects with notable companies like Marriott, branding guidelines have to be adhered to, which can be rather restrictive. So, finding the balance of designing something innovative within certain limitations is often a challenge, but it’s one that can be inspiring.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

A great example of this is KAZE Interior Design Studio’s work for the MIA Resort in Mui Ne. Fong-Chan strives to tell a story in her projects, which can encompass everything from the ambiance of a space, to the way a person sits on a chair and how they feel when they do so. MIA Resort’s rooms and bungalows are at a high rate of occupancy on a year-round basis. Guests love the resort and come back because they like the way they feel when they stay there. Whether it be the casual beachside ambiance or the calming colours that reflect the ocean, every detail of a KAZE project’s story is carefully thought out and intricately placed into the interior design of a space.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

Walking around the KAZE Interior Design Studio office, based in Saigon’s trendy District 2, there are a lot of brightly coloured fabric samples scattered over the team’s desks. In the corner of the room, one person is watching a video on how to find the perfect lighting to create a specific ambiance. On the other side of the room, two team members are sat around a computer discussing how to improve the detailing of the furniture in a digital sketch. The decisions these people make have been influenced by their own interpretation of things they have seen, felt and experienced themselves.

Interior Design Trends in Vietnam 2019, according to KAZE

When asked, “What are the upcoming design trends for 2019?”, KAZE’s project designer Maria explains that nature will be a huge design theme for the year: “As people are focused more than ever on their environmental impact, so they will turn to nature for inspiration. Colours like moody hues of blue, forest green and cheery yellow will be introduced to our design palette, and calming earthy tones like mushroom grey will be used in materials. You may also see a lot of wood incorporated in our interior design projects this year.”

Designers and construction teams are also becoming more aware of their waste and construction trash production, and so they are finding new ways to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. KAZE Interior Design Studio is a leader in this sustainable movement. Fong-Chan explains that she has always pushed the company to be environmentally conscious and aims to use materials that are sustainable and long-lasting. However, she insists that there is more to be done and everyone can always improve.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

KAZE Interior Design Studio’s junior designer Duong believes that the upcoming designs trends in 2019 will include block colours and in particular, the shade ‘living coral’, which is a retro orangey-pink, as well as stylized graphics. More specifically, Duong explains that vhils are on the rise. Originally created by a Portuguese street artist, vhils are typically made by scratching the surface of building exteriors to create faces or skylines and make the exterior beautiful again. Duong expects to see more digital interpretations of vhils in 2019 with fresh, exciting patterns used in the background. He envisions seeing physical or digital versions of them in hotels as well as restaurants and cafes.

When a Trend is More than a Trend - Saigon’s KAZE and Sustainability

It’s clear to see that KAZE Interior Design Studio is one of the major style and design influencers in Vietnam. The choices they make in their large scale projects will likely filter down and inspire smaller design firms and individuals. Fong-Chan hopes that others will start to take into account that KAZE’s success is largely to do with the team’s ability to put their customers first and focus on functionality before aesthetics.

It is clear that a major design trend for 2019 is likely to be a strong emphasis on the colours in nature. But what does that mean on a deeper level? Fong-Chan tries to encourage her team to see beyond just the “Instagram appeal” and focus on what’s behind the pretty picture. For example, the emphasis on nature-inspired design can also be used as a turning point for many people in the design industry to reevaluate their environmental impact as an homage to the beauty of their surroundings. In this way, KAZE Interior Design Studio hopes to enhance the experiences of people in Saigon not just through trends of fantastic form and function, but also creating enduring positive effects through sustainability.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


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