Everything You Need to Know About Real Estate in HCMC

By: Patrick Gaveau

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.

Mauro GasparottiMauro Gasparotti

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.

Photo by Pullman Saigon Centre

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].

Photo by Tri Nguyen

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.

Photo by Huy Nguyen

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.

Photo by Tri Nguyen

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.

Photo by Tri Nguyen

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.

Photo by David Sawyer

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.


Gateway Thao Dien: Raising the Bar for Luxury

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Gateway Thao Dien is Ho Chi Minh City’s answer to high-end, exclusive living

Investors may be surprised by the level of commitment Gateway Thao Dien has shown. It seems delays and misinformation are common complaints for anyone investing in property in Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, Gateway Thao Dien has delivered on its word, and even provided added value for its investors - something rarely seen in the local real estate market. There are four ways Gateway Thao Dien has kept its commitment to its demanding home buyers.

On Point and On Time

To date, Gateway Thao Dien has reached all of its milestones on time. Construction has been carried out in a timely manner. From the beginning of October, the status of the project has been going along smoothly: Tower A (The Aspen) and Tower B (The Madison) are expected to complete level 20 and 22, respectively, this November. This means the projects is on track for its expected completion of date of the last quarter of 2017.

World-Class Partners

Backing Gateway Thao Dien are a number of highly reputable contractors and suppliers. These companies all have outstanding track records, and were carefully chosen for their professionalism. Gateway Thao Dien put much effort into acquiring the support of these partners - and buyers can clearly see the results in the quality of the residential complexes, the timely execution, and the customer support given throughout.

Cofico: Since 1975, Cofico has been renowned as one of the leading contractors for both civil and industrial projects in Vietnam. Honored to be appointed as the main contractor for Gateway Thao Dien, the team at Cofico is making every endeavor to satisfy the developer’s requirements for progress, quality and safety. The company’s brand name will act as a guarantor for the construction quality of the project.

Mace: In charge of construction management and supervision of the Gateway Thao Dien project, the Mace Group is a global consulting and construction firm employing 4,600 people across 70 countries. Their management and supervisory team are actively ensuring that the high quality products selected by Gateway Thao Dien are given the proper level of treatment during installation.

Searefico: This company is responsible for providing Gateway Thao Dien with integrated mechanical and electric solutions, as well as equipping the project with modern, high quality products and utilities. Lifts have been installed from world-renowned Swiss elevator company, Schneider; Daikin air-conditioners and Mitsubishi generators have also been added to ensure quality airflow and uninterrupted power. Using Building Information Modeling (BIM), SEAREFICO helps minimise problems in the construction process, ensuring quality installation and quicker progress.

Arup: Known for their intelligent, sustainable structural design, among other high-quality services, Arup is an international firm with 13,000 staff across 42 countries. They have been responsible for some of the world’s most famous structures. They have assisted Gateway Thao Dien with the tower blocks’ structural design, as well as the project’s penthouse floors. Gateway Thao Dien is one of the tallest residential buildings in HCMC, and Arup ensures all the buyers this will be one of the safest places to stay, in terms of structure.

Eurowindow: High-end windows are supplied by Eurowindow. The high-tempered glass is soundproofed up to 40bB, with powder-coated aluminum frames. Complying with AAMA2604 standards, Eurowindow will offer a 20 year warranty for all of its products.

A Surprise Upgrade

Buyers will be delighted to know Gateway Thao Dien’s developers have upgraded many of the appliances that were initially agreed upon. In particular, most bathroom appliances from Kohler and Toto have been promoted to Duravit and Hansgrohe. Teka kitchen appliances have been upgraded to the German Bosch brand. Digital door locks have been changed from Samsung/Yale to Häfele from Germany. Entrance and internal doors will be provided by Sunwood, with the same specifications as for their Marina One project, one of the most luxurious multi-purpose high-rises being built in Singapore.

Steep Rise in Property Value

Metro Line 1 (Ben Thanh to Suoi Tien) is the first metro line in HCMC, with a total span 19.7km and a budget of US$2.49 billion. After the development of Line 1’s master plan, numerous projects began to spring up in the vicinity of the train line. As Line 1’s construction nears completion, property values will rise for anything in the line’s vicinity - that includes Gateway Thao Dien, which is right by the metro.

Contact information:

Website: www.gatewaythaodien.com.vn

Hotline: +84 9 3205 7979

Addresss: Gateway Thao Dien Sales Gallery, 53 - 55 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D3


Ibis Saigon Airport: A New Flagship for AccorHotels in Vietnam

By: Arik Jahn

The First International Brand to Open an Airport Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — With an electrifying event, ibis Saigon Airport, AccorHotels’ brand-new hotel sitting right next to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, celebrated its grand opening on 24 March 2017. Ibis Saigon Airport is the latest addition to AccorHotels’ vast hospitality network in Vietnam.

Ibis hotel

Over a hundred guests, including Ho Chi Minh City officials, representatives from AccorHotels and the hotel’s owner company Hado Group attended the event, which paid tribute to ibis Saigon Airport with an opulent buffet, contemporary dance performances and a rooftop party.

“A Milestone for the ibis Brand”

The ibis Saigon Airport’s major asset is its strategic position: a mere 500 metres from Tan Son Nhat International Airport, the gateway to Ho Chi Minh City and all of Vietnam. Xavier Cappelut, Accor’s regional Director of Operations for Middle Scale & Economic Brand Hotels, praised the hotel as “a significant milestone for the ibis brand” thanks to its one-of-a-kind location.

Ibis Saigon Airport is a haven of hospitality tailored to corporate travellers and all those looking for “Value for Money”. With its functional and stylish travel-themed design and an outstanding 24-hour food and beverage service at the in-house Oopen restaurant, this hotel truly honours ibis’ slogan, “Well-being at the best price”.

ibis

As the first international airport hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, ibis Saigon Airport goes beyond the usual amenities of the economy sector. Its room typology – standard rooms, family rooms, studios, as well as one and two-bedroom apartments – is unrivalled in the budget segment, catering to the individual needs of each and every guest, from corporate clients to travelling families, from short-stay to long-stay visitors.

INTERVIEW WITH ORESTE TRAETTO, GENERAL MANAGER, IBIS SAIGON AIRPORT

Question: What makes ibis Saigon Airport the first choice for business travellers in Ho Chi Minh City?

Mr. Traetto: Our hotel is strategically tailored to business travellers. Our Oopen restaurant is open 24 hours and we are the only international hotel chain offering a breakfast service from 4 o’clock in the morning until 12 o’clock [in the afternoon]. So if you have an early flight to catch, you will be able to grab some food, get a coffee, hop on our free shuttle to the airport and you’ll be there in five minutes.

ibis oopen

Or imagine you are a businessperson, and had a hard working day. At ibis Saigon Airport, we provide you with all the facilities to truly reenergise you. What is very important to us is the ibis ‘sweet bed’ that can give you a really good rest. We have incredibly good feedback from our clients about it. And all that, I believe, shows how we really cater to the customers’ needs.

Question: You are very proud of ibis Saigon Airport’s in-house venues. Can you tell me a bit more about them?

Mr. Traetto: Today, travellers, even though they stay for a short amount of time, they want to optimise their stay. Now, with The Hub, ibis Saigon Airport has the only rooftop bar in  Tan Binh District. When you finish your work, you go upstairs, get a beer and enjoy the view of landing airplanes. We have a pool, we have a steam bath, we have a sauna, we have a gym – this is definitely what gives us the opportunity to attract a specific segment of clients. We provide our guests with a place to relax.

We are, if I may say so, part of the new generation of ibis hotels.

ibis hotel view

INTERVIEW WITH XAVIER CAPPELUT, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS FOR MIDDLE SCALE & ECONOMIC BRAND HOTELS, ACCORHOTELS

Question: AccorHotels is home to many brands. Why did you choose the ibis brand for this particular project?

Mr. Cappelut: I think this is a very unique location. The guests who choose to stay close to the airport have very specific needs. They might be in transit for a few hours, they might be spending their last night in Vietnam after a trip. We believe the level of comfort provided by ibis is just the right amount for these specific customers.

And the beauty of a brand like ibis is: you can travel anywhere in the world, you will find the same layout, the same service, the same comfort. Guests choose ibis because they know exactly what they can expect. That’s a guarantee that we provide to our customers. And they appreciate it.

Question: Vietnam is a country with an immense potential for tourism. How does ibis Saigon Airport serve this very particular market?

Mr. Cappelut: Vietnam is very important to us as a group. We, AccorHotels, have been in Vietnam since 1991. Back then, we were the only international hospitality company in Vietnam. That shows how committed we are to Vietnam as a business location.

And today, this country is developing at a dizzying pace. Last year, there was a 26% increase of international visitors and a 9% growth in the domestic market in Vietnam.These are incredible numbers.

And of course, we try to attract Vietnam’s domestic guests. The ibis brand perfectly caters to them because it is a functional, but full-service product that offers “Value for Money”.

Ibis Saigon Airport is quite simply the right product in the right place at the right time. And it is highly visible. In fact, we couldn’t be more visible than here at the airport. In that sense, ibis Saigon Airport is Accor’s flagship in Vietnam.

ibis hotel room

AccorHotels’ journey in Vietnam is far from over. In the next two years, the group plans to open another 12 hotels all over the country, which will bring its total portfolio to 36. But thanks to its eminent location next to one of Vietnam’s most important travel hubs and its many amenities, ibis Saigon Airport is undoubtedly a go-to for all Ho Chi Minh City-bound travellers.

 


Deutsches Haus: German World-Class Design in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Aleksandr Smechov

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.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

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.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

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.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

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.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

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.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

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.

Image source: flickr.com


How to choose a place to live in Ho Chi Minh City?

By: City Pass Guide

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.

Video source: DJSharks71

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.

HCMCImage source: codiemaps.files.wordpress.com

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 restaurants, clubs, bars 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.

HCMCImage source: qtxasset.com

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.

HCMCImage source: sasaki.com

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.

Video source: CapitaLand

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.

HCMCImage source: phumyhung.com.vn

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.

HCMCImage source: c2.staticflickr.com

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.

HCMCImage source: willflyforfood.net

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.

Video source: Chợ Lớn Kìa

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.

HCMCImage source: en.vinhomestancang.co

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.

HCMCImage source: vinasctax.vn

Banner Image source: MPhoto.vn


Meet the Expert: Charles Gallavardin on sustainable architecture in HCMC

By: Patrick Gaveau

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.


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