HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Change You Can Believe In

Saigon has been changing at a rapid pace for years now, thanks to Vietnam's explosive economic growth that began towards the end of the 1990's. As soon as I arrived in the fall of 2010 I could tell this was a city on the move, and in the time I've been here the 68-floor Bitexco Financial Tower has opened, the Thu Thiem Tunnel has been completed, and countless old buildings have been torn down to make way for shopping malls, condo towers and office buildings.

These past few weeks, though, it seems that this pace has picked up even more steam. This is a little odd because it is universally accepted that the property market (especially in terms of residential buildings) is frozen thanks to lack of capital and high interest rates. A number of big projects sit idle and it is unclear when things will improve.

These financial issues seem to be having less of an impact on smaller projects though, and in my neighborhood there has been an awful lot of change going on. Businesses come and go on a seemingly weekly basis and anytime I walk around there is the constant noise of construction, renovation or demolition. Nearly every time I drive somewhere I discover yet another building being torn down. 

Below is a picture of the former movie theater down the alley from my house. It was being renovated when a fire broke out and gutted the interior. It has since been demolished, and as I sit at my desk I can still hear them jackhammering away at the remaining debris. Before this happened I could expect to see the theater's fading facade every time I walked out of that end of the alley, and now it is gone. I don't know if it will be replaced, or if something different will be put in.
On Cach Mang Thang Tam, a few blocks away, a building was recently demolished and there is now construction machinery there.
Here is another building, on the corner of CMT8 and Vo Van Tan, that is being torn down. I've walked past this spot hundreds of times, and now it will never look the same again.
I'm not sure what used to be here, but there is now a sky crane working on a new building next to the VUS on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. You can also see a police officer giving some poor schmuck a ticket.
Right across the street from that construction site is this one.
This upscale cafe recently opened on the corner of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Cao Thang, replacing a more run-down standard Vietnamese one. (Argh, gentrification!)
Finally we have these two buildings going up on Vo Van Tan, a block from my house. The one of the left will be a hotel, while I think the other one will be a banking office. They are a little taller than anything else in the area, a sign that District 1's growing height is now creeping into District 3.
I've always said that this incredible amount of change and development is one of the most exciting factors of living in Saigon, and while I still believe that, at least to a certain extent, the rate at which things are happening now is starting to get a little frustrating. Cool places are starting to close - the most recent departures are Ala Mezon, a laid-back bar/lounge; and Farm, a cafe I covered in one of my posts about cafes, which was possibly the quietest spot in a city full of LOUD NOISES - only to be replaced by the brash, noisy karaoke bars and garish clubs that young, moneyed Vietnamese people seem to favor. Yuk.

Whenever the economy returns to normal here and developers are able to spend freely again Saigon's ongoing transformation will reach an even higher gear. I've often wondered what this place will look like in 5-10 years, but now I can't even be sure of what it will look like at the end of this year. That is change you can believe in.

3 comments:

  1. Well said. My neighbourhood (Thi Nghe) is pretty local: bar the Manor, there are no chain restaurants, no Western cafes, and very little outside of small, family-run businesses. But I can see the massive CityGarden building on my street getting closer and closer to completion everyday, and all of a sudden there are foreigners all over the place where there used to be only a handful. I was already bummed about gentrification, and then Farm up and closed on me. I don't know if I can handle another disappointment...

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    1. I know! Makes you wonder what will be next...and yea I've noticed CityGarden a bunch of times. Pretty striking contrast between that and the tin shacks that line the canal near it.

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