Nguyen Thien Thuat apartment buildings have existed for about half of the century. Most of the people who have been living there do not want to leave their familiar living place. Some of them have been neighbors since the Vietnam War. I came to the buildings on a rainy day. In D block, on the second floor, old and young people gather at Ms. Tot stall which serves Khot cake – a Vietnamese traditional cake. Ms. Tot told me: “I have been living here since 1969. Most of the peoples who live here know me”. Ms. Thu, who was 67 years old told me: “It is funny to watch neighbors argue and help them to make peace with each other here”. These days, the buildings are older and older. Rich people sell their apartments and buy new houses or apartments. Most of the remaining people are poor, they are merchants and workers. Or they can be old people who do not want to move into new houses and have new neighbors.
Nguyen Thien Thuat apartment buildings is 3 km from Ben Thanh Market – the city center. Click to see the location on Google Maps. The apartment complex is surrounded by Nguyen Thien Thuat, Phan Dinh Phung, Ly Thai To, Phan Thanh Gian Streets in Ward 1, District 3. To reach this place, visitors can take a taxi at the price of about 15,000 VND/km or a motorbike taxi which costs about 5,000 – 7,000 VND/km. One of the best choices is booking a Ho Chi Minh City Motorbike Tour on which local guide drives you to hidden places including this apartment buildings.
The Tet Offensive
The Tet Offensive (officially called The General Offensive and Uprising of Tet Mau Than 1968) was one of the Vietnam War’s largest military campaigns against the United States Armed Forces and the forces of South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam launched by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam. The offensive happened during the Tet holiday in 1968, which name in the lunar calendar is Mậu Thân literally meaning monkey. So that the offensive was also called Tet Mau Than Offensive. The Tet Offensive played an important role in weakening American public support for the war in Vietnam. Started on 30th January 1968 in the Corps Tactical Zones of South Vietnam, the offensive was countrywide. Viet Cong and Vietnamese people won in over 100 cities and towns of the country.
The construction of Nguyen Thien Thuat buildings
Thousands of houses were fired during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City. The slums around Ban Co Market were almost entirely destroyed. The construction of many apartment buildings including An Quang, Duong Sat, Nguyen Thien Thuat (also called Ban Co) was started. Nguyen Thien Thuat buildings were completed in 1969 and they have been home to a large number of Saigon people.
Home to poor people and crime hotspot
The buildings was alcohol, drug, gambling, crime hotspot before 2000. Today, there is nearly no crime in this area. The buildings have been used for over 50 years and is in a degraded condition. Some residents have left or offer their apartments for rent, the others who are familiar with life here or do not have enough money to buy new houses still live in the apartment. Although the buildings are old, they are good choices for poor families, students and workers to rent thanks to cheap rental prices and a good location. This shows the sharp contrast between the poor and the rich in Ho Chi Minh City – the biggest city in Vietnam.
A worth-visiting hidden gem
In recent, Ho Chi Minh is growing rapidly, there are more and more skyscrapers and urban residential areas. Some tourists coming to the city would like to see not only the new but also the old Saigon. The old part can be seen at French architectural works such as Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, religious sites such as Ngoc Hoang Pagoda and old apartment buildings. Nguyen Thien Thuat is a sample of old apartment buildings, with walls, doors, windows, tiles that still remain in the buildings. Tourists tend to visit themselves or book a tour to Nguyen Thien Thuat buildings to learn more about the real local life and Saigon in the past.
Buildings and blocks
Nguyen Thien Thuat Apartment Buildings comprise of 11 blocks: A,B,C,D,E,F1,F2,G,H,J,K, each of which has 4 floors and houses about 120 families. An apartment has a total area of about 30 m2, , a height of 2.8 m, a width of 3 m, a length of 8 m. It costs about 1.9 billion VND (~ $80,000 USD). A shophouse has a total area of about 40 m2 and costs around 2.8 billion VND (~ $130,000 USD). The street between 2 buildings is wide enough for 2 cars. Some residents put their things in front of the shophouses so that the streets are made to be narrower.
Nguyen Thien Thuat buildings are designed to be airy and bright, they have 1-m balconies with railings and rather large windows. However, the apartment is not too high.
The buildings are painted in different colors including light green, yellow, orange, pink, blue. Beautiful patterned cement tiles, balconies with steel fences, windows with grills and wooden shutters, rolling doors still remain.
Certainly, there is no elevator or escalator but concrete staircases with ramps. There is a small parking around the building and they do not want to pay for monthly parking fee, residents load their motorcycles and bicycles upstairs easily thanks to the ramps.
Vietnam including Ho Chi Minh City has one of the most dangerous electrical wires around the world. At Nguyen Thien Thuat, abundant overhead electric clutter and telltale tangles of black wires which have not been buried. Electrical fuse boxes are hung on the wall of the corridors. Residents installed lots of Corrugated metal canopies to protect the balconies and apartments from the sun and rain. They also make some cloth racks to dry the clothes.
The old buildings have not been repainted for some years and covered in mosses. Residents love to grow trees, plants and flowers in the balconies to make the apartment nice-looking and the air better. Pink Bougainvillea plant (Hoa giấy), Rangoon creeper plant (Sử quân tử), Storax trees (Bồ đề), Peace lily (Lan ý), Start fruit trees (Khế) are favorite species of the residents.
The small park with street tiles, some stone benches and areca palms is the only place for residents to gather, play in the morning, lat afternoon and evening.
Which business in the apartment?
The apartment provide “full services” including dinning, medicine store, beauty & spa, hair salons, stores selling foods, fashion stores, even joss paper stores.
Local real life
What to eat at Nguyen Thien Thuat Apartment Buildings?
There are many food and drink stalls serving various dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on the first floor of the buildings. Prices are cheap. Customers park their motorbikes in front of the stalls.
A romantic poem
Song Que poetic has written a poem about love with a girl in these buildings.
Chung cư cũ thời gian chồng chất. (Old apartment buildings throughout the years.)
Tuổi 50 nửa thế kỉ tròn. (50 years old half of a century.)
Bao nắng bao mưa đầy kỉ niệm. (Sunshine and rain full of memories.)
Nay đến một ngày mái ngói rơi. (The day when the tiles fall comes.)
Mai dỡ đi rồi xây lại mới. (Tomorrow destroy and rebuild it.)
Xuân xanh trở lại tuổi nằm nôi. (Return to the youth when lying in a cot.)
Hình bóng ngày xưa vào tiếc nuối. (Regret the image in past.)
Khang trang áo mới lại lên ngôi. (It is time for a beautiful new cover.)
Về ngang lạ quá em còn đó. (Come back, too strange, you are still here.)
Hay đã ra đi tự chốn nào. (Or has left.)
Lên chiếc cầu thang đưa mắt ngó. (Walk up the stairs and look for.)
Em còn nơi ấy mối duyên trao. (You are still here and give me your love.)
Who is Nguyen Thien Thuat?
Nguyen Thien Thuat was born in Hung Yen Province in 1844 and died in 1926. He was a high-ranking official who governed some provinces in North Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty. He is known as a famous revolutionary leader leading the well-known Bai Say uprising. In 1883, he continued armed resistance against the French although the Nguyen ordered to stop fighting. The 9-year revolt (1883 – 1892) ensued in the swampy area of Bai Say (Field of Reeds) in Hung Yen Province. Nguyen Thien Thuat used guerrilla warfare strategy, ordered small groups of Vietnamese combatants who were small and easily hid in the field of reeds, swamps, villagers’ houses to attack the less-mobile French forces.