Ridiculously skinny buildings of Vietnam

Skinny building - Ho Chi Minh City
[A tall and skinny building in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.]

Spend any amount of time in Vietnam and you will soon notice that there are skinny buildings everywhere. Some are so slender that they barely look like they could fit a double bed across. Don’t ask me how they would get a double bed up there either.

I have stayed in a few hotels in Saigon that were slimmer than your average building, but nothing like the one in this picture.

I was told that the reason for this building style is a tax issue. Something to do with tax being calculated by the width of the property front. Looking online though I can’t find anything in English to back up this explanation. If you know why there are so many skinny buildings in Vietnam I would love to know (preferably with a reputable link).

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  1. The tax explanation seems plausible as that is the same reason why many buildings in Amsterdam are narrow; even though they are not taxed based on width any more.

    • They are indeed skinny in Amsterdam. They also have the added bonus of buildings that lean forward slightly. This is so furniture can be winched up without hitting the front of the building.

    • John Patterson says

      Could it be an early French colonial tax policy based on frontage which explains Ámsterdam, and New Orleans also?

  2. I found a link mentioning how property taxes were assessed based on width:


    • Thanks Moises, that’s a great link!

      • Property tax is not a matter, it’s cheap for houses though. The land is sold by square meters, so the bigger you get, the expensive you pay. Houses are expensive in the city, even more in the centre of Hcmc. This type of house has been there for couple decades, so when people sell and buy, it just continues the same shape.

  3. Digital Overland says

    Reminds me of homes in Philadelphia called ‘Trinity’ homes. They are only 3 feet high, but each room is only 10 foot by 10 foot with a spiral staircase. And, traditionally, each floor also had a fireplace. You can still rent them, although now many have been made into doubles. I think the setup used to be, kitchen, living, bedroom on each 10×10.


  4. Lucky it’s not an earthquake zone

  5. That one is so skinny! It looks so incongruous there. Gotta say though, as a Floridian that building scares the crap out of me because it would be the first thing down in a hurricane! 🙂

  6. I thought you might be joking, but that building just made me laugh. It is ridiculous looking, like it will fall over.

  7. Wow, I wonder if they climb a ladder to get to the top floors? 🙂

  8. Ha ha, these look awesome and seeing this kind of stuff is the reason travel is always fun! In Egypt loads of the buildings seem unfinished with wires sticking out of the top floors and half finished staircases. I was told this was related to tax too, I think unfinished buildings can skip some taxes!

  9. I think Vietnamese are clever to come up with that idea so that they will not pay large amount of money for their real property taxation.

  10. I did a tour of Ho Chi Minh city a few years ago and we asked our guide the same question. She said it was because the price of land was so expensive, it is cheaper to build houses up instead of out. Sounded feasilbe to us….we believed her.

  11. The tax explanation goes back centuries. It’s always amazing to see how people find creative solutions away from government mandates. It makes for interesting sights in cities like HCMC but an even more interesting lesson for us today. Too bad we never seem to learn from history.

  12. I believe that the French influence beginning in 1859 may have had something to do with it. Paris also has very narrow lot sizes and the French prototype influenced a lot of the urban areas around that time. It’s possible that the taxation and design policies came from the French. Even today, in the Philippines many towns (and new developments) are built around a square in the Spanish style, even though the Spanish are long gone, that influence remains.

    I suppose finding a map of lots and building footprints pre-French colonial times would put that theory to a test.

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