The changing face of Saigon – 2017 edition


With around 8.5 million people in Saigon the city will soon join the ranks of the world’s megacities. I wrote about the changing face of Saigon in 2015 which summarised the changes to the city. Much has happened over the last two years so here is an update on the changes – good and bad – of Saigon.

Saigon from the air
[The soon-to-be megacity of Saigon.]

Metro Construction

There are six metro lines planned, and some others that have been proposed but not made official. Of these, two lines have officially begun, which is the same status as two years ago.

The first line is behind schedule but making progress. Outside of District 1 you can see the line above ground, and some of the station shells have been completed.

Metro construction in D2
[Metro construction in District 2.]

Line 1 is underground in district 1 so it’s hard to gauge the progress. The biggest disruption to the city has now commenced with the closure of the iconic Ben Thanh roundabout. This is the central point of the city and will be the biggest station.

Ben Thanh metro construction
[Ben Thanh metro construction.]

I’ve seen many comments of people upset that this roundabout has closed. I’m happy to see it go. A roundabout is not a heritage site, and this section of road is so pedestrian-hostile that a redesigned pedestrian area would be a welcome change.

The roundabout
[The roundabout before it closed.]

To build this central station some trees had to be cut down as well. Ironically the trees were in a park that replaced the original train station of Saigon before it was moved further out of town.

Tree clearing

Most subways systems around the world have delays and cost blowouts on their first line, so this isn’t all that unusual. What would be helpful though would be an official metro website with regular updates and photos. There is no official map either, so finding out exactly where the future metro lines will go isn’t known. There are two maps in circulation with the 6 lines. This one is on the Ho Chi Minh City Metro Wiki page.

Saigon metro lines

Another map by a map enthusiast has the 6 lines plus other proposed tramways and extensions.

Proposed Saigon Metro

Each map has different interchanges so who knows which is the correct one.

So far there are only updates from the construction company, which offers little in the way of maps and station information.

The most useful roundup has been this update on Saigon’s subway construction from May, 2016.

Lost heritage buildings

The heritage buildings that were listed as endangered in my 2015 post are still standing, while other buildings have been lost.

The sentimental favourite of the city was the Tax Trade Centre. This building had so many changes over the years that at the end of its life it didn’t look like a heritage building. The interior had a beautiful stairway with mosaics and the shops were eclectic and from an era that cannot be replicated.

Last days of Tax Centre

After being closed for the last two years it was finally demolished to make way for a hotel and mall development.

Demolished Tax Centre

At the other end of the Tax Centre block was a row of colonial-era shop houses.

Le Loi and Pasteur

The buildings on the corner of Pasteur and Le Loi have now been demolished as part of the same redevelopment.

Le Loi and Pasteur - After

Great cities have layers of interesting architecture from every generation of its existence. One of the more unusual items was this wall of pigeon cases which had a tree growing on it like the Ta Phrom temple at Angkor Wat.

Pigeons case

This was behind the row of old shophouses, so it too has gone.

Demolition rubble

Ba Son Shipyards

Ba Son redevelopment
[Ba Son redevelopment.]

Another loss was the Ba Son shipyards, which I never got to see due to it being military property. There were some old warehouses along the river which would have made for a great space for markets and food courts, like Asiatique in Bangkok. Instead it has been knocked down and some generic glass towers will stand in its place.

Asiatique Bangkok
[Asiatique Bangkok.]

Fake old buildings replacing actual old buildings

One of the saddest heritage losses was an art deco office and apartment block on Dong Khoi. I didn’t know it was being demolished so I never got any photos of it.

In its place is an extension of the historic city hall. If you are new to the city you may not notice that that this is a new building as it blends in with the old.

City Hall extension
[City Hall extension.]


Saigon Centre

Saigon centre construction

This building was just a hole in the ground two years ago. Now it has topped out and is advertising for tenants. The ground level was opened last year with a mall featuring the Japanese department store Takashimaya.

Saigon Centre mall

Landmark 81

The Landmark 81 tower is under construction with the base floors now protruding out of the ground. At 461.2 metres it will become the tallest tower in Southeast Asia, eclipsing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur by 20 centimetres (in your face, KL!). The glory will be short lived though, with KL set to retake the crown with the KL118 tower. They are not taking any chances with losing the crown again in a hurry, as this will be 630 metres (in YOUR face, Saigon!).

Landmark 81 rising
[Landmark 81, as viewed from a bus crossing the river.]

Saigon Jewelry Center (SJC) tower

Saigon Jewelry Center
[Saigon Jewelry Center block.]

Opposite Saigon Centre is the Saigon Jewelry Center project, which will be 54 floors. This was a car park for years and then construction equipment moved in. No sooner had it began, the equipment disappeared overnight, so who knows what is happening here. I know this because there is a great Bun Thit Nuong street food stand here, which I eat at every week.

Spirit of Saigon

Spirit of Saigon
[Spirit of Saigon dragon towers.]

Even though Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, the name lives on in plenty of buildings – old and new. This project was originally called 1HCMC and now it is called the Spirit of Saigon.

This is arguably the most prime block of land in Saigon, opposite Ben Thanh market and what will be the biggest metro interchange. This project stalled when the Ritz-Carlton pulled out as the main hotel.

The 55 and 48 level towers represent dragons, each with a figurative pearl in their mouth. The dragons are from Vietnamese mythology, and the pearls represent the city’s fame as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, which people really need to stop saying as the city lost that title long ago.

At the time of this post the foundations were finished and work on the ground level was beginning.

Spirit of Saigon basement construction
[Spirit of Saigon basement construction.]

Saigon One Tower

Saigon One Tower
[Saigon One Tower still covered with orange construction nets.]

There are numerous abandoned projects scattered across the city, with the most prominent of those being the Saigon One Tower. In my 2015 update I had this listed as the SEABank Tower, though as usual there is little information about the status of this building. I compare this to Bangkok’s ghost tower, which is also an abandoned riverfront project.

Thu Thiem New Urban Area – The Pudong of Saigon

District 2

If you look across the river in downtown Saigon you will see mostly empty land of Thu Thiem in District 2. This area has been planned to become a new business district and urban area.

Development has been continually launched and stalled here but at the moment it’s still mostly all quiet on the riverfront. One of the projects is the Empire City Tower, which would be a metre higher than Landmark 81. This was meant to start in late 2015. Also planned is the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge and a pedestrian bridge.

D2 bridges
[Two new bridges (and shiny blue water) for the Saigon river.]

This area sounds similar to Pudong, which is on the other side of the river of historic Shanghai (also once known as the Pearl of the Orient). Pudong was farmland until it became a Special Economic Zone in 1993. Now it has one of the worlds most spectacular skylines.

[Pudong skyline – future Saigon?]

So that is a small overview of some things that are going on in Saigon. Hopefully I do another update in two years and tell you about riding on the first metro line.

Since this post went out I’m now keeping updates of construction and urban design at Living In Asia, which includes current construction projects in Saigon.

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  1. Very interesting read! It’s amazing the changes that have taken place there.

  2. Oh wow, it looks like I won’t even recognise Saigon next time I’m there! I lived in HCMC from 2001-2004, and have only visited once since then (in 2010). I’m excited about the metro lines, but bummed about the demolitions (pretty sure the Tax Trade Centre is what I knew as the “Russian Market” – I loved that staircase!). Thanks for the article, I’ll steel myself for some serious culture shock when I head back there this year or next.

  3. Nice update on Saigon!

    Glad that roundabout has gone, as you said, it was an awful impediment for the pedestrian!

    Sadly I find HCMC and Hanoi to have the worst air pollution in SE Asia from my experience. I found Jakarta to be better! Hopefully these metro lines will help in the same way Bangkok seems to have improved with it’s transit systems.

    I’d seriously spend a lot longer in Saigon if the air was not an issue for me. I really notice it after a couple of weeks.

  4. It’s horrible that fake old building are replacing proper ones!!

    xx Sofia

  5. owen oglala says

    Informative — as always. The New York Times Sunday Travel section March 5 had a write-up on BKK that did nothing for the reader except leave him/her free to note how the writer wishes all to know he knows BKK.

  6. Fascinating look at what’s happening to Saigon. I’ve always thought of it as an old city from the time of the Vietnam war, so I found it really interesting to see what’s been happening there.

  7. I was raised in Miami in the 50s and many were sad as the old Spanish and art deco came down. But the modernity that replaced it made Miami the world class city it is. It’s the same with Shanghai, where neon towers are far more stimulating and inspiring than the dubious antiquity they replaced. These teaming young Vietnamese masses need to feel the futurist inspiration of towering glass temples of commerce, designed by famous Asian architects. They need and want the excitement of Vincom and Bitexco, and the lighted fountains of Ho Chi Minh Square. Graham Green is our icon not theirs, and preservation of the oppressor’s French architecture has only so much value to an indigenous people and culture in search of globalist inclusion. Saigon and it’s skyline just keeps getting better.

  8. Susanne p walker says

    My first trip to Saigon was in 1995. Since then I have revisited the city several times to be with my family. I love the old city with all the people, smells and traditions. It was a wonderful and charming city. Now, I understand the younger generation wanting to move into the future modern times. Hope they will keep the charm of some of their culture.

  9. Very interesting … been there Jan 2017 …

  10. Interesting roundup. Cheers!

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