First printed February 2023 | Phrases and pictures by Vietnam Coracle

Tom, Vietnam Coracle

Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and labored in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 nations (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, every time he has the chance to make a visit, he hardly ever seems past Vietnam’s borders and his trusty bike, Stavros. Learn extra about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh Metropolis) could also be on the verge of changing into an official megacity of 10 million inhabitants, however for me and lots of others who dwell right here, town isn’t any larger than their native neighbourhood; their phường – their ward. Every metropolis ward is a ‘village’ with its personal high-street, market, companies, faculties, outlets, leisure amenities, cafes and conveniences. For the final 8-9 years – since April, 2014 – my phường has been Ward 25 in Bình Thạnh District; my house a shared home on the finish of a typical Saigon alleyway. Over time, I’ve fashioned an attachment to my native neighbourhood and to the numerous completely different folks whom I’ve lived with in the home. Like so many elements of Saigon within the twenty-first century, Ward 25 is in a continuing state of flux and transformation – it’s modified remarkably since I moved in. Now, the time has come for me to depart Ward 25 and to dwell in one other phường; one other village inside this megacity.

*Dedication: To all the buddies I’ve lived with in the home through the years, to our landlady and to the folks of our native neighbourhood.

Farewell to my neighbourhood: Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The view from my balcony in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, the place I lived for nearly 9 years

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Goodbye to My House & ‘Hood of 9 Years

My house in Ward 25, Bình Thạnh District, has been a big a part of my life for nearly a decade. My social life has been propped up by the handfuls of individuals I’ve lived with in the home; the neighbourhood has offered me with a lot content for this web site; and the home has been a secure base for me – a continuing and dependable level of reference – throughout a interval of my life after I’ve spent a couple of third of my time on the street, travelling from place to position. The altering neighbourhood is a barometer by which to measure the shifting developments, aspirations and values of town and its inhabitants.


Film & Map

Moving In

The House

The Neighbourhood

The People

Moving Out

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A brief movie I made a number of years in the past making an attempt to seize the day by day rhythm of my neighbourhood

My Neighbourhood: Ward 25, Bình Thạnh District, Saigon

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Shifting In:

We signed the contract in March, and moved into the home in April, 2014. To have a good time, we 4 ‘authentic’ housemates (a Swede, a Brit and two Spaniards) walked to the neighbourhood high-street – imaginatively named D1 Avenue – to discover a place for dinner. On the nook of an alleyway we noticed a restaurant specializing in horse. This appeared acceptable as 2014 was the Yr of the Horse. The meals was good, the employees pleasant, and the restaurant was open to the road so we may watch life go by within the balmy night air of our new ‘hood. I had no concept that this could be my native space for the subsequent eight turns of the zodiac, till the Year of the Cat.

At the horse meat restaurant on D1 Street, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
All of the ‘authentic’ housemates on the horse restaurant after signing the contract for our home

Moving in to our house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Shifting in: my bike, Stavros, exterior our home in Ward 25, Bình Thạnh District

Gin & tonic at the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Gin & tonic on the highest balcony at my home in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, after transferring in

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The Home:

In contrast to the tall, slim townhouses that line the perimeters of tight residential alleyways in Saigon, our home was large, spacious, ethereal, filled with pure mild, shared widespread areas, balconies and patios. Exterior, the home was painted in numerous tones of beige which offset the inexperienced of three massive, column-like palm bushes alongside the entrance entrance. Technically a four-bedroom property, the home featured a number of superfluous ‘anterooms’ – not large enough to sleep in, however too large for storage – which we may by no means determine what to make use of for. Every of the 4 bedrooms had home windows or balconies, however, within the early years not less than, we spent a lot of our time collectively within the light-filled, open-plan front room, kitchen and eating room.

First floor balcony at the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
First flooring balcony on the home in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

Living room at the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
The lounge on the home in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

By Saigon requirements, the home itself was pretty distinctive inside its value class. However its bodily place and quick environment had been exceptional for a property that was so near the centre of the most important, busiest metropolis in Vietnam. The final home on the finish of a dead-end alleyway, our house was semi-detached: sharing a standard wall with our neighbour’s home on one aspect, however open on every of the opposite three sides. Out entrance had been a number of massive tropical trees, vegetation and flowers – night-blooming jasmine, bougainvillea, custard apple, betel palm, and rose apple. On the again was a waterway surrounded by lengthy grass, banana vegetation, and brush. The water was filthy and black – we generally referred to it as ‘Stink Creek’ or ‘The Stink’ for brief – however locals grew lotus flowers in it which bloomed within the mornings, and fished from the banks, and even hunted for wild fowl and small birds. It was an city swamp, a sewage channel, a pure habitat and a breeding floor for mosquitoes.

Lotus outside the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Lotus rising in Stink Creek exterior the home in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

Fishing in Stink Creek outside the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Foraging in Stink Creek exterior the home in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

Our balconies regarded immediately over Stink Creek. Some mornings I noticed blue-backed kingfishers perched on the pads of floating lotuses, different mornings the odor was too sturdy to remain exterior for lengthy; some nights we had barbecues on the balconies, however different nights the mosquitoes made a meal of us earlier than we may prepare dinner our personal meals. Within the wet season, The Stink would refill with water and develop into a lake of frogs: at night time, the throbbing refrain of amphibian mating was hypnotic. It was the sound of the Vietnamese countryside, however this wasn’t suburbia: our home was 5 minutes from downtown Saigon.

In the back of the home was a big swathe of open, empty grassland begging for growth. The lengthy grasses offered refuge for stray canine, unlawful dwellings, birds, and drug customers taking pictures up within the dappled daylight. Our balconies confronted west and we may watch the solar set on the horizon throughout the dry season.

Over time, new buildings rose up round The Stink, blocking our sundown views and casting lengthy shadows over the home. Lastly, heavy equipment moved in to clear the foliage, fill-in the swamp and push back the wildlife, till Stink Creek was nothing however a landfill for rubbish and building supplies surrounded by condo blocks, faculties and college lodging. The frog refrain was changed by the grinding of diesel engines day and night time. Mosquitoes had been now not a problem.

Kingfisher at the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
A kingfisher on Stink Creek seen from my balcony on the home in Ward 25

Construction machinery outside the house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Building equipment exterior my home in what was once Stink Creek

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The Neighbourhood:

Bounded on three sides by a few of Saigon’s largest, busiest roads – Điện Biên Phủ, Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh and Ung Văn Khiêm – Ward 25 occupies a kinetic nook of Bình Thạnh District, pulsating with youthful vitality because of the presence of a number of massive universities. The native neighbourhood economic system thrives on the scholar inhabitants: low cost meals stalls, trend shops, 24-hour cafe workspaces, bubble tea shops, English language centres, laundry providers, comfort shops and low-rent, diminutive dormitories. After we moved into the world, the roads in our quick neighbourhood had been named by quantity: D1 Avenue, D2, D3, D4 and so forth. Connecting these had been dozens of slim alleyways lined with residential townhouses. Regardless of the burgeoning, finances scholar life out on the streets, life within the alleys was calm, quiet, family-oriented and comparatively prosperous. To stroll the 200 metres from our home on alleyway 24 to D1 high-street was to go from a leafy, sleepy suburb to a energetic, vibrant inner-city.

Neighbourhood alleyway in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Neighbourhood alleyway in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

On the coronary heart of Ward 25 was chợ Văn Thánh, a contemporary produce market sprawling throughout the alleyways of a number of metropolis blocks. This was the main target of a lot of the native neighbourhood’s industrial and social exercise. Across the market’s contemporary produce stalls was a constellation of road meals shops, serving each market distributors and consumers. D1 high-street itself featured loads of family-run noodle homes, rice eateries, {hardware} outlets, common shops, and occasional outlets. Some years after transferring in, two high-rise residences and workplaces blocks had been constructed within the space. One among these had a shopping center, grocery store and occasional chains on its decrease flooring. Slowly, the neighbourhood started to vary as shopfront rental costs rose: family-run companies couldn’t afford the hire and closed, to get replaced by home and worldwide chains, comfort shops and well-known manufacturers.

Local life in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Native life in Ward 25 is threatened by rising hire & big-name chains changing family-run companies

Local soup house in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Native, family-run companies like this in style soup home are disappearing in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District

With this, the social cloth of the world modified, too. Beforehand, when purchasing in my neighbourhood, I’d primarily be getting into a household’s entrance room and be buying their very own product – their espresso, their noodle soups, their handiwork. Over time, the household would set up a rapport with their common prospects. However, within the chain shops there was no connection between the employees – most of whom had been college students from the close by universities – and their product or their prospects. Buying was now not a social change in addition to a industrial one: it was purely the latter. For some time, it appeared as if the grocery store and mall would possibly threaten the very existence of Văn Thánh market. Nonetheless, as time went on, the market truly benefitted from the workplace workforce, who’d all flee the sterile workplace setting at lunchtimes to dine exterior on the road stalls and cafes. The market continues to thrive, however D1 high-street has far fewer native companies than after I moved in, and which means far fewer human interactions. This isn’t distinctive to Ward 25: it’s taking place throughout Saigon and concrete centres all through Vietnam.

Local food in Van Thanh Market, Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Sreet meals at Văn Thánh Market which continues to thrive regardless of competitors from supermarkets & malls

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The Individuals:

I’ve by no means exactly counted the variety of housemates who’ve handed by the doorways of our house over the course of my 8-9 years dwelling there, however actually it’s between 20-30 folks, hailing from not less than 10 completely different nations. With a couple of exceptions, I didn’t know – hadn’t even met – these folks earlier than they moved into the home to dwell with me. Many turned shut, life-long buddies; some lived in the home with me for years, others just for a short interval; some are nonetheless dwelling in Vietnam, however most are actually scattered across the globe. In no different circumstance may I – would I – have met these folks if not for this shared home on the finish of alleyway 24 on D3 Avenue, Ward 25, Bình Thạnh District.

As a foreigner dwelling in Vietnam, it’s straightforward to take as a right the hospitality, openness and friendliness with which we’re welcomed into native neighbourhoods. In my space, it didn’t take lengthy to determine a rapport with folks within the ward: with Hải and Mỵ on the espresso outlets, Hương, Đào and Diệu on the juice stalls, Thành and Chi on the soup home, and lots of others. These folks made strolling to the outlets and doing errands a enjoyable, social change – one thing to stay up for, wealthy with human interplay.

Local food vendor in Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
Every day purchasing & errands in Ward 25 had been filled with human interplay & transient social exchanges

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Shifting Out:

After practically 9 years, the home has too many reminiscences of too many individuals related to too many alternative phases of my life. Reminiscence may help set up roots and connections to folks and locations; however it could actually additionally result in stagnation: stopping change, originality, creativeness and new experiences. I can’t objectively see my neighbourhood anymore: every little thing is filtered by 9 years of reminiscences. I wish to change my bodily location and consequently shake up my psychological panorama a bit, too. I’m not transferring to a different nation, not even one other metropolis: I’m transferring to a different district, one other phường, one other alleyway, one other neighbourhood. As I write this, the bulldozers, diggers and vehicles are grinding exterior my home – the place Stink Creek was once – kicking up clouds of mud that forestall me from being exterior on the balcony and that will get into my lungs, provides me a cough and damages my respiratory system. It’s time to maneuver.

*Dedication: To all the buddies I’ve lived with in the home through the years, to our landlady and to the folks of our native neighbourhood.

Top floor balcony of our house, Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
View from the highest flooring balcony of our home overlooking Stink Creek earlier than building began

Construction machinery outside our house, Ward 25, Binh Thanh District, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City
The view from the primary flooring balcony immediately

*Disclosure: All content material on Vietnam Coracle is free to learn and independently produced. I’ve written this text as a result of I wish to: I loved my neighbourhood and I need my readers to find out about it. For extra particulars, see the Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and About Page

Questions, updates and journey reviews are all welcome. Nonetheless, please maintain feedback well mannered and on-topic. See commenting etiquette for particulars.


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