The ‘Burbs Above

Life in a high-rise is different to life in a house. Siân Kavanagh talks to those who’ve vacated two or three-storey living for apartments up on high


No matter where you drive in Hanoi or Saigon, if you look upon the horizon there are ghost towns looming and waiting to be filled with residents. High-rise apartments have taken over the skyline like bamboo shoots. In a country where the norm has been hems or ngos filled with traditional old houses and blood relatives, with the front rooms open wide, the new apartments of Vietnam’s two major cities have created a new style of community and culture.


Traditionally when we talk about suburbia we picture the American two-storey houses with picket fences and a garage, where the easiest transport option is to drive, and the city is at least half an hour away. This is far from the suburban reality of contemporary Saigon and Hanoi.


The people who responded for this article are all young professionals who needed cheap rent and enough space to relax.


Martha, Sophia and Linus

Khanh Hoi 1, Q4, HCMC


District 4 is only a two-minute drive away from Saigon city centre, but once you cross Khanh Hoi Bridge, there is a change in the atmosphere and environment. The building consists of two towers and has a shop, gym, spa, kindergarten and small restaurants and cafés that are primarily used by the residents. Martha, Sophia and Linus have all lived in their apartment for different periods of time; four-and-a-half years, two months and nine months respectively. Their space contains an attic and has a sizable balcony with a view of the river below.


“It’s a very easy location to live in, we can get almost anywhere in 10 minutes,” says Martha, a part-time teacher from Australia. “Even though District 4 had a bad reputation in the past, I’ve always felt safe living in an apartment because we have 24-hour security.” Higher security and easy access are two of the most important reasons given by the three residents as the benefits of living in an apartment as opposed to a house.


The apartment’s attic has been used as a storage unit for the mismatched belongings of residents from years past, filled with abandoned suitcases, backpacks, books and furniture.


“I lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment for my first six months of being in Saigon, and I got sick of it. I like seeing other people at home when I come back from work,” says Sophia. “My flatmates come from different cultures and have had their own share of experiences in Saigon, so it’s good to catch up and talk about them.”


This diversity among the flatmates means that there is a good balance in the house between the two women and one man, with Sophia from India, Martha from Australia and Linus from Sweden.


Minh-Ha, Uyen and Billy

DPN Tower, Binh Thanh


Two years ago the thoroughfare upon which DPN Tower now stands was just a dirt road, surrounded by more dirt and a branch of the Saigon River. Today this part of Binh Thanh District has exploded into suburbs, typically more popular with local Saigonese than the expat community. The neighbourhood is extremely quiet compared to some of the more central districts, and the views contain gorgeous greenery and cityscapes. All three of the DPN roommates work in the fashion industry, and the space is decorated accordingly; very minimalist and with an interesting selection of furnishing and artworks.


The three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is home to Minh-Ha, Uyen and Billy who met and organised their living arrangements through Facebook groups. The building has a Citimart on the ground floor, which has proved convenient for all the flatmates, and there is tenant access to the roof. The roof space not only offers a fantastic view of the city, but also a good place for the building tenants such as Uyen to stretch their legs and get in a portion of their 10,000 fitness steps per day.


Uyen and Billy are both from Saigon themselves and have lived in the apartment for under two years, whereas Minh-Ha is from Germany and has only been in Binh Thanh for two months.


“We have a different concept of suburbs in Berlin,” says Minh-Ha. “There’s more greenery and you have to travel further to the centre, but there’s no denying that we live in a suburb of Saigon here.


“There aren’t many Western restaurants in Binh Thanh, but there are a lot of street kitchens with cheap, local food. You rarely see expats or tourists in this neighbourhood, but we’re still close to downtown.”


Ebba, Chris and Sophia

HAGL Riverview, Q2


The first thing you notice walking into Ebba, Chris and Sophia’s apartment in HAGL Riverside is that they obviously have a very cool landlord; their living room wall is adorned in painted murals that they have been working on together since their housewarming party in April. The trio has only been in the apartment two months and is already planning to convert their four-bedroom, four-bathroom space into three bedrooms and three bathrooms, all with their landlord’s permission.


“I lived in another HAGL apartment before we moved in here,” says Sophia. “And the similar floor plans always mess with my mind. It will be nice to create new space that is our own.”


The HAGL buildings offer many amenities; from little convenience stores, a swimming pool, tennis court, table tennis, a restaurant and a bakery, there are many options just below their feet, but all three flatmates agree that it is important to get out of the bubble and still explore the city around them.


The roommates have started the tradition of enjoying the sunset and a drink from the balcony and using their communal space to spend time together.


Ebba explains: “From living in a house to living in an apartment, I feel like the communication channels are much more open. You feel closer to the people you live with — it is easier and more natural to spend time together.”


Chris, who is originally from Hanoi, has only lived in Saigon four months and is happy to live slightly removed from the craziness of downtown.


“It can feel very overwhelming to be surrounded by those crowds every day,” he says. “Up here it is a lot more peaceful, not much but it is our own space.”


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