Vietnam’s suburbs now have a life of their own. But at what cost?

 

For years Vietnam’s wealthiest areas, which also doubled up as the backyards of the country’s expats, were little more than just residential. With limited dining and drinking options, residents of Ho Chi Minh City outskirts Thao Dien and Phu My Hung and Hanoi fringe Tay Ho had to go into town to get their nightlife fix. Fast-forward a decade and that has changed, nowhere more so than in Tay Ho.

 

Now everywhere you look in this former lotus farm village there are restaurants, bars, cafes, mini supermarkets, hairdressers and everything in between. Even the number of serviced apartments available is on the rise. There are now so many in the Tay Ho area that a large percentage remain unoccupied.

 

While the development has been welcome, especially for those of us no longer living in town, there’s a saturation point. In Tay Ho and possibly District 2’s Thao Dien, that may well have been reached.

 

Migration

 

Last month when we received the results of our readership survey conducted by Cimigo, one fact stood out — the gradual move of our readership towards the suburbs. While in Ho Chi Minh City it’s trending upward — 24 percent of our readers now live in District 2 compared to 16 percent in 2012 — the real difference is in Hanoi.

 

As of the end of August, 45 percent of our Hanoi readers live in Tay Ho, up 11 percent from two years ago. Equally telling is the lack of readers still living in Hanoi’s central district, Hoan Kiem. In 2012 it was 23 percent, but now it has halved. The suburb in Hanoi that has benefitted is Cau Giay, the new city to the west. 13 percent of our readers now live out there.

 

There are many reasons for this changing demographic. One is certainly pollution — air quality is deemed to be better in the suburbs. Another is rental prices. In both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, they’ve gone down substantially. Whereas once houses in Saigon’s District 2 were going for VND100 million for a five-bedroom villa with security facilities and a swimming pool, now they can be found for half the price.
But the key reason is lifestyle. No matter how ‘charming’ this country’s street life may seem, and no matter how attractive the buzz of the city centre, we’re suckers for comfort.

 

It’s chicken and egg. Create the facilities, and people will move there. Without the facilities, people will stay put. In the case of this country, it’s gone hand in hand.

 

The Bandwagon

 

With entrepreneurs taking advantage of the general migration to the suburbs, there is now a new issue at stake. In Tay Ho there are seven or eight good restaurants — eateries that stand out from the competition. Yet many of these places struggle to survive. District 2 is in a similar boat.

 

Open more restaurants and bars, and while choice-wise it’s good for the consumer, it creates strain on an already difficult market. There just aren’t enough customers to go round, especially if you’re targeting foreigners. If there’s too much competition, then it can get dirty. Places that don’t have deep pockets, struggle with marketing or can’t play hardball will go bust.

 

Fair competition is positive. It creates innovation. It creates choice. But sometimes too much choice can be negative. — Nick Ross

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