Follow Lilian, Senior Marketing Manager of International Residential, on her team visit to Ho Chi Minh City to gain a better understanding of their upcoming project “VinHomes Golden River” and experience the city once known as Saigon first hand. She and the team packed in a visit to Savills Vietnam office, residential development sites including Golden River while taking time out to enjoy some local flavours, sites and heritage. She talks about surprises, investment opportunities and the charm of Vietnam.
One night in Saigon
While I am sitting at the airport waiting to board the flight to Ho Chi Minh City, I cannot help but think of the show “24 hour layover with Anthony Bourdain” as our International Residential team are undertaking their own whistle-stop tour of Ho Chi Minh City to see some of newest residential developments while taking the opportunity to get to know the city from street level. The next 32 hours did justice to HCMC by proving every bit as busy as the city itself…
09:30 Arrive to Ho Chi Minh City
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh early on Monday morning to be greeted by our friendly Vietnamese colleague Diego who accompanied us from the airport to our “just opened” City Centre hotel. During the journey from the airport as we drove from the outer suburbs to the centre of HCMC I started to get a feel for the bustling urban metropolis and its many moving parts, a real insight into local life. As scooters fight for space with taxis, trucks and luxury German cars I see first hand evidence of a city that’s frantic yet functional, from humble beginnings yet prosperous. HCMC is home to around 8m people and almost as many motorbikes and whilst 10 years ago it was common to see one family sharing a moped this is now no longer the norm. Cars used to be in the minority while these days a new Mercedes Benz fails to grab even the occasional glance.
11:00 Visit Savills Vietnam
Having stopped off briefly at our hotel we make our way to Savills HQ in Continental Tower, a Grade A office building in the heart of District 1 – the city’s CBD. Here we are introduced to Timo Schmidt (Head of International Residential Sales and Leasing) and Neil MacGregor (Managing Director, Vietnam) for the first time as they give us a tour of the office and make various introductions to our other colleagues, circa 50 of whom share the 18th floor. Following this we sit down for an introduction to the local property market and the city. Timo highlights items like the young, steadily increasing population and workforce, comparatively low labour costs, improvements in design and build, infrastructure change and a thriving economy as reasons for investment.
11:30 Timo’s tour of Districts 1 and 2
Next we make our way out for a bus tour of Districts 1 and 2 which Timo reliably informs us will form the centre for much of the new development and which are likely to garner the interest of international purchasers. With Government policy recently changed allowing foreigners to own homes in Vietnam new developments across the country are on the increase with foreign investors now forming a part (limited to 30% in all instances) of the target demographic for developers. International investment demand is also attracted to purchase real estate in a city where the economy has been on the rise for some time. Across Districts 1 and 2 features include modern skyscrapers, traditional shops, plots of high end residential and more basic housing in equal measure alongside busy marketplaces and street traders.
12:30 Visit to Vinhomes Golden River and The Nassim
While touring the districts we stop at two new development sites, the first is Vinhomes “Golden River,” a prime site in District 1 on the edge of the Saigon River which will form the home of an extensive regeneration scheme featuring sleek glass residential towers with full facilities, commercial and retail space, an international school, a marina and a stop on the new HCMC Metro line completing in 2020.
The marketing suite on-site is very impressive, a shiny boutique which resembles a 5 star hotel reception crossed with a French fashion store in a glitzy mall. Following this we move on to a site developed by Hong Kong Land (in conjunction with Sonkimland) in District 2 named The Nassim, presumably a nod to the high end road of the same name in Singapore. Their show suite is equally impressive, albeit a little more understated and set in an old colonial villa featuring a full show flat upstairs.
Having viewed show suites for new developments across the world, one thing was clear; the HCMC offerings are on a par with top investment locations like London, Tokyo and Sydney. The main difference we noticed between District 1 and 2 was the availability of land and a shift toward residential accommodation in the latter, whereas the more central District 1 was very much more about mixed use with commerce and retail perhaps more prevalent than residential.
13:30 Vietnamese coffee power up for a full afternoon
This had made for a busy morning, turned afternoon so we made our way to a late lunch on the Saigon River in District 7, another popular residential area, and here we ate a mixture of authentic Vietnamese dishes recommended by our local colleague Christine. During lunch there was a downpour typical of wet season, though it didn’t manage to tame our appetite and following a Vietnamese coffee (iced, with condensed milk, think very sweet and highly caffeinated) we were ready to continue our afternoon exploration.
Following a return to the office for further sales training on local rules and regulations (this is where the coffee did its job) we had some spare time to explore before dinner and I took the opportunity to visit Ben Thanh markets. Here I watched as some of my colleagues bartered for everything from Rolex watches to Pashmina scarves and the speciality local coffee; while I assume most knew the watches may not have been the real deal I’m not sure all fully understood the lifecycle of the “weasel coffee”! From Ben Thanh we made our way to Saigon Square, then got an aerial view of the city from the Bitexco Tower, the city’s most elaborate high rise (for now) then had a quick and inexpensive foot massage in plush wooden surroundings before dinner.
19:00 Seafood dinner
Dinner took place in a city centre seafood restaurant, my first impressions were that it was basic, unlike much of what we’d seen earlier in the day, however the food and the bill proved to be anything but! Clearly there is a premium to be paid for high quality seafood wherever you reside in Asia. This was followed by a quick nightcap in the Park Hyatt hotel, a favourite of Neil’s, before making our way home in anticipation of an early start on Tuesday.
09:00 Finally, some pho!
Tuesday consisted of meetings with three further Vietnamese developers interested in selling overseas including one from Da Nang, an altogether different proposition as the area is home to many luxury holiday villas and is somewhere which looks highly appealing to explore in the future. We then accepted an invitation to lunch on the condition that we got to sample a basic local restaurant and the illusive bowl of pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup in chicken/beef broth) we’d been craving since arrival, sadly it’s much better than the HK version we pay so much more for!
We ate in a tourist friendly restaurant called Pho 2000 which rose to prominence because of a visit from Bill Clinton in the year (you guessed it) 2000 however, despite the popularity there was nothing to detract from the local feel. Unfortunately this spelled the end of our trip and we made our way to the airport with a quick stop off at the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace en route to learn a little more about the city’s deep history and rather unfortunate recent past.
Given it’s proximity to Hong Kong, ease of access and wide variety of things to do when you get there I couldn’t recommend this as a weekend destination more, I’d love to have spent another 24 hours there as I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what HCMC has to offer. The same could perhaps be said about it’s investment potential and should you have any interest in Vietnam, HCMC or Golden River specifically please do not hesitate to get in contact with the team via IRS@savills.com.hk or +852 2842 2272.