Goodbye, Bui Vien?

Blogs - Saigon/HCMC: Feb. 21, 2018

When Steve Kinlough, owner and proprietor of The Crazy Dutch on Bui Vien, thought about closing up shop, he didn’t think it would be like this. After two years operating his bar and hostel on the world-famous backpacker hangout, Kinlough announced on January 24 to his loyal band of patrons that he was closing up shop.

He’s not pursuing other business options or retiring. The rent has been raised VND13 million, from a previous VND45 million to VND58 million.

It’s not a rare story on a street currently getting a tourist-friendly facelift, but it’s one that’s unsustainable for small business purveyors like himself.

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“I asked, ‘How are we going to add 13 million, with a small bar downstairs and some private rooms?’” Kinlough said. “We would really need to jack up all our drinks and food and everything. We won’t do it. Nobody else [on Bui Vien] is doing that, so we’re not going to start doing that.”

As rent prices grow and business faces shift, what will Bui Vien look like when the prices start to level off and the game of real estate musical chairs finally stops?

Walking Street of Dreams

As tourism in the country steadily rises—13 million tourists arrived in the country in 2017, the highest number in Vietnam’s history—pressures have been mounting to increase the quality of attractions to keep visitors entertained.

This agenda culminated last year with the decision to turn Bui Vien into a pedestrian walking street every Saturday and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. The city spent VND13 billion on upgrades, including granite pavement, free WiFi and public toilets to make Bui Vien more appealing to a larger variety of spenders.

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The decision to do so has paid dividends. Some 2,000 people visit the site on high-traffic days, though for Kinlough, the extra foot traffic hasn’t led to extra business. “It’s a lot of [foot] traffic,” he said, talking about the decision to block off the street to vehicles. “The only thing is that mostly Vietnamese people come down here, and they don’t come in, they just look. I don’t think we’ve had one or two Vietnamese customers in since the walking street thing.”

With a different target clientele, bigger, more mainstream companies have zeroed in on the area.

Kinlough suspects that in the coming years, we’ll likely see less hole-in-the-wall pubs and more two-storey nightclub bars, which have been doing well among travellers passing through the city.

According to VNExpress, land prices on Bui Vien have increased 34.7 to 130 percent, and the real estate values of surrounding areas have likewise followed suit.

Keep on Walking

Due to the popularity of the walking street, plans are being established to expand the zone and lengthen the time. The city government of District 1 has recently proposed to extend the pedestrian zone to three days a week instead of two, and expand the walking zone section to Nguyen Quang Dau. De Tham has also been earmarked for possible pedestrian expansion.

Although Kinlough has begun to consider running another business in Saigon, Bui Vien has lost its appeal. Instead, he has been looking towards the other side of Tran Hung Dao as well. “I think we might start a little coffee shop, a hole in the wall, on Co Bac, or somewhere near there,” he said.

As speculation continues, chances are Co Bac will be a Bui Vien Jr in the coming years.

Video source: Kênh Tổng hợp

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