Homogeneous Saigon

Cafe Terrace on the newly madeover Level 1, Saigon Centre
Saigon Centre (one of the city’s few ‘malls’) has had a makeover. Gone are all the baby shops on the first floor (to the dismay of all the parents), along with the handy little supermarket and not so handy pet accessory store, and in their place, a level devoted to fashion. Joining the sole original fashion store Mango are other international chains like Nine West, Kookai, La Senza, dermalogica and French Connection, along with outlets of local fashion heroes Valenciani and SONG. It’s shiny and new and there are funky chandeliers adorning the well-designed shops. It’s very chic and very un-Saigon. But I kind of like it.
American cafe chain The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has also recently opened shop in Saigon (with the latest branch looking right across to Notre Dame Cathedral) and shoestore Aldo is on its way, currently under construction on Dong Khoi Street. Which makes me wonder – is the influx of western brands and chain stores a good thing for Saigon? Or does it erode its character? 
Vietnamese people appear to embrace such brands with a passion and surely, these are signs that Saigon is progressing and modernising. For expats, modern conveniences are a plus too, meaning trips home or at least to Bangkok or Singapore may no longer be in order to stock up on all these ‘essential’ things. But some people may yearn for old-world Asia in Saigon – a city of cyclos and crumbling colonial buildings and quaint old coffee shops and an abundance of food carts (actually, that sounds like Hanoi). There are of course still pockets of all of these things in Saigon and probably always will be.
Personally, I think a dose of modernity would tarnish the old world feel of places like Luang Prabang in Laos, but in Saigon, newness is much more fitting. Construction here is unrelenting and if it’s all about the new then I may as well embrace it – so here’s my wishlist for future Saigon openings: Kinokuniya, iberry, Oportos, H&M, Forever 21, Zara & Zara Men, Muji, MAC, Kiehl’s and Lindt. And an exact replica of Siam Paragon (best Bangkok mall) if that’s not too much to ask!

11 Responses

  1. Jon Hoff May 29, 2009 / 3:21 pm

    I really hope Saigon doesn’t get taken over and that the opening of its markets to foreign companies will not destroy the home economy which is so so important for many. The supermarkets scare me most. I don’t want to see the day when the ‘local corner shop’ is muscled out by competition from some Korean department store…but it’ll be interested to see how the WTO and the opening of Vietnam’s markets to foreign companies goes.

  2. megan May 30, 2009 / 10:27 pm

    Your wishlist would totally be my wishlist too (when oh when will h&m come to australia!!)

    It’s a bit of a slippery slope I think – on the one hand, it’s good that Vietnam is embracing development, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of a more traditional way of life. Though on the other hand – why shouldn’t it? I think it all comes down to finding a balance. 🙂

  3. Baron's Life May 31, 2009 / 1:09 am

    a superbly well written story blending old and new, locals and expats, tradition and nouveau monde..I read some passages 3 times to enjoy the flavor of the experience…
    Are you planning an article on Local Massages and also on the traditional Mud Bath.

  4. jen laceda May 31, 2009 / 2:16 pm

    I hope Saigon could strike a balance–to have both international and local brands side by side. Perhaps with the influx of international companies, more locals would be inspired to up the ante and lift their game when it comes to their products / crafts. And I certainly hope they infuse Vietnamese design styles or elements in building their malls or stores (like your photo above). I would hate it if stores would all look homogenized. Are people infusing Vietnamese elements into the shops?

  5. Yoli June 1, 2009 / 1:19 am

    I always yearn for the old, the homegrown, places in benign decay.

  6. A Girl in Asia June 1, 2009 / 2:09 am

    Hi Jon – yes it will be interesting to see what happens…and I agree it will be a shame if large supermarkets wipe out the family run stores but I have a feeling there’ll remain a balance.

    Megan – I know – where’s H&M in Oz?!

    Megan, Baron & Jen – I also agree balance is the ideal scenario, a blend of conveniences that will improve peoples lives without being at the expense of local businesses.

    Yoli – A part of me also prefers the old…

  7. A Girl in Asia June 1, 2009 / 4:08 am

    Oh and Baron – hopefully some spa/massage reviews to come but need to explore this side of Saigon a little more. Haven’t encountered mud baths here though, have only seen them on offer in Nha Trang..

    And Jen – Vietnamese design isn’t really incorporated into the new western/chain stores (as far as I’ve seen anyway), they’re pretty much the same as you’d find anywhere which is a bit of a shame. I guess they have a brand image to stick to! But the idea that it will maybe help some local brands improve standards is valid.. I recently went into a shoe shop that looked great from the outside (it was a local brand) and inside the shoes were marked as US$100 plus, but were of the tacky vinyl variety you’d expect to find for $5 in a market. Cheap crap masquerading as westernised, trendy shoes – interesting that they’d think if they made a cool storefront and whacked an expensive pricetag on their product they could pretend their shoes were of the same standard. So with instances like this it’s no wonder people are embracing international brands here!

  8. K @ Blog Goggles June 4, 2009 / 8:50 am

    Such a great debate. I’ve never been to Saigon, so not sure about there.

    Luckily, Hong Kong (where I live) has little to no history or character, so the spread of chains doesn’t really hurt much.

  9. A Girl in Asia June 8, 2009 / 3:03 am

    Hi K – Hong Kong is definitely a different world to Saigon. I do think it has character though :-). Love your blog!

  10. Des July 22, 2009 / 1:02 pm

    Excellent post. That constant push-pull between tradition and modern is a really interesting topic. And wow, this blog is outstanding. I used to live in Seoul and this blog brings back some great memories of living abroad.

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