Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is a centuries old city located in southern Vietnam. Its storied, war torn past and huge population density guarantees it to be a ghost filled wonderland.
Since we are currently touring this region, we thought it apropos to visit the famously haunted Thuan Kieu Plaza ‘ghost towers’ located in District 5. Thuan Kieu Plaza is a $55 million apartment and shopping mall complex developed in 1998 by Hong Kong-owned Kings Harmony International Limited and Saigon Real Estate Corporation.
The 100,000-square meter plaza features three 33-story towers containing 650 apartments, a three story mall, and is located on Hong Bang Street in the economically prime downtown area. At the time, it was the tallest residential building in the city and was expected to make a mint for its investors. So what could go wrong?
Apparently, a number of things could, and did go wrong for Thuan Kieu Plaza, turning it from an upscale apartment complex into an abandoned edifice riddled with malevolent spirits and bad juju. Locals have reported hearing strange noises coming from inside the building at night, crying from the mall elevators, and encounters with creepy people. A mysterious fire occurred during construction, and legend states that financial shortcuts by management, resulting in fatal accidents, led to workers placing a curse on the building.
Another two fires, in 2004 and 2009, occurred in restaurants inside the mall. Also, a man shot his girlfriend, then killed himself, in one of these restaurants – their ghosts allegedly could be heard still wandering and groaning in the building. Others report seeing a Chinese woman, wearing a cheongsam, moving through the building without touching the ground.
Owners claim to suffer from dreams of fires and ghosts taunting them throughout the night. Some of them have, apparently, become stressed and sickened for days by these encounters. Some locals claim that the buildings themselves collect and keep the ghosts in this part of town. How did such a thing come to be?
Approaching the plaza by taxi, one can see its three green towers from blocks away, looming over the older and smaller buildings of Cholon, the mostly Chinese section of Ho Chi Minh City. Right from the start, the towers give off an eerie vibe, their presence certainly imposing. In a way, the structure gives the impression of a large ship. And this, according to some, is one of its problems.
People claim that Thuan Kieu Plaza suffers from an egregious case of bad fengshui. Fengshui is, of course, a Chinese philosophical system for harmonizing architecture with the ‘invisible forces’ of the surrounding environment. Apparently, the architects did reference a grand sailing ship in the design, but its three oversized “masts” made it prone to sinking. In addition, a street bisects the middle of the complex, symbolically sending a torpedo into its hull.
The plaza’s fengshui problems don’t stop there. The three towers, when viewed from a distance, resemble three large incense sticks. In Vietnam, incense is burned only for the dead and, it is feared, these towers act as a beacon to call, and trap, all the spirits in the surrounding area.
As a result of all this negativity, the project, which promised to make investors bank, fell on hard times. Sure, it started off well. According to local real estate agent A Ly, when the building opened in 1998, many bought apartments and rented shops there. At US$40,000 average per apartment, and VND160,000-200,000 to lease a store, Thuan Kieu Plaza was a good deal.
But soon after, according to Ly, owners began to resell or rented out apartments, complaining of a “stuffy” and “dark” atmosphere” inside the building. By 2006, no one was buying into the complex. By 2009, all the stores in the mall were empty, and two of the three towers were abandoned. The third tower contained at best a dozen inhabitants.
Perhaps, though, Thuan Kieu Plaza’s problems stem less from magical causes and, have more to do with bad economic foresight. Speaking with Tuoi Tre News, architect Luu Trong Hai, one of the original consultants for the project, said the building was built and designed to capture investment by immigrants from Hong Kong who were then expected to flee HK in droves, as a result of the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. But the immigrants never came over.
The building was designed smaller than average, at 2.7 meters high, a compact size Hong Kongers are accustomed to. That, and its location in the Chinese hub of Cholon, was the strategy investors hoped would pay off big, but they miss-calculated. To make matters worst, the apartments were overpriced for their target market. Thuan Kieu Plaza was a bust every way you looked at it.
Arriving at Thuan Kieu Plaza, I was expecting an abandoned burnt out cinder block but what I encountered was something totally different. The complex today is a thriving, active oasis – most of the shops in the three story mall were open, people were everywhere, and many of the apartments have been renovated and resold to new occupants. And, there were no ghosts to be found anywhere.
It turns out that, after twenty years of neglect, Thuan Kieu Plaza has just recently been bought out by new owners, renovated and reopened. The new owners are An Dong Corp and they have big plans for the future of the complex. Certainly, the plaza was lively and bustling with restaurants and shops. The few people I spoke to had no recall of ghost stories attached to the place. One security guard, however, did explain to me that the new owners had priests come in to dispel the hex that was earlier placed on the property. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake, that magic holds.
Story by Andrew Arnett