Billed as Vietnam’s premier central business district, Thu Thiem is poised to be a fulcrum of life in Ho Chi Minh City in the decades to come
Once a vast area of swampland on the opposite side of the Saigon River from District 1, Thu Thiem has witnessed one of Asia’s most radical transformations in recent times. With master planning by design and architecture firm Sasaki, the riverside peninsula will act as the southern hub’s new central business district while harbouring some of its most coveted real estate. It’s a component of the planned Thu Duc City, a “city within a city” that is expected to be a major driver for Vietnam’s future economic growth. Indeed, it is projected that activity in Thu Duc will generate one-third of the GDP in Ho Chi Minh City. Whatever the outcomes, it seems fair to say that Thu Thiem will be one of the hottest addresses in south Vietnam for years to come.
The Opera Residence
This high-end development by SonKim Land is the third phase of the Metropole Thu Thiem project which also incorporates the mixed-use Galleria and Crest Residences. Named for its proximity to the famous Saigon Opera House in District 1, it enjoys the most enviable location of all three addresses, occupying a riverside situation next to the new Thu Thiem Bridge, allowing easy access to the action on the other side of the river. The building’s design, with two 20-storey towers (“Scala” and “Massimo”) projecting from the fourth floor, encourages the interplay of natural light with its mirrored surfaces. It also emphasises ecology. A 50-metre rooftop pool is interlaced with pathways and trees (alongside several other sporting facilities). The Opera Residence’s 646 impeccably designed units could very well become Thu Thiem’s most prestigious address upon its opening in early 2023.
In the heart of the Thu Thiem peninsula, Empire City— a 14.6-hectare development led by Singapore’s Keppel Land, along with Hong Kong and Vietnamese partners—brings an integrated mega-project to Mai Chi Toh Street in the new CBD. The sprawling colossus avails itself of the area’s greatly improved infrastructure, offering ease of lifestyle, entertainment/retail options, and business. A total of 3,000 apartments are strewn across numerous blocks in various stages of completion (Linden, Narra, Cove, and Tilia), divided between one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units, duplexes, and penthouses. The living quarters are complemented by a dazzling array of luxurious leisure amenities (tennis court, and 50-metre pool), topped by an expansive riverside park as well as access to the project’s lofty, hotly anticipated centrepiece, Empire 88 tower.
Broma – Not a Bar
A smattering of bars is under construction in Thu Thiem. But District 1 is still the go-to spot for beers and more sophisticated adult beverages. One of the finest bars is Broma on Nguyen Hue Street. Recommended by World’s Best Bars, the double-deck venue is famed for live music, comedy shows, televised sporting events, and dazzling views. Party animals can partake of bespoke cocktails or menu favourites like the Earthquake (tequila, amaretto, blackberry and blue Curaçao) or the Rum Bo Hue (rum, cinnamon and chilli). A selection of international craft beers, meanwhile, keep discerning boozers happy. The alluring décor of leather benches, candles and fairy lights is offset by design quirks including a 3-metre fluorescent fish tank.
La Haye Kitchen & Bar
For now, the standalone restaurant scene in Thu Thiem remains somewhat muted. One notable success story is La Haye, a fusion restaurant that combines European techniques (primarily French and Italian) with Japanese ingredients and flavours. Creative menu selections include conchiglioni duck ragù and mussel pasta with cream sauce, while the warm-toned hues and faintly rustic ambience exert enough pulling power to ensure that La Haye is successful enough to justify a recent second outlet in the luxurious riverfront development Diamond Island. Occasional themed party nights, live music and specially created cocktails help seal the deal.
Thu Thiem Parish Church and Lovers of the Holy Cross Convent
These two institutions were awarded protected-heritage status in 2019, safeguarding both sites from the CBD construction. Over the years, both buildings have been reconstructed many times. Most structures standing today are from recent decades, except the church rectory, dating from 1875—an example of early vernacular French colonial architecture—and a tamarind tree remaining from the initial 1830s convent building. The widespread persecution of their religion forced Catholic nuns from the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross to flee to Thu Thiem, and the church’s first iteration was built in 1859. Both church and convent helped develop Saigon’s schools, hospitals and clinics. Many nuns also worked as teachers, and the church constructed two primary schools. The order expanded from 23 nuns in 1840 to 340 in 1960, educating more than 8,500 children.
Central Plaza and Socar Mall
The focal point not just of Empire City, but of Saigon’s new CBD, will be Empire 88 tower—the latest creation of German starchitect Ole Scheeren, the figure behind Singapore’s Interlace and Bangkok’s MahaNakhon Tower. Comprising first-class offices (36 storeys) and residences (34), as well as hotels, its undulating exterior is designed to resemble rice terraces, topped by a terrarium, Cloud Space, a tropical plant-strewn events venue doubling as an observation deck. Along Empire 88’s base runs a public park, Central Plaza, which will provide ample riverside space for pedestrians. Further inland, Socar Mall is already completed, hosting cinemas, supermarkets, leading cosmetic brands, food courts, and an events venue.
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