Knock 'em down. The houses in Thu Thiem went under the hammer in 2012

In 2012 the bulldozers moved in, and soon the east end of Ho Chi Minh City would be indelibly changed. Words and photos by Nick Ross


I missed the period when the bulldozers first entered Thu Thiem. I was living close to downtown at the time, and rarely ventured east of the Saigon River. But when I finally caught on to the destruction of a major part of Saigon, I went to explore.


My memory of those 2012 trips to Thu Thiem is vivid, indelibly mixed with visions of rubble. Bulldozers and rubble. But the question that struck me as residents had their houses torn down was not where the people of Thu Thiem would go — some were resettled in temporary accommodation, others took their compensation and moved elsewhere. Rather it was the pagodas. Would they stay? Or would they be sacrificed in the name of progress?


Progress won. And except for one temple hidden away in the mangroves, and another right opposite the Bitexco Tower, the rest were razed to the ground. Saigon 2.0 was on its way. And to get there, sacrifices — both human and physical — had to be made.

Before the bulldozers moved in during 2012 

Three Years Later


Yet city-changing projects take time. And in this instance, it meant doing things in stages. Long, drawn-out stages. For two years nothing happened. Thu Thiem became an overgrown wasteland, one that I would drive though almost daily, one that I would come to love. It was wild, unkempt and untouched. It was my secret garden, a place to find solitude in a city that offered none.


Then in mid-2014 the wastelands were once again given a purpose. The developers moved in, tearing away the rubble, the undergrowth and the wetlands. For a second time I came out with my camera to document the area.


This time I went to catch change. Before, after and somewhere in between. It’s an ongoing project, something I feel lucky to witness. Never before have I seen a city so utterly destroyed and then rebuilt. I will probably never see it again. But what I love most is what came in between.

In February 2015, the wetlands were cut down

A soon-to-be-completed apartment block just off Mai Tho Highway close to Thu Thiem

A construction site next to the east bank of the Saigon River

The man on the motorcycle has an issue with me taking photos. He comes over to tell me to stop

The cranes are as much a presence on the Saigon skyline as the high-rises

Nick Ross

Chief editor and co-founder of Word Vietnam, Nick Ross was born in the humble city of London before moving to the less humble climes of Vietnam. His wanderings have taken him to definitely not enough corners of the globe, but being a constant optimist, he still has hopes.


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