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CREDIT: Ruth Morris ARPS

A date with demolition

Ruth Morris ARPS photographs Ho Chi Minh City’s disappearing history


The images were taken during a 7 day trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam just before the 2020 lockdowns started to be enforced. My purpose was to start a visual record of historic buildings and as I’d lived in HCMC between 2003-7 I had some local knowledge and local friends to direct me to interesting sites. It is estimated that at least 60% of Vietnam's historic buildings have already been demolished.


Little or no preservation or renovation of old buildings is happening, history is being raised to the ground, partly because very few old buildings are documented or recognised as being important.Many more French colonial & Art Deco buildings in HCMC will disappear in the next few years as well as some later but still important architecture from the 1960’s & 70’s.


Having a specific title in mind kept me focused on getting the images I needed; HCMC is full of distractions, including taking your life in your hands whenever you cross a road! Carrying a bulky camera around is hot work so it helps if you know where you are going.


Building’s whose history I learned about during this project included the American Embassy, the old school building on Ly Tu Trong and in District 4 an original tenement, building, ‘Chung Cu’, dating back to the 1920’s. Some of the buildings have never been modernised since they were built, some are unsafe, but all are loved by local residents. The pace of change in HCMC is relentless, the land that developers are not interested in are the only places that are safe from being bought up and built on.


During the French occupation of Vietnam, 26 Ly Tu Trong, District 1, was lived in by French administrators and business people; currently it houses boutique shops & cafes. The top floor still has some local residents and the building retains original features such as an incredible old lift and beautiful yellow and blue tiled floors. The original bullet proof mesh protection at the back of the building still remains. Definitely worth a visit if you can get there.


Many historic buildings have within them beautiful, nostalgic restaurants and coffee shops. Quan cafe, on the 3rd floor, 9 Thai Van Lung, Q1, is one such building. Most of the features are completely original and they serve great coffee! Looking out of the cafe window you can see a spiral staircase dating back to the French colonial era, still in daily use, but for how much longer?


I return to Vietnam every 5 years, when I go back I love to wander and observe all the changes. On this trip I got caught up in the emotion of how much history is being lost but I feel I have contributed to recording some of the buildings of this great city. My interest in social history will continue to provide me with interesting possibilities for photography projects at home in Singapore & when I can all travel again.


More information about these images can be found in my blog