Thuan Kieu Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City's China Town. Photos: Dinh Quan
When Thuan Kieu Plaza, a complex of apartment towers and shopping mall in Ho Chi Minh City's China Town, was built in 1998, A Ly, a local real estate agent, did quite well.
Many people came looking to buy an apartment or rent a shop in the city's then tallest and most upscale building, regardless of high prices, he said. Apartments were sold for an average of US$40,000 and stores were leased at VND160,000-200,000, or $11-14, per square meter.
However, soon many customers left after reselling or renting out their apartments since they could not stand the "stuffy" and "dark" atmosphere inside, Ly said.
Since 2006 almost no one has come to ask about buying apartments or renting shops, he said.
The situation worsened when ghost stories began to emerge after a restaurant fire in 2009, though there were no casualties in the incident, he said.
Now, 17 years after its headline-grabbing opening, Thuan Kieu Plaza, a $55-million development by Hong Kong-owned Kings Harmony International Limited and Saigon Real Estate Corporation, is nearly abandoned.
Visiting the building this week Thanh Nien found that all the shops were closed and two of the three apartment towers, each with 33 floors, were uninhabited.
Even in the other tower, only a dozen apartments are occupied, but not for much longer it appears since people seem to be moving out.
A source from the city construction department said An Dong, a subsidiary of conglomerate Van Thinh Phat, recently bought the complex for VND600 billion ($26.49 million) after six years of negotiations.
Ho Xuan Dung, deputy CEO of An Dong Company, said it plans to renovate the buildings but has not yet decided whether to fix parts that are no longer "suitable" or demolish all the buildings and build anew.
Dung also said his company could continue to rent out offices, apartments, and shops after the renovation in accordance with the complex's intended use.
What could be wrong?
All stores are closed in Thuan Kieu shopping mall
Despite being located in a prime area in China Town, which includes Districts 5, 6, and 11, Thuan Kieu Plaza was a failure due negative feng shui features that turned customers away, many people have claimed.
The three apartment towers were originally designed like the Chinese characters for mountain, but somehow ended up looking like three huge incense sticks, they said. Since incense is used only for the deceased, the buildings have attracted many ghosts, they said.
Stories about ghosts haunting Thuan Kieu Plaza are legion not just in the neighborhood but even in the media. Strange noises at night, cries in elevators, strange phone calls, encounters with creepy-looking people are among the common stories.
Some said the complex looks like a small ship with oversized masts, thus prone to sinking. Moreover, a street that runs between the buildings looks like it has poked a hole in the ship.
The feng shui mistakes could not be fixed even by famous experts who its investors reportedly brought from China, according to rumors.
A side entrance to Thuan Kieu Plaza
In a recent interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper, architect Luu Trong Hai, who was among consultants for Thuan Kieu Plaza project, said the buildings were designed specifically for Hong Kongers with very small apartments with ceilings only about 2.7 meters high.
It had been obviously aimed at what seemed an imminent wave of immigrants from Hong Kong when the territory was handed over to China in 1997, but in the end no one came, he said.
So, eventually, the best way out for Thuan Kieu Plaza had been to target residents in China Town, he said. But not everyone could afford to buy such expensive apartments, and those who had the money felt the design was not good enough, he said.
When the project began, many experts had advised the investors to revise the design, making them bigger so they would be appropriate for Vietnam's climate, but they had rejected the suggestion, Hai said.