President Hotel - Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam

Laurent Weyl

A large complex of 8 towers of 13 floors each. A city within a city, with shops, cafes, barbers, kindergartens, was a sort of village self in autarky.

Built in the late '60s, it was hired by the American army during the war.

Rich in history, it is now disused. The remaining 130 families (out of 600 that used to live there) are rearranged into new apartments nearby.

Before being rehoused or compensated, the last inhabitants of President Hotel tell their tale. And unravel the last thread of a story that merges with Vietnam’s history.

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  • In the distance, the Bitexco tower, the highest and most modern in Hô Chi Minh City, with its helicopter landing pad and the luxury of its space. The urban and social contrast is blatant. Soon this building will be demolished and probably replaced by a luxury apartment tower or a shopping mall, a sign of the times in a country undergoing an economic boom.

  • This family has little means and cooks as they would in the country, on a coal stove. To do this, she sets it up in front of her room on a long, narrow outside passageway.

  • 1st floor in café Bun Bo Hue during a power cut.

  • Nowadays only a few businesses remain open, like this hairdresser which set up on the 1th floor more than four years ago. The expropriated and rehoused inhabitants from the building next door have maintained their habits and come and have their hair cut in the President Hotel. After the cut, the hairdresser also cleans the client’s ears.

  • This pool on top of the building hasn’t been maintained since the Americans left. Only Mr Dung has access to it in order to clean the water tanks daily. To get there, he has to go up to the 12th floor where the GIs had a dance floor that is now abandoned. On the 30th April 1975, the roof became a helicopter landing pad to take the last remaining American soldiers who were fleeing.

  • Mr Hoang Long is an ex-singer with Vietnam’s Popular Army opera. He is waiting to be rehoused, like the other 130 remaining families in the building. This attentive grandfather walks his grandchildren down the corridor of the building.

  • A young boy takes the stairs on the ground floor. At this point, he is between two towers and stares at the façades and windows to check that no-one throws their rubbish or bin out without looking. For several years the shared parts of the building have been cleaned from time to time when the inhabitants all club together.

  • When 400 families left, many students sublet a room in the building. The price is very reasonable. The inhabitants prefer having the rooms full rather than empty, which also limits squatters and burglars. The rent helps pay for the upkeep of the building.

  • In the staircase this graffiti is found on several floors. « Ma » means ghost. The building is thought to be haunted and the inhabitants willingly believe in the ghosts that haunt many Vietnamese legends.

  • Many inhabitants say that the building is haunted. An idea that gels perfectly with this large, inhospitable building at nightfall.

  • The building is built like a kind of bunker where no windows look out. This allows the building to be kept cool and well-ventilated as the sun practically never penetrates it.

  • The building’s façade, on Tran Hung Dao road, is the only side of the building with windows facing out.

  • The eight towers are linked on each floor by a long transversal corridor. It is so wide that it lends itself to various sports or business activities.

  • A small café-restaurant whose nickname is Bun Bo Hue (a popular soup in Vietnam) on the 1st floor. We meet Mrs Bac Thayh Thuy there (with grey hair), an ex-set designer with the state theatre group Doan Cai Luong Bo.

  • In Vietnam, the limit between public and private spaces is vague. The Vietnamese live a community life, under the gaze of others, with the door open. It is common to take over the public space in front of your home. Here it is the building’s corridors.