Show must go on: Saigon's Bui Vien Street stays open under construction rubble

By Quynh Tran   June 22, 2017 | 11:25 am GMT+7

Vendors are trying to cover up the construction mess to stop visitors from turning away.

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Trucks and diggers can be seen along Bui Vien as the city rushes to turn the city’s famous backpacker street in District 1 into a pedestrian zone, making it the second in the city after Nguyen Hue. Stages for music performances, surveillance cameras, security guards, free wifi and public toilets will cost the city an estimated VND13 billion ($572,300) a year.

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Construction workers are returning the street to the vendors by 5 p.m. each day, leaving them to clear up or cover up the mess before the first customers show up.

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Bui Vien will be reserved exclusively for pedestrians from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from July 15. The city said it wants to have better control of the popular tourist area, which pulls in around 2,000 tourists on its best days and earns the city more than VND37 billion a year.

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A woman covers the unfinished road with canvas and cardboard boxes before laying out her tables. She said she's been forced to cover up the mess because potential customers have been turning away, saying it’s “dirty”.

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A woman lays a small 'bridge' into her shop.

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This bar hires construction workers to cover the sidewalk with wooden panels, which cost nearly VND10 million ($440).

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Sand bags are piled up as makeshift stairs into the bar.

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“It takes me more than an hour to clean this mess up every evening,” said a restaurant owner.

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A restaurant owner waits for customers at 6 p.m. “Normally the restaurant would be crowded by now, but since the construction started, customer numbers have dropped around 30 percent.”

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Vendors say it’s not just the construction mess that is putting off foreign visitors; the drastic sidewalk campaign launched a couple months ago also pushed many of them away. The backpacker precinct is known for its street spirit. It is where all lines blur – between private and public spaces, between grill bars and sidewalks, between streets and dance floors.