Saigon's addresses are a riddle wrapped in a mystery

By Minh Tam   March 18, 2023 | 08:00 pm PT
HCMC's chaotic style of numbering addresses and multiple streets having the same names are a constant source of headache for citizens.

After motorbike-taxi driver Nguyen Van Nam dropped off his passenger at No. 60 Truong Dinh, he received an angry call from the person for dropping them off "at the wrong address." There was another No. 60 on the same road.

He says: "It is also on Truong Dinh Street, half of which is in District 1 and the other half in District 3. Numbers are duplicated, which led to the confusion."

The 50-year-old has been driving his motorbike on the streets of Saigon for over a decade.

Nam says he is familiar with the main streets in the downtown area but did not expect the bizarre numbering system.

It took him half an hour to finally find the right place and drop off the passenger.

Motorbike-taxi drivers are most wary about Phan Xich Long Street, which spans three wards in Phu Nhuan District, due to its chaotic numbering, he says.

"Each house has at least two numbers assigned to it. Two houses can be right next to each other, but their numbers can be very far apart. There can be two places on the same street with the exact same address, the only difference being they are in different wards."

Besides, the numbering also follows no rules. Normally in Vietnam, one side of the street has odd-numbered addresses and the other has even numbers.

But not on Phan Xich Long.

A restaurants address on Phan Xich Long Street, HCMC, is either 196 or 145. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

A restaurant's address on Phan Xich Long Street, HCMC, is either 196 or 145. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Hoa, who has been selling beverages on the street for over 10 years, says dozens of people approach her every day to ask for directions.

"If you go to Phan Xich Long, you have to find out which ward you are looking for. If you only focus on the house number, you will not find it. Some people follow maps, but they still cannot find the address and come to me."

One day in February Hien walked over 500 m to the end of her alley, 1806/127 Huynh Tan Phat Street in Nha Be, to receive a package she had ordered online.

"If I wait for people to deliver goods at my door, it will take all day," she says wistfully.

Her house address is enough to make one dizzy: 1806/127/2/6/15/46 Huynh Tan Phat Street, every slash meaning a smaller alley.

She moved into the place over a year ago but cannot remember all of it, and has a photo of the address to show people when asked.

"Even ride-hailing drivers cannot find the place," she says.

Nguyen Thanh Xuans house address on HCMCs Huynh Tan Phat Street is a long string of numbers. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Nguyen Thanh Xuan's house address on HCMC's Huynh Tan Phat Street is a long string of numbers. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Nguyen Thanh Xuan, 67, who lives in 1806/127/6/15/50 Huynh Tan Phat Street, says people in the neighborhood find it very difficult to call ambulances since outsiders cannot find their way. So, whenever something happens, people have to go all the way to the end of the alley to show the ambulance the way.

She says: "Every time my friends come over, I have to get out of the alley to pick them up. Once they reach the house, they are flabbergasted to see the house address, which is longer than a phone number. I no longer invite people to my house."

Numbers are not the only headache for people living in Saigon: There are many roads with the same name.

Tran Anh Tu, 29, who lives on Thong Nhat Street in Go Vap District, said last month a business partner was sitting in a restaurant on "Le Loi Street" and called him over to discuss business.

So he went to the well-known Le Loi Street in District 1 only to discover that his partner had meant the one in Go Vap District.

It had taken him two hours of running around while his partner had been waiting interminably too long, and eventually they decided to call it quits.

Phuong Uyen, 28, invited her friend from Dong Nai Province to a restaurant on Phan Van Tri Street in District 5 to celebrate the New Year. Since her friend had been there once before, Uyen simply sent her the address.

The friend came from Dong Nai, looked for the street on Google Maps, and reached Phan Van Tri.

But it was a street in Go Vap District, not District 5.

Uyen says: "When we managed to contact each another, we realized we were 10 km apart."

And that was that for their get-together.

The Department of Culture and Sports said HCMC has 311 roads with 132 names.

Head of the department's legacy management division, Hoang Nghi, says it is a historical issue.

In the past there were three separate administrative units: Gia Dinh Province, Saigon City and Cho Lon City. When the three merged to become HCMC, they simply retained the names of their roads.

Nghi says changes to road names need to be considered carefully, and only those with no historical or cultural significance can be changed.

The Center for Urbanism and Development Studies launched a project in 2012 for changing certain road names using the WebGIS database, one of the solutions for managing and analyzing maps and geographical data on the Internet.

But the city has yet to use WebGIS for data management, according to the HCMC Center for Applied GIS.

For people like Tran Anh Tu, all they want is for multiple roads to no longer share a name.

"Sometimes a small mistake costs us a business opportunity," he says.

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