Incomplete Hanoi mall packed with crowds

By Quynh Nguyen   August 16, 2023 | 04:00 am PT
Vietnamese are hanging out at the largest shopping center in Hanoi even though most of its attractions aren’t open yet, a fact researchers attribute to the nation’s traditional “communal culture.”

Bich Huong and two other friends traveled 40 kilometers from Hanoi’s neighboring province of Bac Ninh to a newly opened shopping complex in the capital’s Tay Ho District.

Like everyone else who’s been visiting the mall since it’s soft-opening last week, they knew the facility was incomplete, and most of it’s attractions had not opened yet.

"I couldn’t wait until the mall’s official opening because I heard people say this is Hanoi’s biggest shopping mall," Huong explained.

Knowing that the mall was still under construction, the 29-year-old woman was surprised to see it full of guests.

"It was even hard to find a spot without people passing by to take a photo," she said.

People flock to a shopping mall in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District on August 8, 2023, despite that it had not been fully completed. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

People flock to a shopping mall in Hanoi’s Tay Ho District on August 8, 2023, despite the fact that it is still under construction. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Thanh Ha, 32, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter were three other guests visiting the mall. She said as much as 90% of the shops were empty and visitors had nothing to do other than wander around the place looking at the ceiling and the walls.

At times, there were even lines of people queued up and waiting to do so.

"Despite that, the building has been full of visitors every day, especially after 7 p.m. Escalators and elevators are filled up with people," she said. "I don’t know why so many people visit a building still in its ‘soft opening’ phase."

Dang Hien, 21, paid VND280,000 (around $12) for a ticket to the aquarium in the building, which is said to have the largest curved acrylic tank in Southeast Asia.

"The ticket price was relatively high, but I thought it was still a bargain given that the aquarium operator promised that it was home to as many as 31,000 marine species," she said.

Hien visiting the complex’s indoor aquarium on August 1, 2023. Photo courtesy of Hien

Hien visiting the complex’s indoor aquarium on August 1, 2023. Photo courtesy of Hien

Many other families with children queued at the aquarium entrance to get their tickets. Many people said they had to wait almost one hour to buy tickets. Still, the aquarium reported it had sold around 4,000 tickets since the complex opened to the public.

Psychologists attributed the phenomenon of people gathering at new places to Vietnamese people’s curiosity about new things.

Dr. Hoang Trung Hoc, head of the Department of Psychology and Education at the National Academy of Education Management, said Vietnamese culture originated from a wet rice civilization, which is characterized by the need to connect, share, and stay highly collective.

Because of that, current generations tend to pay a lot of attention to phenomena that attract interest from the larger community, including the "opening of the biggest shopping mall in Hanoi."

Dr. Do Minh Cuong, deputy director of the Institute of Business Culture, Vietnam Association for the Development of Corporate Culture, added that the trend of visiting entertainment complexes in their soft opening period also reflected Hanoi’s rising demand for entertainment, which experts say the capital city is in short supply of these days.

Some of these visitors were also believed to have been visiting out of their "fear of missing out," the desire to have new photos to share, or to avoid the scorching heat outdoors.

Seats inside the building being fully occupied on August 8, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Seats inside the building fully occupied on August 8, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Despite this being a positive trend, Cuong warned that visitors should be aware of risks like theft or dangers posed by incomplete infrastructure during their visits. He suggested that local authorities, the complex’s board of management, and the project’s investors should join hands to draw up a plan to prevent the unwanted or unforeseen consequences of opening a massive yet incomplete facility to the public.

"People should keep in mind that the infrastructure has not been fully completed as well," Cuong said. "They should thoroughly research what the complex has to offer, so as to not be disappointed in case actual facilities are not fully open yet."

Hien’s experience, for one, could have been better if she had known about what Cuong said before arriving at the complex.

She was disappointed to see no traces of sharks and penguins in the aquarium, unlike what the facility had advertised. There were even plastic jellyfish in several tanks.

"I thought everything was ready because the aquarium had publicly opened," she said. "But the reality was far from what was promised. You should probably visit the place in one or two months, when they have finished importing the creatures to avoid the waste of money."

Ha’s family also got exhausted wandering up and down the building’s seven empty floors.

"We will probably come back when everything has been finished setting up, in order to get the best experience," she said.

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