The rapid rise and fall of Hanoi's Zone 9

| 21 Jan 2014
, 2 Comments
21 Jan 2014

It's only a few months since Hanoi's cultural life, nightlife and architectural heritage got a major boost with the opening of Zone 9. Now it's suddenly closed.


One of the most exciting developments in Vietnam's capital Hanoi in 2013, was the opening of a new art, fashion, cafe and nightlife precinct known as Zone 9.

But before it even reached its 6 month anniversary, it was closed down in December by city officials.

Zone 9 brought together all the elements of a great public space. It was set in a complex of old industrial buildings that tracked Hanoi's development from colonial times.

The amazing architectural tale of Zone 9 with French era buildings on the left and a Soviet style former pharmaceutical factory on the right.
Photo: Mark Bowyer The amazing architectural tale of Zone 9 with French era buildings on the left and a Soviet style former pharmaceutical factory on the right.
Zone 9 is an architectural wonder as much as anything else.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Zone 9 is an architectural delight as much as anything else.



The buildings tell the story.

There are early twentieth century French colonial structures, another from the final decades of colonial rule and another, a pharmaceutical factory, built in Soviet style. It's hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a cultural and entertainment space. The whole place was a tourism godsend in a city so lacking in nightlife and cultural venues.

More remarkable than the setting though, was the delight with which Hanoi's young people created and nurtured the place. In a few short months, Zone 9 was transformed into one of South East Asia's most vibrant public spaces. Young designers, artists, photographers and entrepreneurs flooded in to show off their ideas. It was an outpouring of long pent-up, young, local, creative energy.

Exhibition at Work Room 4, Zone 9, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Exhibition at Work Room 4, Zone 9, Hanoi

 

Rustic boutique, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Rustic boutique, Hanoi
Quirky small bar, Zone 9
Photo: Mark Bowyer Quirky small bar, Zone 9



But there were problems. In November, six workers were killed in a workplace fire tragedy while fitting out a new nightclub.

Then there were wider concerns about health and safety.

Health and safety issues, like labour accidents and traffic accidents, are part and parcel of life in Vietnam. And addressing Zone 9's most obvious health and safety violations, like stairways without railings, would not have been an onerous task.

There must have been other issues.

Zone 9 was an organic creation - something the city's young people can be proud of. But Vietnam's powers like things that are top-down.

Zone 9 probably never made it onto any city masterplan. Public spaces and cultural spaces rarely seem to.

And the rapid embrace that the area received from thousands of young locals as well as expats and tourists, might have caught the city fathers off guard.

Florist, Zone 9
Photo: Mark Bowyer Florist, Zone 9
The Zone 9 mascot.
Photo: Mark Bowyer The Zone 9 mascot.

 

A tourist receives a rose for Women's Day. 2013. Zone 9.
Photo: Mark Bowyer A tourist receives a rose for Women's Day. 2013. Zone 9.

 

District 1 Cafe, Zone 9, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer District 1 Cafe, Zone 9, Hanoi
Cafe life, Zone 9
Photo: Mark Bowyer Cafe life, Zone 9


I first visited in August and then returned in October. In two months, there were more than a dozen new outlets.

It was a breath of fresh air when so many of the symbols of Vietnam's economic development have been vacuous displays of wealth. It gave voice to a sophisticated homegrown cultural and creative sensibility that is masked by the conspicuousness of cosmetic surgery, Louis Vuitton and Gucci outlets and other flashy symbols of crass consumption.



Zone 9 was the kind of community space that helps to define a city. And most city governments have to plan and nurture them. Hanoi managed to get one with its eyes closed. Other cities would have looked on jealously.

With any luck, Zone 9 will be revived. The city's leaders are shutting down something that both locals and tourists are crying out for.

The imagination of Vietnam's tourism officials rarely extends beyond cable cars, casinos, shopping malls and golf courses. Which is probably why Zone 9 never made it onto their radar. Yet here was something uniquely Hanoian in its character. It served a desperate tourism need in the city. Beer corner might be an amusing novelty but surely Hanoi can do better?

Beer corner's fun. Is it really enough?
Photo: Mark Bowyer Beer corner's fun. Is it really enough?

 

Long starved of nightlife, tourists and locals flocked to Zone 9's Barbetta 2.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Long starved of nightlife, tourists and locals flocked to Zone 9's Barbetta 2.



Locals having a night out. Zone 9, Hanoi. It's back to Beer Corner.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Locals having a night out. Zone 9, Hanoi. It's back to Beer Corner.




Zone 9 was an asset that in due course, would have justified itself many times over in dollars and cents. And as far as I'm aware, the city got it without spending a cent.

Hanoi's a poorer travel destination without Zone 9. Regional tourism competitors will celebrate another Vietnam tourism own-goal.


Disclosure

The author has no commercial or other affiliation with Zone 9 or any of its former enterprises but he did have several very enjoyable afternoons and nights there.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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2 comments so far

Totally agree, great article with excellent pictures. We are just about to go on our next trip of Vietnam and Cambodia and are not going to Hanoi because of the lack of things to do during the evening. While I don't want to put people off because clearly there are things to do, and it is interesting. But, for long term stays or returning visitors there just isn't enough. Zone 9 looks great and just what the City needed. It does seem from the outside (and probably the inside) the authorities can't grasp this.

  • Paul Smith
  • Hanoi
  • Wednesday, 22 January 2014 14:09

What a pity.. I do hope this is only a temporary closure, there's always a need to nurture raw artistic talents in public.

  • Annie Nguyen
  • Hanoi
  • Wednesday, 09 April 2014 19:56