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Hao Si Phuong, Saigon's Century-Old Hẻm, Says No to Photography

Yet another community in Saigon has become disillusioned by internet exposure.

In recent weeks, young Saigoneers seeking a good photography session at Hao Si Phuong alley on Tran Hung Dao Street have been met with frowns by locals and a notice banning photography in the charming residential community. According to Zing, on the staircase leading to the hẻm’s second story are placards that read: “Please don’t record videos and take photos here. Thank you!”

Hao Si Phuong is one of Saigon’s oldest alleys, built in the 1910s. Generations of Hoa Vietnamese have lived in the community’s two-story block for more than a century. In recent years, it has attracted the attention of locals and even foreign tourists thanks to the residential units’ unique Chinese architecture that has remained relatively untouched for decades. Couples have even picked the historic hẻm to be the background of their wedding albums.

In recent years, the alley has become a popular backdrop to beautify the Instagram feeds of image-conscious youths. Photos via LostBird.

However, the overexposure has apparently become too uncomfortable for local inhabitants. Linh, a Hoa Vietnamese who was born and grew up in the hẻm, told Zing that the notice was a group decision by the Hao Si Phuong households: “We put up the notice about a month ago during the second wave of COVID-19 infections. It was partially to safeguard local residents in a sensitive time and partially because everybody no longer wanted to be bothered [by visitors].”

Linh operates a small beverage cart and also looks after motorbikes in front of the alley. According to her, a few years ago, the hẻm started gaining attention from journalists and online media, which shared many beautiful shots of the place alongside very flattering comments.

Inside one of Saigon's oldest hẻm.

“But the amount of daily visitors began to skyrocket, with some staying here from the morning to evening to take photos,” she recalled. “There are many senior citizens here. Some visitors made noise, joked around, and littered, so residents can’t help but feel annoyed.”

Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon in Vietnam, where unchecked tourism growth tends to bring about harmful consequences for local communities. In Saigon, residents of the “lantern street,” Luong Nhu Hoc, and old apartment buildings on Ton That Thiep or Ly Tu Trong have turned their back against unwanted photography. A specific ngõ in Hanoi along West Lake has also fallen victim to the “Instagram fever.” The common complaints usually involve rowdiness, trash problems, and the fact that visitors occupy business space for picture-taking but don’t buy anything.

Phuong Lan, who lives in the West Lake alley, said of the nuisance: "We cannot prohibit them from coming here to take photos, but they have turned this place into a noisy place with plastic cups, bags and bottles scattered everywhere. I chose to live here because I enjoy taking in some fresh air from the lake but every time I go out for a walk, I step on trash."