Ho Chi Minh City’s Thu Thiem: A Global Urban Development Gem

This striking research lays out how Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh are the only cities left in Asia for large scale premium urban land development near the city’s tallest skyscraper.” Only 1 city in Africa and 1 city in Europe have conditions like this, read more in our report featured at Auscham VN.





The Global Urban Land Rush, by Keith Hilden, Squawkonomics

A Free to Distribute Public Report on the Remaining Last Premium Urban Land Opportunities on the Planet
A Creative Commons Licensed Work



During our last trip to Vietnam, we were tasked by our clients that participate in our crowdfunding space to find a new investment opportunity in the country, an opportunity that would signal a new chapter in the economic development of Vietnam. What we found and delivered to our clients is a development that is not only viable and expected from a long-term economic standpoint, but is also sure to occur, simply from looking at the basis of our very human nature and how we operate as a species. I urge you to take heed of this fresh and new look at examining investment opportunities, and the new investment metric we have developed, and I assure you, the reader, will be rewarded for choosing to invest your time into reading our research results.

During the course of this research, we came up with some new economic metrics that would better explain this phenomenon that exists in Vietnam, as well as show very clearly that this market opportunity would not last for very long.

In the course of our business activities, a hotel meeting led us to the Thao Dien area, of which we took a taxi back to the center of town. When we turned the corner on Tran Nao onto Luong Dinh Cua, I was simply struck by the contrast of what I saw before my eyes: an almost complete empty land in sheer eyeshot to Ho Chi Minh’s tallest building, the Bitexco Financial Tower, a building I had only been to days before from a meeting with a local expat bond investor. The land around Tran Nao had some development around it, with some school kids around us, but yet the land from Tran Nao on Luong Dinh Cua onwards resembled the remnants of Vietnam’s jungle-like foliage in Ho Chi Minh City. This was literally an empty pocket separating a suburban-type neighbourhood from Vietnam’s tallest skyscraper. The locals seemed very curious and surprised that we were there, possibly because very few people have gone there to see for themselves.

I decided to have the team cover this peculiarity, and we documented what struck us as a market phenomenon. In this age of global urbanization, this video below shows you how close Vietnam’s tallest skyscraper is to utterly empty fields; surely a phenomenon that will not be around, perhaps anywhere in our world, in 10 years or less.





The mere absence of developed land so close to the Bitexco Financial Tower is of little meaning and value with the proper analytical context, so we at Squawkonomics sought to find a metric that would better be able to measure the market potential of this expanse of land. We came up with a metric, the Land to Skyscraper Index. The land to skyscraper index (or LS Index) simply takes each country’s predominant commercial city’s highest skyscraper, and measures that in turn with the closest occurrence of undeveloped land. What we found was simply striking.

Below are the results we had when we looked at the major commercial cities in Asia. We used a 250 meter standard legend in all of our maps to ensure comparability and integrity of output results.

#1: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam hochiminh2



You can see very clearly we have selected Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam as it is the predominant commercial city in Vietnam, and the tallest building is the Bitexco Financial Tower, represented by the blue dot. Very clearly we see a stark contrast between the epicenter of Vietnam’s financial hub and the undeveloped land in eyeshot of the symbolic tower.

#2 Bangkok, Thailand


Below here, we see the surroundings of Bangkok’s Baiyoke Sky Tower, and we see a highly developed urban area, while the open expanses of land we do see are comprised of sport clubs and golf courses. There is very little to no undeveloped land around the Tower.

#3 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Around Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers, we can see a moderate level of development around the towers, while to the Southeast corner, the wide expanse of land we see another golf course. Notice that the only open land is already developed and already designated for a variety of uses.

#4 Singapore, Singapore


We see that around Singapore’s UOB Plaza building an assortment of parks, but no undeveloped land around the towering icon.

#5 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


Ulaanbaatar’s Blue Sky Tower is again around a generally very well developed area. That open space to the south of the Tower? Say hello to the country’s National Amusement Park. And that brown area to the south of the main street towards the bottom of the image we find railroad tracks. Hardly a case of particularly underutilized land.

#6 Taipei, Taiwan


Around the Taipei 101, we see a wide open spot to the Southeast, but that land is undeveloped for good reasons: it’s part of Elephant Mountain, with little flat land to encourage large development projects.

#7 Tokyo, Japan


Tokyo, not surprisingly, is highly dense with open spaces near to the Toranamon Hills building being parks and historical sites such as the space at the north of the map, the Three Palace Sanctuaries, and the Hamarikyu Gardens to the east.

#8 Shanghai, China


Around the Shanghai Tower, we see similarly to Tokyo that all opportunity for commercial development is already snapped up, as the area around the tower is pretty much all filled.

#9 Manila, Philippines


Notice again how Manila’s Gramercy Residences only open spaces are clearly public designated lands such as golf clubs and running tracks.

#10 Pyongyang, North Korea


Pyongyang’s Ryugyong Hotel at first glance appears to be an outlier when the map shows a forest region to the Northwest. Upon a closer look, the rectangular inlet into the forest is actually the National Defense Commission military building, essentially North Korea’s Pentagon. So Kim Jong Un would probably want some undeveloped land and forest around that building.

#11 Jakarta, Indonesia


Jakarta’s Wisma 46 is surrounded by moderate development. The space is surrounded by odd small pockets of relatively undisclosed land, peppered with jungle. While the area is pocketed with various tiny plots, all large plots are, again, part of a park, or other public designated spaces, generally falling in line with the land to skyscraper index results for almost all of the other cities in the world.

#12 Seoul, South Korea


Seoul’s Three International Finance Centre is surrounded by a vigorous and creative use of the land around the skyscraper, with the brown space around the island being a unique ringed park. Notice besides the park space, there is no instances of undeveloped land anywhere.

#13 Vientiane, Laos


Around Vientiane’s Don Chan Palace in Laos, we see the map pretty much filled up with various development and real estate. That is, except for the sparse southwest corner— past the Mekong River border, which is part of Thailand.

#14 Yangon, Myanmar


We find the Pyay Garden Condominiums in Yangon is a slight exception, because the area west of the building is entirely farmland with little else. There is very little to no economic incentive to build significantly out at the west end of the map or beyond, when there is virtually nothing developmentally material to the west of Yangon. The rural land beyond the west end of the map is almost entirely composed of the Myanmar frontier and stark wilderness nature from there. The land to skyscraper index goes parabolic and off the charts because there is literally nothing but farms-only small villages and towns all the way to the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Yangon however might be in a tie with Nuuk, the capital of Greenland of 15,000 people, for having the most dramatic drop-off transition from commercial hub to utter stark wilderness in the world.

#15 Phnom Penh


The area around Phnom Penh’s Vattanac Capital building is interesting because we do this time see a big space in the middle of the city that appears to be a lake from Bing satellite images. Actually, from the Google Maps satellite image below we can see that the lake is now called the Former Boeung Kak Lake area, and it too, is a very temporary market anomaly as it will most certainly be filled with development projects of many sorts in the few years to come. As this is a case of a natural body of water being filled with sand, we see this as an outlier that regardless presents itself as a very promising investment opportunity in a city that generally sees 6-10% annual price appreciation gains in its real estate.


Phnom Penh does have some small areas of relatively undeveloped land on the peninsula island to the East, but in line with the land to skyscraper rule, the largest residential project ever designed in Phnom Penh is being built right now, called The Bay. Japanese luxury hotel chain ‘The Okura’ has already snapped up the hotel tower within that development, as they stake their claim and have first mover advantages.


The Bay, Phnom Penh Source: Google Images

Initial Results

Since there appeared to be an almost universal correlation between the tallest building and no instance of undeveloped land within close proximity of a skyscraper in Asia, upon closer inspection, we discovered that this correlation with skyscrapers and lack of empty land proved also to be true in South Asia, Oceania, North America, South America, Middle East and almost all of Europe and Africa.

Furthermore, our survey of the 25 countries in Africa that could qualify for having a major commercial city with a significantly tall building, only 1 country had an outlier that did not follow the land to skyscraper rule. Overall, every region in the world followed the land to skyscraper rule to almost 100%, with the exceptions being only 1 in Europe, 1 in Africa, and 2 in the Asia Pacific region.

Methodology and Exceptions

We found that the skyscraper to land ratio of almost 0 in almost all countries held true as long as a few conditions applied. One was that the building was tall enough. We were more generous in defining a skyscraper than the 40-50 story high common definition, because some countries clearly do not have any buildings even close to being that high. For example, we could not include Oman, because their tallest building, the Hilton Hotel, was only 14 stories high, and we do not believe that such a small building can generate significant economic development around it to reduce the amount of empty land in its proximity to zero or near zero.

We did not count churches as the tallest buildings in South America, and instead looked for the tallest commercial building in each country’s major commercial city.

Any open spaces right against the water we did not consider material, and we call this exception the Beach Rule.

Natural barriers such as mountains and hills were considered an exception, such as in the case of Taipei’s Elephant Mountain

National borders were also considered an exception, such as what we saw with Vientiane and the Thai border, as well as in the case of one African capital’s tallest building within walking distance to the national border with a neighboring country.

Results Breakdown

– Asia Pacific

Every country’s major commercial city in the Asia Pacific region except for Vietnam, and for reasons of artificially draining the now Former Boeung Kak lake such as Cambodia, turned out to follow this rule. Phnom Penh and one other APAC region city are the only commercial hubs in the world that has land available in proximity to its tallest skyscraper upon the completion of removal of bodies of water.

– Middle East

Every country’s major commercial city in the Middle East turned out to follow this rule.

– South Asia

Every country’s major commercial city in South Asia turned out to follow this rule.

– North America

Every country’s major commercial city in North America turned out to follow this rule.

– South America

Every country’s major commercial city in South America that was not a church turned out to follow this rule.

– Latin America

All countries major commercial cities that had buildings large enough to qualify as a skyscraper or significantly tall building followed this rule.

– Europe

Every country’s major commercial city in Europe that had a building that could qualify as a skyscraper or significantly tall building turned out to follow this rule, all except for 1 country that our crowdfunders and Squawk Hawk newsletter subscribers are finding out about.

– Oceania

We did not count South Pacific island countries such as Vanuatu or Kiribati due to their general lack of tall buildings. However, Australia and New Zealand did follow the land to skyscraper rule.

– Africa

Of the 25 African countries’ commercial hubs we examined that could qualify for having a skyscraper or significantly tall building, only 1 country’s major commercial hub exhibited a statistically significant area of space, which we disclose to our crowdfunders as well as the subscribers to our Squawk Hawk newsletter.

Investment Implications

We can see from our research that we can confirm the meme- good land has become extremely precious and a rarity in almost all major commercial cities in the world, whether we look at the developed nations in North America or Europe, or looking at frontier nations in Africa- it is virtually a universal rule that all land near the dominant skyscraper of that commercial city will be surely snapped up. Therefore, what we see in Ho Chi Minh, and to a lesser degree, Phnom Penh is a true market alpha anomaly derived from our land to skyscraper index, and a major market signal to invest in these development areas accordingly.

Source: Google Images

Because, quite frankly, it’s like we’re in a game of Go! and there is no more space on the board, literally. The only truly premium spaces left on the board are in Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. For those Go players with an investment objective of a high growth region with attractive demographics, they can only hope their opponent during their move places their disk in the Europe space or Africa space, insothat during their turn they place their last pieces on the final premium urban frontier land opportunities remaining, winning the game, and writing history in the process.

Now, please allow me to show you the story of how Shenzhen and Ho Chi Minh City have already gone through this process of a developer finding a desirable spot on the Go board, and see the results, and how the riches have been made. Economic cycles progress in circles as life itself does, and we are now seeing the cycle returning to Ho Chi Minh City, as well as arriving in Phnom Penh.

risepic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kSiJB-AsIo


The above is helpful to see in gaining a brief overview of a historical perspective, but it also renders value in seeing how Chinese development interests view urban real estate development. Notice how ethnic Chinese real estate interests had a hand in the development of Shenzhen, Ho Chi Minh, and now, Phnom Penh. Business leaders were not timid about developing Shenzhen, or Ho Chi Minh City, hubs of commercial activity, even when Ho Chi Minh City and Shenzhen were at very low socioeconomic development levels. These developers did not shy away from these challenges, and instead created returns of 1000% to 2500% gains in Shenzhen and in Ho Chi Minh City respectively.

Now a new opportunity dawns in Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh alike, with historical data showing us that these development projects result generally in significantly positive results for investors and the citizenry alike, raising the standard of living for all involved. Equity investors are already sensing this in a macroeconomic sense, as Vietnam is at the front of the pack of the Asia Pacific region in money flows in the last 3 months.


Indeed, the market senses a winning play with Vietnam for inward equity flows, and the business leaders that are in charge of transforming Vietnam into a modern economy are not blind to the cards they hold. One general plan is to supercharge development of the area along Luong Dinh Cua to a teeming vibrant community of 10 million people. Another is to transform it into the financial centre of the city, where all the major domestic and international banks will be located. Another idea sees a marina where yachts will be moored in only a couple of years.

Additionally, changes in Vietnam’s legislature and administration of government is going to ensure that this market opportunity will not remain for much longer. Vietnam’s much trumpeted Land Law was legislated into action early last year, but the activation period has been slated for July 2015. This means that foreigners will soon be able to directly participate in the development of Vietnam’s newest megacity district, in an area in immediate proximity to Ho Chi Minh’s tallest skyscraper. Foreigners will also be able to participate by purchasing Vietnamese stocks in the form of the local developers that will be handling this massive modernization transition for Vietnam’s commercial hub. There is also the option of investing in the international companies that step up to the plate to help build the next economic chapter of Vietnam’s development, and there is always the broader option of investing in a Vietnam ETF such as VNM. For serious investors who really want to know their investments, email us at info@squawkonomics.com directly and mention the code #landreport , and we will set you up with a free tour to listed companies in Vietnam, to help you understand markets like never before. Simply contact us and mention the code to activate your offer.

Moving along the Mekong from Vietnam into neighboring Cambodia, we can see that of Phnom Penh’s remaining vacant spaces, there are moves forward to develop the land in projects such as The Bay mentioned above. And, just like in Ho Chi Minh where empty land near skyscrapers dictate that development be pursued, there is a boom and a rush going on in Phnom Penh regarding property purchase and development. This is why for serious investors who really want to know their property and land investments, we are partnering with a firm in Cambodia who is offering free round trip plane tickets to Phnom Penh and back to get a first hand look of the real estate and development opportunities on the ground. The local firm in Cambodia is even throwing in a 2 days free hotel stay on top of it. Simply email us at info@squawkonomics.com directly and mention the code #landreport, and we will set up qualified investors for the fact-finding trip, and arrange any other travel needs during their stay in Phnom Penh.

Subscribers to our Squawk Hawk newsletter and those who click here will be receiving more information about these exciting developments in Vietnam and Cambodia as this grand event unfolds, and those interested in clicking here for those interested in crowdfunding additional research for this or other investment opportunities in Vietnam or Cambodia can simply signal their interest here. We will let you know if your request fits our requirements.

Thank you for reading, and we continue our goal in assisting you to understanding markets like never before!

Yours truly,

Keith Hilden


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