I couldn’t find much info on this statue, which is
a shame – I like the stylized torch on top.

As one Google user states in their review of Le Van Tam Park (presumably a local, speaking in translated Vietnamese):

“Complicated resident with old construction…”

Couldn’t put it better myself (well, mayb. This was the first park I fell in love with, and so it’s the first public space I’ll cover in depth in my tour of spaces that make Ho Chi Minh City unique.

I love parks. They’re good for the mental and physical health of residents, they provide much-needed space for groups to meet, socialize, and exercise, they beautify, they breed civic pride, they can boost tourism, and they help create strong, integral communities with a multitude of opportunities for residents to interact, play, and work. They’re an important part of any neighborhood, and cities without parks are just downright boring, as well as have more difficult paths to all the benefits I’ve already mentioned. A park is simply a wonderful thing to have around, and I have a personal interest in community infrastructure and design… which is why it’s pretty much the first type of place I tried to find after moving to Vietnam. I was not disappointed – this park is well-designed and great for all sorts of activities.

A mere 20 minute walk from my hotel yielded Lê Văn Tám Park:

View Le Van Tam Park in a larger map

Young men play some kind of soccer/hackeysack
on the main plaza.

Stately and well-curated, the park itself sits on the site of an early French colonial cemetery, the Massiges Cemetery, but all traces of the French buried beneath have been removed and replaced with this cultural salute to Vietnamese progress celebrating 10 years of liberation (the cemetery was razed and the park built in 1985).

As in the style of most HCMC parks I’ve seen so far, there’s no grass – instead, there’s a sort of curly, lush undergrowth plant that spreads wildly inside designated borders. It’s almost perfectly uniform, cushy, and provides a great home for tiny green snakes and other critters. At almost any time of the day you can see a park worker, in an orange jumpsuit that designates “prisoner,” bent over and weeding out the sea of… whatever it is. I’ll have to see if I can figure it out for a future park post.

This is used instead of grass.

There are an unnecessary amount of badmitten courts here, and yet they they never seem empty. I had no idea that people still played that, but it seems to be huge in Vietnam! Early in the morning tai chi practitioners of all ages can be seen training in several groups around the park. There’s a swimming pool, fountains, and motorbike parking located here, and secluded benches and paths wind their way throughout the park, providing great places to eat some street food and people watch. There’s a track of sorts winding its way around the outer perimeter of the park. Tons of people have been walking and running here – going only counter-clockwise! – every time I’ve been past. It seems to be a place that couples go to stroll.

Honestly, the park is ABSURDLY well curated. I never
seem to see anyone doing it. Perhaps at night?

Looking up information about the park for this post, I discovered that there’s an enormous construction project going on beneath the park itself, seeking to provide parking, a shopping center, and a multiplex to residents. This park is firmly located in District 1 and the news doesn’t surprise me, but since I’m also a proponent of making more space in cities wherever you can, this is exciting (if it’s still happening – you know how projects like this come and go… make that double for Vietnam). I like unusual uses of space, and cramming the most people into actually livable areas seems to be something that the Vietnamese do very well. Look at my house, for instance (a typical example, I’ve found) – extremely space-conscious.

Wide, interconnecting paths and sharp, angular lines
seem to characterize most of the parks I’ve seen.

If that ever comes to fruition, it’ll be interesting to see the impact on neighborhood vendors and merchants. Like most of the city center, the neighborhoods surrounding this park are chaotic and strive to serve hundreds of thousands of people. I presume that this new construction would provide a higher price point for upscale residents, as well, leaving gaps to be filled for middle and lower-class families (the vast, vast majority of families in Vietnam fall in the low- to lower-middle class category). If this project is still happening – IF – it’s impact on the surrounding businesses will be interesting to monitor.

As a couple of my Vietnamese friends say, if I came back in 5 years this would be a different city. Which, of course, is why I’m here – bring on the rapid change! Let’s see how you Vietnamese nerds tackle these enormous infrastructure goals and problems, and how you solve them!

What’s that you say? You’re building a Metro system? Thataboy. We’ll talk about that soon…