Of Things That Go Bump in the Night & High-Priced Real Estate in Hanoi

Note the mango tree to the right. Photos by MAA

Once upon a time, there was an ugly old building in a prime location that had been left unoccupied for as long as anyone could remember. It’s a property that I’ve driven and walked by countless times. The architecture, heavy on concrete and light on aesthetic beauty, makes it obvious it was an official building of some sort, one unlikely to win any architecture design awards.

There’s an air of mystery about the place that is filled with secrets yet to be revealed and stories yet to be told. I always wondered why the property had been abandoned. The response from many Hanoians was that it was haunted.

and a banana tree on the left.

In the West, a house that is viewed as  “haunted” or, say, in which a brutal crime had been committed would likely decrease in value. That simply means the new owner would get a good deal. It’s not for everyone but a lot of people don’t care.  

Located on Kim Mã a short walk from the new Vincom Center Metropolis and the Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound and not far from the Lotte Center Hanoi and the Daewoo Hotel, this site was supposed to be the Bulgarian Embassy compound. The agreement between the two governments was signed in 1982 and construction completed in 1991, but it was never occupied.

The predominance of concrete has to do with the limited construction materials available at the time. (The buildings remind me of some I’ve seen in the Middle East.) Three years ago, on 8 May 2018, the Bulgarian government officially returned the land to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. New owner, same situation.

The multimillion dollar question is, given its golden location at 300 Kim Mã and the sheer number of square meters this property occupies, why is it sitting there collecting dust (and garbage)? It definitely meets the criteria that gave rise to a common mantra in the real estate business: Location, location, location! One popular answer may have to do with things that go bump in the night.

Supposedly, one can hear the sound of children crying at night. In one story, a security guard who slept in one of the buildings saw a bed standing upright. According to another story, a foreigner died there and returns every night moving all of the tables and chairs.

People claim to have seen apparitions. If you see the photo of a guy standing out front at night with an illuminated “friend” in the background, keep in mind that ghosts don’t come equipped with their own lighting system. Google Những câu chuyện và bí ẩn xoay quanh ngôi nhà ma số 300 kim mã (Stories and Mysteries Revolve Around the Ghost House 300 Kim Ma) for articles and photos.

Vincom Center Metropolis in the background.

Here’s a logical question that people have asked. What was there before? Answers include a fish pond, a cemetery, and a temple. Maybe all three? If I were to wager a bet, I’d put my money on a cemetery.

While I consider myself to be an educated and rational man, I know that we share our world with spirits, ghosts, if you will, people who died and were unable to proceed to the next dimension, for whatever reason. Think of this phenomenon as unfinished spiritual business.

What many in the West view as superstitious, many Vietnamese think of as having a stronger connection to the spirit world. This is not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong, but of cultural tradition. Sometimes, people see what they’re open to seeing, what’s right in front of their eyes, what they’re attuned to perceive.

In fact, according to people who know the area, including one man who was interviewed for a 2013 article, there was once a temple on the site that was razed to build the diplomatic compound. In addition, there was a cemetery that contained the remains of children and older people from Van Phuc village. They were supposedly moved to another resting place. What if all of them weren’t, or the transfer wasn’t done properly?

Here’s a logical question that people have asked. What was there before? Answers include a fish pond, a cemetery, and a temple. Maybe all three? If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a cemetery. While I consider myself to be an educated and rational man, I know that we share our world with spirits, ghosts, if you will, people who died and were unable to proceed to the next dimension, for whatever reason.

Here are three ideas based on the assumption that 300 Kim Mã is haunted.

  1. Send in a team to find scientific evidence of this. Either way, just to err on the side of caution, why not perform a Buddhist rite of exorcism to rid the entire complex of spirits who have yet to depart the physical world?
  2. In the meantime, once international tourists are back in the post-COVID era and before the property is sold and developed, an enterprising company could include this infamous address on an itinerary of strange and unusual places to visit – at night. The company might have to pay a premium to staff who choose to work this (graveyard?) shift.
  3. Since the land is owned by the government, why not create a park with plenty of flowers and trees. Hanoi desperately needs more green space where adults can relax and children can play. Whether anyone would come to enjoy this oasis of nature in an urban jungle remains to be seen. Perhaps if the exorcism is perceived as successful. A finishing touch could be a plaque that tells visitors what was there before and what became of this strange place.

I’m still wondering about the endgame. Being familiar with the astronomical value of real estate in Hanoi, I do know that the location is too valuable to remain caught in a time warp forever. The only constant in life is change, Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, once said. Stay tuned!

A Vietnamese version of this essay was published by SOHA on 19.7.21: “Nhà ma” 300 Kim Mã trong mắt một người Mỹ

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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