From utopian dream to tourist attraction. Such is the fate of this housing complex on the outskirts of Hanoi. Emily Arntsen heads to Hanoi’s very own ghost town.

 

When you arrive at the gates of the deserted Lideco housing complex, you’re greeted with a sun-faded advertisement of what investors originally imagined — six-storey houses, swimming pools, smiling families and SUVs. The poster now stands as a haunting contrast between expectation and reality. As years passed and funding for the complex ran dry, this poster has assumed a new meaning. The envisioned urban middle-class community turned out to be a scarcely populated labyrinth of unfinished mansions.

 

Located 15km west of Hanoi, the Lideco complex was supposed to house ultra-wealthy families from Hanoi who were eager to escape the hectic city. When construction began in 2008, the idea was to create a place where residents could enjoy all kinds of high-life luxuries like tennis courts, shopping malls, and enormous houses. More than 600 identical homes were built in organized rows with a cookie-cutter effect reminiscent of America’s Levittown tract housing. Of these 600 homes though, less than 100 are officially occupied and more than half are unfinished.

 

General poor planning and unequal supply and demand quickly led to Lideco’s demise. The complex is about 45 minutes from downtown Hanoi without traffic. Even for residents who own a car, this commute to the city is too long. There is also a serious lack of community in the surrounding areas. Lideco is a wasteland within a wasteland.

 

Room at the Top

 

Exploring the abandoned houses is the main attraction of this place. Most of the houses are five or six storeys high, so if you feel like climbing to the top floor, you’ll be rewarded with a good view of the whole complex. To get to most of the houses, however, you’ll have to trail blaze through waist-deep weeds (beware of snakes). There’s also a small café where you can drink coffee and play pool.

 

If you’re feeling sporty, there are two full-sized tennis courts you can use as long as you don’t mind hopping over a rather tall fence. The complex is nearly empty, which, in an eerie way, makes it kind of peaceful. Besides the occasional whir of a motorbike, the area is almost silent. You can take advantage of the peace and quiet by having a picnic by the artificial lake where locals sit under umbrellas, and fish for whatever life remains.

 

The sterile repetition in the architecture is starkly contrasted by the haphazard overgrowth of the past nine years. Nature has vengefully begun to reclaim the earth here — small trees grow inside basements and a layer of moss coats just about everything. Front doors are barricaded by unruly vines, and windows are clouded with thick green mould.

 

Lideco’s aesthetic is a blend of fake-fancy architecture and dystopian grime. A lot of the occupied houses have gaudy, faux-gold gates, and bourgeois lion statues decorate the complex. But these status emblems are lost on the population of people who live there today. The demographic is not nouveau riche like investors originally expected. Lideco now appeals to people of a much lower financial bracket because property is so cheap and abundant.

 

Signs of Life

 

It’s easy to tell which of the houses here are legitimately occupied because they’re not completely overridden with weeds. These houses have laundry lines hanging outside, motorbikes parked out front, and other tell-tale signs of life.

 

It’s less easy, however, to tell which of the houses are abandoned. The majority of the buildings seem empty, but if you climb through a window to get a better look inside, you might stumble upon a makeshift bed or other clues that someone’s living there. While the complex is technically guarded to prevent squatters, there are many ways to evade the lax security.

 

As Hanoi continues to expand outward, perhaps someday Lideco’s buildings could be put to good use. For the foreseeable future, however, it seems like the complex will remain largely uninhabited and continue to surrender to the encroaching forces of nature. Lideco will most likely always be a place where there are streetlights, benches and addresses, but no people. A ghost town.

 

Getting There

Lideco lies on Highway 32, past My Dinh and the suburb of Nhon. To get there follow Kim Ma out of town and keep on going straight onto Cau Giay. When you get to the intersection with Pham Van Dong, continue straight towards TT Phung and Son Tay for another 7km. You’ll see Lideco on the right-hand side.


 

PHOTOS BY JULIE VOLA

 

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