May 20, 2017 12:00 pm JST

Vietnamese city kids taking playtime inside

Urban playgrounds fell prey to development; indoor fun zones sprang up

ATSUSHI TOMIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

HANOI -- Vietnam is going through a period of rapid housing and infrastructure development in urban areas -- a trend that is robbing kids of places to play.

So the private sector has come up with a solution -- indoor play centers.

The facilities can be found inside shopping malls, which are sprouting up all over the place, or along major roads. They are becoming popular not only among children but also among their young parents. Many of the parents said they like the haven-type atmosphere that the play centers provide -- no vehicular traffic or other outdoor hazards.

Vinhomes Nguyen Chi Thanh, a shopping mall in downtown Hanoi, houses a tiNiWorld play center on the fifth floor. The facility, which occupies most of the floor, is operated by Ho Chi Minh City-based N Kid Group. The company now operates 24 tiNiWorlds in the country -- in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and other cities.

They have three main sections. One includes a jungle gym, a slide that ends in a ball-filled pool and other big pieces of equipment. Another section has computer simulation games so kids can have virtual driving and flying experiences. The job-experience section gives kids glimpses of what it might be like to be a sushi or pastry chef.

To get in, kids have to be younger than 13 and have a spare 100,000 dong ($4.4) or so. Some attractions charge an extra 20,000 dong.

Low-price alternative

Nguyen Kim Anh, a 38-year-old mother, takes her 4-year-old daughter to tiNiWorld every weekend. "The facility is clean and you don't have to worry about traffic accidents and intrusions by strangers," she said. "There are also teachers who give kids computer and art lessons, so this place has an educational aspect to it, too."

tiNiWorld also acts as a place to mind the kids while mom and dad go off shopping.

In Ho Chi Minh City, indoor play facilities are popping up along roads.

One of these, Samworld, is located on a 2,000-sq.-meter plot in the city's Go Vap district. Parents say they can easily bring their kids to the center, then pick them up, by bike or car.

Many customers come by after school.

Admission is half that at competing play centers -- 50,000 dong -- as it costs less to operate along the side of a road rather than inside a shopping mall.

"We want to differentiate our service in terms of low price and convenience," a Samworld official said.

Obesity on the rise

The company has only one play center but expects to expand.

Ho Chi Minh City-based Kidplay sells play equipment like merry-go-rounds, slides and game consoles. It now has more than 40 clients.

As Vietnam rushes to develop housing and infrastructure projects, the number of places for children to play outside is on the decline.

There are other trends encroaching on kids' outdoor activities -- urban areas have few parks, and the growing popularity of smartphones and computers is keeping children at home.

The stay-at-home tendency is negatively affecting children's health. Obesity is on the rise. According to Vietnam's National Institute of Nutrition, some 40% of elementary school students in metropolitan areas are considered obese.

Because children play games and do other things at home for an average of three hours a day, they are prone to gain weight.

While the number of indoor play centers is expected to continue its rise, equipment that allows for more intensive physical activities may be necessary. Trampolines, anyone?

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