Happy New Year to all our Topfloor clients and readers! This year Esti chose to spend her Christmas break in Vietnam and Hong Kong, soaking up the culture, local colour and cuisine. In this blog post she shares some of her experiences with us.
‘We flew to Hanoi via Hong Kong and stayed in the French quarter for two nights, in the iconic Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – THE place to stay since French colonial times. With its classical white façade and colonial grandeur, it felt like stepping into another era. It was built in 1901 (with a new wing added in the 1990s) and over its 115-year history it has welcomed many illustrious guests including Charlie Chaplin, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, Oliver Stone, Mick Jagger, Sir Roger Moore, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as well as various presidents, prime ministers, princes, dukes and duchesses.
‘”Eclectic” only partly defines Hanoi’s architecture. Obviously there is a strong French influence from the colonial period, which has resulted in some charming, elegant buildings. The houses that particularly intrigued us, however, were the very tall, narrow ones that are sometimes called “tube houses”. It seemed amazing that they haven’t yet toppled over. The history behind these houses is that property tax was calculated based on the width of the street-facing façade, so people traded width for depth and height in order to pay less tax!
‘It’s a city that certainly takes a bit of getting used to – it is noisy, chaotic and traffic-choked, although without the constant soundtrack of honking horns. There are four million motorcycles registered in the city and we had to fight our way through swarms of them wherever we went – they even take over the pavements, especially at rush hour, which can be alarming!
‘We visited the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, which is a real hidden gem packed full of Vietnamese cultural and artistic treasures. The collections start from the early 11th century and take the visitor through the ages, right up to the sculpture, folk art and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
‘We also went to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, which was built in the 11th century by the Ly Dynasty (and expanded by subsequent dynasties), on the site of a 7th-century Chinese fortress. The ‘Forbidden City’, as it is also known, was a seat of political power for 13 consecutive centuries. Although many of the buildings are no longer standing, from the structures that remain and also the excavations that have begun we could still get a sense of the sheer size and scale of the former citadel – it covers a huge area in the heart of Hanoi, with the central sector now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
‘This piece of glass covers a deep excavation site that exposes many different layers of civilisation, from the 7th century up to recent times. Within each layer, vestiges of those who occupied the site have been discovered – it’s a fascinating visual representation of history.
‘It was particularly interesting to see the military bunkers under some of the buildings on the site, which were used as Viet Cong military headquarters during the Vietnam war. They have been preserved as they were in the early 1970s, including the original furniture, telephones, maps and other objects.
‘Vietnam is famed for its delicious, fresh food made with aromatic ingredients and Hanoi has some of the best. I loved watching the street food being prepared, cooked and sold at stalls in the maze-like alleys – with so many interesting vegetables and herbs, the colours are so vibrant. I must admit, though, that sometimes I felt it was better to look than to taste!
‘When out and about in Hanoi we couldn’t help but notice the miles-long mosaic mural along the walls of the dyke system. “The Ceramic Road” is about 4km long and is officially the world’s largest ceramic mosaic – it has a Guinness World Records certificate to prove it! It was conceived as a huge art project to celebrate the Millennial anniversary of Hanoi in 2010. Many artists from Vietnam and around the world contributed to its creation.
‘We also made a trip to Ha Long Bay, which is a four-hour drive from Hanoi and a must-see for tourists. We spent a day there and stayed the night on a boat – sailing around the bay is a great way to see this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site. Even on a chilly late-December day, the cluster of forest-topped limestone islands and islets rising out of the ocean was a mystical sight.
‘We stopped in Hong Kong for two days on our way out (including Christmas Day) and then again briefly on our way back. What an exciting, dynamic city it is. It has some of the most expensive real estate and is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and yet buildings continue to spring up – there seemed to be cranes everywhere. I love its skyscrapers and green mountains, the busy Victoria Harbour, its rich history and its unique culture, which is a fusion of British colonial influences and traditional Chinese values. The shopping is great, too!
‘We really enjoyed our Christmas getaway – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it. Now, with an exciting year ahead for the Topfloor team, it’s back to reality!’