Monthly Archives: January 2016

Our trip to Vietnam

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.

Vietnam

‘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.

La Terrasse du Metropole café, part of the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi

La Terrasse du Metropole bar, inspired by Parisian cafés

metropole hanoi at xmas

The hotel, decorated for Christmas

‘”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!

Four photos of 'tube houses' spotted in Hanoi

‘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!

A crowd of motorbikes, taken from a car, blocking the route

‘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.

The exterior of the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi

The Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi

 

Ancient sculptures in the Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi

Ancient sculptures in the Fine Arts Museum, including Guan Yin, the thousand-eyed, thousand-armed goddess of compassion (top left)

‘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.

The entrance to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Entrance to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Bonsai trees near the entrance of Thang Long

Bonsai trees on the approach to the Citadel

‘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.

Excavation site showing layers of civilisation, covered with glass

‘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.

An office in a bunker under Thang Long, used during the Vietnam war by the Vietnamese army

A bunker used during the Vietnam war

‘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!

An alley in Hanoi with food for sale A street food vendor selling her wares Noodles being prepared in the streets of Hanoi
A delicious meal enjoyed at Ly Club

A delicious meal at Ly Club, presented beautifully with a local touch

‘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.

The Ceramic Road - snapshots of the ceramic mosaic along the dyke walls of Hanoi

‘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.

Boats in Ha Long bay
Floating houses in Ha Long Bay

The local fishing community live in floating houses

 

Boats in Ha Long bay, viewed through a fishing net

Hong Kong

‘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!

The famous Hong Kong skyline with skyscrapers
The 21st century Hong Kong skyline with a traditional 'junk' boat on the water

Traditional junk set against a 21st-century backdrop

‘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!’