Haven in Hai Phong
Unassuming city by the bay throws up some surprises
Issue: Mar 2010
Hai Phong City Square at night
Photo courtesy of www.samsays.com
The costal city of Hai Phong is the 3rd most populous city in Vietnam. Primarily a principal seaport for the northern region, it is the largest international one there and a key gateway to southern China and Southeast Asia. 100 kilometres east of the capital, Hanoi, Hai Phong sits by the Cua Cam River, one of the main channels of the Red River Estuary and an important industrial and transportation hub in the country’s north, second in northern Vietnam in attracting foreign direct investments that has fuelled economic growth of over 12% per annum for the last 10 years.
Perfect Location for a Serviced Apartment
Given its increasing economic value to the country, it is only timely that the world’s largest international serviced residence owner-operators, The Ascott Limited, should jump onto the Hai Phong bandwagon. In September 2009, Ascott secured a contract to manage a serviced residence property there. To be called Somerset Central TD, Hai Phong, the 132-unit serviced residence will be the first international branded one and the largest in the city, and seals Ascott’s position as the largest international serviced residence operator in Vietnam.
“We expect strong demand from the influx of expatriates to Hai Phong as the city further urbanizes. The local government has plans for new industrial parks in Hai Phong which will spur economic growth. Vietnam and Singapore will also develop a 1,600-hectare integrated township and industrial park there. Ascott will have an edge by being the first international branded serviced residence operator to offer quality serviced accommodation in this growing market,” said Mr Lim Ming Yan, CEO of The Ascott Limited.
The property, due to open in the first half of 2011, will have a variety of apartments from studio to three-bedroom ones plus amenities like a gymnasium, swimming pool, business centre, residents’ lounge and children’s playroom.
But what seals its selling point is its location. Set in the landmark TD Plaza, a mixed use development comprising a five-storey shopping centre with a popular hypermarket, an eight-theatre cineplex, an office block and two towers of residential apartments and serviced residences, Somerset Central TD, Hai Phong is on prime urban land in the city’s new Central Business District and within close proximity to the Cat Bi International Airport, port and the old city centre.
Cosmopolitan Appeal Amidst Industrial Growth
Residents of the development will hardly be in want of things to do. But beyond the activities that Somerset Central TD, Hai Phong and its surrounding infrastructure have to offer, the city also has a few tricks up its sleeves.
There’s always retail therapy to turn to at the Big C Centre, another hypermarket and Metro Supermarket, a wholesale store. Or take a walk through the city’s broad avenues and venture into any number of small shops along its streets while savouring Hai Phong’s subtle old world charm and 19th century French colonial architecture. Sample local beer at the many beer stalls, fruit from the ladies at the sidewalks or tuck into ice-cream from mobile kiosks as you go along.
Further afield, visit the Traditional Trade Villages in the different districts of Hai Phong to watch the production of anything from baskets to sculptures, lace, carpets, woodwork, handicraft and food like vermicelli and rice pancakes. Well-known trade villages include Trang Kenh in the Thuy Nguyen District famous for stone-carving, Dai Loc in the Kien Thuy District known for silk-weaving, Bao Ha in the Vinh Bao District reputed for its traditional sculpture and Nhan Muc, a village renowned for its water puppet theatre.
Natural Beauty & Tranquil Escapes
For a city in the throes of a business boom, Hai Phong still has not lost its hold on the simple charms of life. Duck into any number of pagodas and temples that dot the city or let Nature wash over you as you take in the sights along the numerous lakes like Tam Bac Lake where you can buy fresh flowers from roofed kiosks on the Eastern side of the lake or visit Hang Kenh Tapestry on the Southern side to see how woolen carpets are produced for export.
If mountain scenes are more your thing, Kien An District will wow you with its numerous hills and mountains. Atop its highest mountain, Thien Van, is Phu Lien observatory. From its vantage point, you can have a clear view of all of Hai Phong.
Through Kien An District, you can see Elephant Mountain or An Lao District, named for its shape that looks like a huge elephant lying between green paddy fields and blue skies. Explore the caves in this district such as the Hong Voi Cave (Elephant Throat Cave) and witness the footprints of a people from long ago.
Cat Ba Island, offering a stunning view of sand, surf and mountain
Photo courtesy of Brian J McMorrow www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow
For a holiday away from the city, island-hopping is a good choice. Cat Ba – Pearl Island is a popular getaway because of its white sandy beaches, clear waters, beautiful grottoes and lush forests. Its National Park is home to the rarest animals in the world including the Vooc, a white-faced monkey that can only be found in Vietnam. A toxic fruit known as Ma Tien which are fatal to humans but food for the Vooc is also found on the grounds of the park.
Do Son Resort is another island hideout with great historical value. Architecture from the 11th century is still standing there like the Tuong Long tower and Van Ban pagoda which once housed a bronze bell called the Van Ban Bell, one of the oldest bells in the country that is now on display at the Historical Museum in Hanoi. Visit the area in June and August and you can witness the buffalo fighting festival. Take a little bit of the island back to the city when you visit Cau Vong market for dried fish, shrimps, oysters, shark’s fins and shrimp paste or relive the past at the Bao Dai villa, once the palace of King Bao Dai. Have a seat on his throne or try on the costumes of the King and Queen and be royalty for the day, or at least a moment.
Hai Phong may not have glitz and glamour of its more famous compatriot cities, but it certainly has enough for any resident to comfortably call it home.