VIDEO: Inside Hanoi’s first mega mall

I went recently to Hanoi and having not been in a while I decided to go check out the ‘new’ developments in the city. The one locals seem to be the most excited about is Royal City: an integrated city with mega mall, schools and hundreds of apartments developed by Vincom Group. I was warned the thing is huge but I still could not believe what I saw!

Having lived in Vietnam for 3 years and seen a fair bit of malls, this one is a whole new category with two huge basements of endless restaurants, retail and entertainment. Residents of Royal City and the emerging upper middle class in Hanoi can enjoy all in one place a mega Cineplex, an ice rink, a massive FEC, a copy of KidZania, a bowling alley and Hanoi’s first indoor water park. The developer seems to be after tourists as well; he’s reproduced a ‘traditional’ night market inside the mall with street vendors, etc. As a result, when I asked my hotel concierge what attractions he recommended, he asked me if I had been to Royal City. Funny for a city that has so many heritage sites to visit!

Let’s look at some of the leisure & entertainment offer. KizCity is a very obvious copy of KidZania with the same plane coming out of the building, airline check-in counters, etc. But the prices and the service are not the same. When I asked my friend in Hanoi she said she heard there were a few accidents with kids hurting themselves because of the facilities not completely safe (nails, etc). This really was not necessary. I am sure the developer could have thought of something more adapted to the market and better executed. But he chose the easy way.

Vinpearl Water Park on the other hand is of much better quality and I can easily say it is the No1 family attraction in Hanoi. With slides from Proslide and 3 zones (extreme, kids and swimming), it covers 24,000sqm in basement 2 of the mega mall. The overall look and feel from the entrance in the mall to the changing rooms and the decors inside reminds me of Korean attractions. Think Lotte World a la Vietnamese! Entrance ticket is 170,000VND (8USD), which is the price of 2 cinema tickets.

On the day of my visit – a Thursday – the water park was almost empty until 12pm when the first few patrons arrived. They were mostly middle-aged people and young people, probably students. Outside of weekends and public holidays these would be the obvious groups to go after (in addition to tourists when the park gets more popular) and the offering is well adapted. The extreme area has some good slides that can be done solo or in groups of 2 or 4, which is ideal for groups of teenagers or young adults. The middle-aged groups liked it too; I even got invited a few times to fill in gaps in 4-people rafts and we had a blast! For them the swimming area is also very attractive with the longest swimming pool in Hanoi and a couple of whirlpools to relax. Very zen.

I would rate the water park quite high for the variety of offering and the very nice staff. But I am not sure about the safety. The ground is very slippery and I personally fell quite badly on some steps as I was exiting one of the slides.

Why Asia Society Centre should make it to Hong Kong’s top attractions

The Asia Society Hong Kong Centre opened in February 2012 in the former Explosives Magazine in Admiralty. It took over 10 years for a partnership between the Hong Kong government and the US non-profit Asia Society to give birth to this incredible building floating above Pacific Place and a successful example of blend of heritage and creativity.

Asia Society Hong Kong

Although the Asia Society Centre ran the exhibition Buddhism in Art when it opened and a few others since then, it has not received much attention until recently with the opening of No Country, a new exhibition showing contemporary art from South and Southeast Asia. This one is advertised everywhere, in the MTR, in HK Magazine, in Time Out, FT Weekend, etc. And so I decided to go check it out. I have to say there was nothing to draw me there before.

But what was I missing? The Asia Society is a real gem and should definitely make it to Hong Kong’s list of top attractions. Here is why:

  • Great location, just above Pacific Place and Admiralty MTR (one of Hong Kong’s busiest stations), 2 stops away from Causeway Bay and TST where a majority of tourists concentrate;
  • Interesting mix of heritage (historical buildings preserved), culture (exhibitions) and architecture (design by Billie Tsien & Todd Williams);
  • A focus on Asian content, which appeals to Asian tourists (China, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, etc) on the rise in Hong Kong. The current exhibition is well curated, showing newly acquired pieces from the Guggenheim’s collection;
  • A complete tourist experience complementing the visit: relaxing (very zen roof garden), photo opportunities (stunning views of the Victoria Harbour and Admiralty), dining (AMMO restaurant) and shopping (well curated store).

I wish I had known that before. For some reason the image I had of the Asia Society Centre was that of an exclusive members-only club, which was organizing exhibitions from time to time; maybe because of the high profile conferences they organize where entry fees are quite high?

Now I realize I was wrong. The Asia Society Centre could be one of the best museums/galleries in Hong Kong. The question: is this what they want? If yes, they will have to do a lot of work on their perception among the general public and to organize more ‘blockbuster exhibitions’ to keep people talking about them.

I am all up for it. As I said earlier, Hong Kong desperately needs more tourist attractions and the Asia Society Centre has got everything it needs to be one of the top ones.