By Rachel Hagan
Reforms have brought growth to the Vietnamese capital, attracting investors as well as those seeking the ultimate bowl of pho.
Vietnam was one of the world’s poorest countries in 1990, with a GDP per capita of $98. However, following economic reform and international initiatives such as signing a US free trade agreement in 2000 and joining the World Trade Organization in 2007, there has been steady growth. GDP per capita exceeded $2,550 at the end of 2018 and the World Bank predicts GDP growth of around 6.5 per cent in both 2020 and 2021.
Hanoi, a city of 7.6 million people, drew more than $5.3bn in foreign direct investment in the first half of 2019, funding technology, research and development, manufacturing and tourism. Multinational employers include Viettel and Nissan, while Samsung plans to open a regional research and development centre in Hanoi in 2022, creating 3,000 jobs.
Nguyen Duc Chung, chair of the Hanoi People’s Committee, the executive body which runs the city, plans to develop its public transport network and charge motorists for driving in certain areas. Such measures aim to cut congestion and pollution: Hanoi has an Air Quality Index level that has exceeded 200; between 50 and 100 is considered “moderately healthy”.
Gateway to the great outdoors
Greener surroundings are close by. The Unesco World Heritage Site Ha Long Bay is a two-and-a-half-hour drive east, offering limestone islands flanking emerald water and secret inlets perfect for swimming or kayaking. The verdant rice fields and quintessentially Vietnamese landscapes of Ninh Binh Province are 90 minutes south of Hanoi by car.
High-end homes market
Hanoi’s architecture is beguiling in parts — a mix of traditional Vietnamese and French colonial styles dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the buildings in the French Quarter, which has tree-lined boulevards and villas reminiscent of Haussmann’s Parisian neighbourhoods, are used for government work, hotels and schools, though high-end developments aimed at foreign investors are appearing beyond the city centre.
Local demand for prime homes is also growing. Knight Frank’s Wealth Report predicts that the number of millionaires in Vietnam will increase by 28 per cent between 2018 and 2023 to 15,776, with ultra-high net-worth individuals in the country (those with more than $30m) rising by 31 per cent to 186 over the same period.
Vietnam’s five municipalities — Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Da Nang and Hai Phong — offer their own speciality dishes. In Hanoi, it is steaming bowls of pho, a noodle soup with meat and fresh herbs, which gets its deep flavour from bones and spices, simmered together for a day or two. It is best enjoyed in unassuming restaurants such as Pho Thin and Pho Gia Truyen.
Another local delicacy is bun cha, grilled fatty pork on a plate of white rice noodles. The late chef Anthony Bourdain took Barack Obama to Bun Cha Huong Lien during the former US president’s visit to the city in 2016. Dining out on the “Obama combo” of bun cha, fried seafood rolls and a beer costs an unpresidential 85,000 dong ($3.70).
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