Having lived in Vietnam for many years, we asked our GM Maeve to share her insight into what makes Hanoi special for her – a local’s take from a long-term resident.
I loved so many aspects of living in Vietnam. The fantastic food, friendly people and beautiful countryside – I found it all inspirational. I don’t know if it’s just me, but one of the most quirky things I loved about Hanoi was the so-called ‘skinny’ buildings.
These buildings, also known as ‘tube’ or ‘rocket’ houses, dot the low-rise skyline of Hanoi and I always found them intriguing. My fascination turned to a thirst for more details, and my friends duly obliged with the answers. It turns out that all over Vietnam houses and shops were constructed to dodge the taxes which were calculated on the width of street-facing shop fronts.
Although none of my friends or colleagues could remember when the tax began, you could probably assume it was first introduced to combat the increasing demand for space as the city began to grow and prosper.
Area for growth has been an issue which many cities around the world have faced throughout history and while many cities favor razing areas to the ground to build bigger and bolder, in Vietnam (and Hanoi in particular) they chose instead to build vertically, on top of what they already had.
The buildings were cleverly built to be thin but deep – a clever way to avoid tax while still allowing plenty of space. Most of these buildings were/are owned by a single family who operate a small business or shop in the front section and living quarters to the rear – a simple one-story building.
If the business became a success, often the buildings would expand the only way it could without paying more in tax – upwards. This has created a series of long, thin, tall buildings much like you might see in Amsterdam, who also suffered the same building width tax some time ago.
A rocket house of five or more floors is a sure sign the family business is prospering! Once multiple floors are built, the family then shares out the building, with parents, grandparents and any married children occupying a floor each.
Although this style of architecture is not unique to Vietnam, I still find it a part of the charm I miss with great fondness.
If you’d like to see the famous ‘rocket houses’ of Hanoi, any of our fully-customizable Vietnam tours can be altered to take in a guided city tour. Our Hanoi Culture & Cuisine tour for example allows travelers the chance to soak up the Vietnamese capital’s fascinating local experiences.