I know what you’re thinking: “A shopping mall is off the beaten path?!?” Well in Hanoi, it is. Most tourists congregate in and around Hoan Kiem district, home to the Old Quarter, after which they say goodbye to Hanoi for good to traverse the well-worn tourist trail south to Ho Chi Minh City.
Vincom Mega Mall (VMM) Royal City is located in Thanh Xuan district, where many schools and universities are situated. We passed by this standout sprawl on the public bus to and from Hanoi University (as to why we were there, it’s another story altogether). Royal City caught my eye because it was imposing, retro-modern, and new with immaculate white paint — a refreshing sight after days in and around the Old Quarter.
On our last day in Vietnam, we went there by public bus, accompanied by our friendly student guides from Hanoikids. Apparently we were the only ones of their many guests who wanted to go there. They were a bit surprised actually, seeing as we were from the Philippines, which is well-known to them as the land of the shopping malls.
Granted, it’s not as big as the countless Ayala, Robinsons, and SM malls dotting our country, but it is certainly unique in that its two floors, plus two more for parking, are all underground. It also boasts of an indoor skating rink, water park and waterfall. What you see aboveground are actually apartment buildings by the same developer. They may look expensive, but according to our guides, the units at Royal City are way cheaper than the cramped ones in the Old Quarter. This is probably because the latter gets most of the tourist traffic, and the former none at all — when we went to Royal City, we were the only tourists there.
VMM Royal City has one thing I sorely missed back home — air conditioning! In three weeks, we got to go to a lot of places in Northeast and Central Vietnam, and everywhere most shops and restaurants are open-air. (They don’t seem to be fond of air-conditioning in Vietnam…) I remember this expensive restaurant in Danang called The Waterfront; even that upscale place had fans only. (Good luck charging those prices without a/c in the Philippines.) The cool air of the mall was a heavenly respite from the sweltering summer heat.
As it was our last day in Vietnam, we also wanted to go there for some pasalubong shopping before we headed to the airport in the evening. There are all manner of souvenir shops in the Old Quarter, but I don’t like haggling and bargaining; buying at a fixed price saves one from all those hassles. We went to their supermarket and bought some “Made in Vietnam” food items. When we went to the airport afterward, we saw the same products being sold at the gift shops there for twice the price.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Royal City is by taxi, as it is 6-7 km away from the Old Quarter. However, as everyone knows, Hanoi is full of taxi scams, so the bus is a good and cheaper alternative. We ourselves went there by bus, which cost us only VND 7,000 per person. You can easily find out which bus to take by consulting Google Maps and clicking the Transit icon. To be sure you’re on the right bus, ask the bus conductor if it stops at Royal City. He likely won’t speak any English, but he’ll either nod or shake his head.