Hanoi is home to the world’s longest ceramic mosaic – stretching almost 4kms into the heart of Hanoi, this little known gem is a hidden highlight of the city.
On arrival into Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport you are treated to a drive along the cramped highway into town, passing paddy fields, satellite towns and the Red River along the way. Like any airport to town drive, things can get pretty grey as you pass through suburbs and along busy roads. Hanoi’s charm is found in the weaving backstreets packed full of life and colour, not its main highways that are packed full of buses, bikes and cars.
It is only when you get within a few kilometres of the centre that something interesting starts to appear. As if from nowhere on the southern end of the West Lake the concrete wall of the Dyke Road, springs into life. Gone is the monotonous grey, replaced by patterns and shapes, battle scenes and faces – and they just keep coming. What you are looking at is a hugely ambitious attempt to map Vietnam’s history and culture in the form of mosaic.
1000 years of Hanoi
In 2010 Hanoi celebrated its 1000 year anniversary. Through wars and invasions, imperial upheaval and political turmoil Hanoi has stood firm. So how best to mark the anniversary? A 3,850 metre mosaic doesn’t sound like the most obvious choice, but it has become something of a modern marvel in the city. The brainchild of local artist Nguyen Thu Thuy, the mosaic is one of the few examples of public art in Vietnam. It took a full 5 years to get from the drawing board to the finished wall, and maps over 6,000 years of culture in the Red River Delta and its surroundings.
The history of Vietnam is a rich one. Starting a few minutes’ walk from the Opera House you are cast right back to the Phung Nguyen period around the year 4000 BC. Before you know it you have passed through what appears to be a turbulent period of battles and power struggles – the wall dotted with flashing swords and moustachioed warriors. As the road snakes its path along the edge of the Old Quarter things get a little more contemporary and it is the turn of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups to take a bow. The bold patterns of the Tai and Hmong ethic groups bring a flash of colour before the wall gives way to something a little more playful.
Penguins and planes
As part of the project Nguyen Thu Thuy enlisted the help of school children, their crayon sketches captured wonderfully in bright technicolor. Images of grinning footballers, aeroplanes and a gaggle of penguins lighten the mood, before we’re back to pagodas and the next stage of Vietnam’s history. All of this is played out along an otherwise dull stretch of road – and that is what makes it so great.
This was a personal vision, not a government undertaking and it is full of character and no lack of artistry. Pushed up against one of the busiest roads in town, it has brought a smile to Hanoians on their commute to and from work, and will do well into the city’s next millennium. So on your arrival into the city be sure to keep an eye out for the world’s longest mosaic, it will brighten up your journey and is the best history lesson out there.
Stopping along the great wall can easily be added to your tailored tour of Hanoi! Arrange your discovery of the city with Buffalo Tours.