Going Dutch to contain yourself in Sóc Sơn

April 04, 2024 - 08:01
The rear of the property is on the bank of Đồng Đò Reservoir, but what’s incredibly unique about Gisy is its construction, almost entirely built from shipping containers.
Many of the buildings at Gisy Lake House are built using shipping containers. Photo courtesy of Gisy Lake House

Paul Kennedy

To quote Ferris Bueller from the 1986 movie when he took the day off:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

That really hit home recently after yet another wasted weekend sat on my sofa in front of the television having achieved the square root of nada.

I desperately needed to get off my backside and do something.

An opportunity quickly presented itself with back-to-back days off, my first of 2024, coupled with the fact there was no Premier League football being played!

A chance to hit the road.

Living for so long in Hà Nội, I’ve forgotten what is literally on my doorstep. OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but an hour or two drive away from the capital are plenty of perfect places to escape the hustle and bustle of Việt Nam’s second largest city.

I opted for Sóc Sơn, a pretty straight forward drive north from Hà Nội. It was along the route I encountered a strange phenomenon.

Somewhere, I guess around 25 kilometres into the journey, all of a sudden, like magic, I found myself passing through some sort of invisible force field, and the air became, well, tastier.

I get that in the days leading up to my excursion, Hà Nội was having a hard time with pollution, but the difference just a few dozen kilometres made was remarkable.

And the best was yet to come.

With zero preparation and no recommendations, I took a punt on a homestay called Gisy Lake House, and it didn’t disappoint.

Đồng Đò Reservoir in Soc Son. Photo courtesy of Gisy Lake House

The rear of the property is on the bank of Đồng Đò Reservoir, but what’s incredibly unique about Gisy is its construction, almost entirely built from shipping containers.

It was the brainchild of Dutch expat Gijs Voogt and his wife Tran Thi Hai Yen. Gijs moved to Việt Nam in 2009, and married Yen five years later.

Originally from Breda in Holland, Gijs said: “At the beginning we only planned to have something like a second home where we come to stay at weekends because we still had several clothing stores in the city of Hà Nội to manage.

“Soon we realised that we could not live both lives at the same time. It was so stressful that we started to close the stores one by one and move everything to the land we bought in Sóc Sơn and we focused on building the house up as a full time job.”

At first, the couple built a café, simply to meet people and make friends. But that quickly evolved into the guesthouse.

“We opened the coffee shop just to have some people to talk to because when we started there was no one around and it was the first coffee shop in the area," Gijs said.

“The homestay idea came later because all of our friends came to visit the house and loved to stay in the containers. We only had one room for rent in the first five years and only expanded to three rooms the last two years.”

Having worked in the marine industry in the past, Gijs came up with the idea of building modules from containers which he sourced mainly from Hải Phòng Port.

After making sure each was the right size, the containers were welded together and painted in Hà Nội before being shipped to Sóc Sơn.

Gijs said: “When all of the containers were put together, we had to deal with all the gaps between them otherwise they leaked everywhere, this also cost time and since we did not have any experience with that kind of construction, and no one else had either, we made quite a lot of mistakes.

“We also invested quite some money in insulating the walls because if you are in a steel box in summer it is like an oven if you don't insulate it correctly. This also took much more time than we expected.”

Hard work and mistakes made, but the results are spectacular. An industrial, urban structure, poking out above the peaceful, serene lake.

But this is much more than just a place to sleep. Gisy Lake House has a great bar and restaurant, also built from containers, with views to get lost in.

And OMG... that air! Sóc Sơn really is close to Hà Nội, but a million miles away in terms of air quality. One of the reason Gijs and his wife choose this location.

Gijs Voogt, his wife Tran Thi Hai Yen and their daughter Mees. Photo courtesy of Gisy Lake House

Yen said: "I felt like I just travelled to another world with that water, those green mountains covered with pine trees! I fell in love with the landscape.

"Then we started to ask local people if any family had any land for sale, and they came up with the piece we have now, which at the time was an unwanted piece because it was a triangle and nothing around and only a few trees on it. However for us it was a perfect place to start a new life with the baby."

Perfect place for many other things too. But if you just want to breathe that little bit easier, and escape the craziness of the capital city, don't contain yourself any longer, stay in a container! VNS