Compared to Saigon, Hanoi seems almost reserved, with little of the former’s hustle and entrepreneurial zeal. This is a city still more devoted to politics than business. But even though long lines form each day to catch a glimpse of the mummified Ho Chi Minh on display in a Soviet-style mausoleum, the city is not oppressive, and there are few remaining traces of totalitarian uniformity. The narrow streets that comprise the Old Quarter, many named in the medieval fashion after the trades long practiced there, are still a wonderfully atmospheric place for a stroll. The street markets are a scene of chaotic profusion: Tubs of eels, crabs and frogs stand next to tottering piles of mangoes and swathes of orchids.
Hanoi was once the capital of French Indochina, a territory that included neighboring Cambodia and Laos, and as a result, the city boasts one of Asia’s grandest colonial hotels, the Metropole, dating from 1901. We had stayed at the 364-room property once before, but that was before a recent major renovation by the Sofitel group. In an ideal location close to the Opera House, the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, the stately white hotel is split into two wings, between which lies a tranquil courtyard with an appealing pool, the celebrated Bamboo Bar and an arcade of boutiques.
Both wings have their charms, but are surprisingly different. (Each has its own lobby.) We prefer the more romantic Metropole Wing, which exudes history and a French Colonial ambience with dark marble, burnished wood, prints and traditional furniture and fabrics. The newer Opera Wing is equally comfortable, but less atmospheric. Both offer polished hardwood floors, dark-wood furniture, large desks, ample storage space and sophisticated accent lighting. Spacious and stylish baths come with separate tubs and showers.
The Metropole has long been renowned for the excellence of its restaurants, notably Le Beaulieu and Spices Garden, which, according to some (and we wouldn’t disagree), serve the finest French and Vietnamese food in the country. These have now been augmented by Angelina for Italian cuisine. The recent renovation also resulted in a spectacular new tri-level spa in the Opera Wing, offering both Eastern and Western treatments and massages, plus a hammam, Jacuzzi, sauna and fitness center.
The Metropole is a delightful hotel that would be considered among the first rank anywhere in the world. It is gracious, atmospheric and provides consistently exceptional service — the antithesis to the dreary communist uniformity that might once have been expected in Hanoi.
The Metropole 95 Grand Premium Opera Wing Room, from $410; Prestige Opera Wing Suite, from $640. 15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi, Vietnam