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Published: December 6th 2009
If you ever visit Hanoi and can swing it, stay at the Sofitel Metropole. The Metropole is deliciously luxurious. Yes it is very expensive, but it's a five star hotel in every way - beautiful rooms, expensive toiletries, great restaurants and bars, and a wonderful gym and spa complex. Of course what you are really paying for is security and tranquility in the chaos that is Hanoi.
Occupying a full square block in one of the nicer areas of downtown Hanoi, the Metropole consists of two separate wings which form a perimeter around a peaceful garden, the pool area, and the spa. Our room is in the older wing constructed in 1906, which we hear is nicer than the modern wing. The floors in our room are a gorgeous, glossy dark teak wood. The bed is far and away the most comfortable one that we have slept in on this trip. The linens and pillows are much nicer than what we have at home. The bathroom is enormous and has marble floors and countertops. There are L'Occitane toiletries. Every evening, a confectionary fairy visits when we're at dinner and leaves behind several treats (e.g.,macaroon, coconut chocolates, sugar wafers, etc.) from
The Sofitel Metropole!
the on-site French bakery. It's divine.
We love the spacious dark-wood-and-marble jazz bar (with a stunning greenhouse-like building attached at the back for tea, brunch, etc) which has a full dinner menu. The hotel has three restaurants: one French, one Italian, one Vietnamese. We tried the Vietnamese restaurant one night - it was excellent. Another day, feeling peckish around 4pm, we enjoyed an afternoon tea in the greenhouse. The afternoon tea was excellent: little tea sandwiches, scones, mini loaves of bread (chocolate, vanilla, green tea), fresh fruit (watermelon, dragon fruit), small fruit tarts and chocolate tartlets, and chocolate mousse cake. At $20 (USD) per person, it's one of the better deals at the hotel.
French colonial elegance seems to define the Metropole best. Everywhere we went, we were greeted as "Madame" and "Monsieur" and we started using "Bonjour!" and "Merci" in our transactions. The bakery has a few discreet/tasteful Christmas decorations which gives the hotel a homey feel.
We didn't leave the grounds much over the next two days.
One errand we had to run was collecting our refund from the folks at Columbus Adventure Travel. Sang (the boss) was waiting for us when we arrived.
Afternoon by the pool at the Metropole.
We had barely sat down when Sang launched into a long explanation about the surprise government inspection of the Pinta Gold. He insisted that his company had done everything it could to salvage our Halong Bay cruise and that his company was not at fault. We were not buying it. What was worse is that Sang never apologized for how poorly his staff had handled the situation. On the plus side Sang gave us a complete refund in US dollars (required a bit of haggling before he agreed to refund us the 3% credit card fee).
Jessica and Sarah arrived just as we were leaving. They had chosen to stay the night at the Hanoi hotel selected by Columbus Adventure Travel. They told us the hotel was dirty, loud, and had no hot water - thank goodness we decided to splurge on the Metropole. We really enjoyed meeting them and exchanged contact information; hopefully we'll see them in San Francisco.
The Metropole is so delightful that we find that we are not at all interested in visiting other touristy sites in Hanoi. The sun has returned (finally!!) but the temperature remains a bit cold (low 60s) and it's
Relaxing in our room at the Metropole.
very windy. We've walked along the lake (since it's Saturday/Sunday, there are a lot of brides around, looking beautiful and having their photos taken). We've also taken care of some travel planning online - booking flights, selecting a hotel in Phuket, and reading up on Burma (our next destination after Phuket).
There are still many things we could see in Hanoi if we chose to (but with the option of cocooning at the Metropole, we think "why bother?"):
- The Vietnam Women's Museum. Supposedly a good, if sexist, museum that shows just how bad-assed the Vietnamese women were during the wars. Nothing like the wimpy Rosie the Riveter.
- The prison in which John McCain was held during the Vietnam War.
- The Revolutionary Museum. An interesting, if dusty, collection of propaganda that both Frommers and Lonely Planet say is worth a look.
- Various monuments dedicated to Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and other communist heroes.
We toyed with the idea of arranging a car and driver for an afternoon (they have a pair of gorgeous 1950s Citroens outside) but decided that laying by the pool, wrapped in wool blankets provided by the thoughtful Metropole employees, and reading books was a better plan.
On our last evening in Hanoi, we had a glass of wine at the Metropole jazz bar and talked about our time in Vietnam. Our verdict - there are some places we'd like to see in Vietnam (e.g., Hue, Hoi An, Halong Bay) and exploring the Sapa region in drier, warmer weather would be nice but we won't be returning anytime soon. Instead of Sapa we'd rather visit exotic hilltribes in Northern Laos. Instead of Halong Bay we'd opt for the dramatic limestone karst formations in Phuket, Thailand or Vang Vieng, Laos.
We're off to the beaches of Thailand tomorrow for a little R&R after our tour in 'Nam.
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