Old Jan 24, 20, 6:38 am
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Returning to the hotel by taxi, we stopped at reception to see which room the hotel had moved us to; the Duty Manager was summoned, and I was astounded to be told the only suitable room was the Presidential Suite! We were escorted up to the fourth floor of the main building and given a brief guided tour of our new room (number 401 in case you’re wondering), undoubtedly the largest I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in.

Our luggage and fruit ‘hat’ had been moved to our new room whilst we’d been out enjoying the city, and later that evening a bottle of wine appeared in the suite as a further (and totally unnecessary) apology for the inconvenience.

Entering through double doors, a cloakroom was to be found to the left of the entrance, with the main living room taking up almost the entire width of the building’s wing beyond.

With a large sofa and two wide armchairs, the living room also featured a sound system and expansive desk fit for a president, complete with its own guest chairs, printer and stationery.

To the right of the living room, a separate dining room offered seating for a more than adequate ten guests (which naturally had to be tried one evening with an in-room dining-ordered dessert), beyond which was the second bedroom and ensuite bathroom, almost identical in design to our previous room.

To the left of the living room, the master bedroom featured a separate lounge area with chaise lounge, feature TV and desk monolith, and an expansive bathroom with freestanding bathtub, double vanities and walk-in rain shower, all to a different, distinctly more upscale design than that featured in other rooms.

The ledge over the toilet roll holder was a particularly useful feature to balance reading material or a phone whilst, well, you can imagine. Amenities remained Agraria, although larger bottles were offered in both bathrooms and the cloakroom, with mouth wash also available in the bathrooms. I do wonder whether upgraded premium amenities would normally be offered to guests paying for the Presidential Suite. Interestingly, a premium-branded hairdryer was available in each bedroom, in contrast to the more basic affair in our previous room.

It may have been a Presidential Suite, but that’s not to say that there weren’t a few minor niggles; the same issue with harsh lighting was evident in both bedrooms, the aircon in the master bedroom was too cold and couldn’t be adjusted, there was no magnified mirror or full length mirror in the master bedroom/bathroom, and the shower in the master bathroom was more style than substance, lacking in power, with an uncomfortable slatted wooden floor and a door that only opened outwards, ruffling the admittedly thick bath mat.

No fewer than seven private balconies surround the Presidential Suite leading from the master bedroom, living room and second bedroom, with superb views across the lake, hotel grounds and surrounding neighbourhood.

As if seven balconies weren’t enough, the suite was completed with a butler’s pantry, featuring a mini kitchen and a coffee maker, which naturally featured its own service entrance from the corridor.

After freshening up in surroundings fit for a king or queen, we headed down to the lounge for afternoon tea. Served from 2pm until 4pm, afternoon tea is an entirely waiter-service affair, with a selection of sandwiches, pastries, scones and drinks served seat-side on modern tableware. I found the flavours of the pastries to be a little bland compared to the norm for afternoon tea, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as such delicacies can often be overly sweet.

That evening we dined at one of the hotel’s two restaurants, Saigon (the other being the Italian, Milan). With visible kitchens through glass, traditional Vietnamese cuisine is offered in comfortable surroundings, with views across the lake. Excellent friendly and professional service was paired with flavoursome cooking; we liked it so much that we dined here on the subsequent two nights of our stay as well.

Our second full day in Hanoi commenced with another excellent breakfast in the Club InterContinental, this time with the egg meurette as my la carte dish of choice.

We took a taxi to the National Museum of Vietnamese History; spread over two buildings separated by a death-defying road (as all roads in Vietnam are), the first building was home to the earlier history of the country whilst the second (and more interesting) was dedicated to the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is referred as in Vietnam). It was particularly interesting to learn about the history of the War from a Vietnamese perspective.

By this point we’d mastered the art of crossing the road in Hanoi; a relatively slow but steady pace (at any point) in a straight line will generally result in the numerous vehicles and many more mopeds filtering around you. Changing speed or direction mid-crossing is not recommended unless you have a particular desire to test the effectiveness of your travel insurance.

Passing the opulent Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel and Government Guest House, we emerged at the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake and the on-lake Den Ngoc Son (Temple of the Jade Mountain). St Joseph’s Cathedral is well worth a visit, as is the small Chua Ba Da temple on its approach road to the east.

Train Street, north of Hanoi Railway Station, was sadly devoid of trains the day of our visit, but the architecture and bustle of the street made for no less of an interesting stroll along the track. We would be lucky enough to see a train making its way through the narrow street at a different location to the south of the station in a couple of days’ time.

Our third day in Vietnam’s capital started, oddly enough, with the Japanese Breakfast option from the Club lounge’s la carte menu, before we headed out via taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

It’s important to realise that the interior of the Mausoleum operates with restricted opening hours, and there are strict rules prohibiting photography within the vicinity of the imposing structure. The queue post-security was fairly fast-moving, and before long we were filing past Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body in respectful silence, all the while being watched by an imposing military honour guard.

Ho Chi Min’s Stilt House is a relatively humble piece of architecture, in contrast to the austere grey granite of his Mausoleum; after seeing his home, you can’t help but wonder whether he would really want such an imposing tomb as his final resting place.

The Temple of Literature, with its five courtyards, presents a quiet sanctuary in an otherwise hectic city.

The nearby Imperial Citadel of Thang Long includes the historic former headquarters of the People’s Army of Vietnam within the D67 Tunnel and House.

That afternoon, we visited the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre for a traditional show; interesting for the first five minutes, and tolerable for ten, the rest of the show (all seventeen scenes of it) can perhaps kindly be called ‘an experience’.

A gift of a stuffed gecko was waiting for us on return to our suite; a little too close to the real thing for my liking, I left this in the suite for it to be recycled for the next guest!

A simple omelette started our fourth and final day exploring Hanoi before that evening’s flight to Hong Kong.

Sometimes the best things are saved until last, and this visit to Vietnam was no different; our second visit to Train Street, this time to the south of the station, heralded only a half hour wait for the next train – and what an experience it was. Standing in the narrow strip of the ‘safe zone’, the train thundered past at a surprisingly swift pace – no wonder the local residents have to help some tourists understand the importance of remaining as close as possible to the buildings on either side of the tracks.

A brief stop at the unremarkable Hanoi Railway Station seemed almost obligatory after our Train Street experience, from where we walked to the small but educational Hanoi Police Museum and on to the infamous Hoa Lo Prison Museum, home to John McCain during its ‘Hanoi Hilton’ days.

Back at the InterContinental, I was pleased to see that our suite had been refreshed by housekeeping despite today being the day of departure; this is always the mark of a property on the ball. Checkout took place seat-side in the Club InterContinental lounge, accompanied by afternoon tea. The lounge manager thanked us as we left the lounge and gave us a parting gift of two small bottles of wine, thoughtfully plastic so as to be easily packed in suitcases.

Heading to a taxi, I reflected on what a great experience the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake had provided in truly unique surroundings, and what a fascinating city Hanoi is. I will definitely return to Vietnam to explore more of this picturesque and historic country in the future.

Scroll down for the second half of this trip report...

Last edited by Genius1; Jan 29, 20 at 4:09 pm
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