Thursday, August 18, 2005

Colonial Splendor

When we started researching where to stay in Vietnam, we kept running across the legacy of the Metropole. A French colonial institution built in 1901, it is the only five-star hotel in Hanoi. In the past it has been the lodging of such famous and/or infamous people as Graham Greene and Jane Fonda.

The Metropole is currently operated by the Soffitel chain of the European hotel conglomerate Accor (which ironically also owns Motel 6). There are two Soffitels in Hanoi, but the other one is a new modern high-rise at the edge of the city.

Sitting on a triangular block, just two blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake, the hotel is an oasis of luxury service at very reasonable prices. We are not sure exactly what we paid for the room, which was large and spacious with mini-bar, desk area and hardwood floors, because the room price was rolled into the package Ann Tours put together. The rack rate for the hotel is still well below what we are used to paying for a mid-range hotel in New York. It was also much less expensive than the four star hotels in Saigon. Since we were only in Hanoi for two nights, we decided to splurge.

The level of luxury was unparalleled. I took a brief dip in the pool to cool off from the humidity and when I got out there was a damp facecloth and complimentary mango juice by my pool chair. One afternoon we got back to our room to find a plate of fresh lychees.

Like all the other hotels we stayed at, the room included a breakfast buffet with an omelet station and a pho stand, but at the Metropole, the cook at the pho stand wore native costume and cooked in the style of a very upscale street vendor using all fresh ingredients.

The Metropole offers a brief glimpse into how pampered colonial life could be for westerners.

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