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HanoiNovember 10, 2008 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent
Indochine heritage and French Colonial style blend in this North Vietnam gem.
Hanoi has a unique ambiance all its own. There are still genteel traces of its days as a French colony, most evident in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. For Americans, this city of 7 million has a special significance as the capital of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Some Americans might wonder if they’ll feel welcome in Hanoi. Two-thirds of Vietnam’s 85 million people were born after the Vietnam War ended in 1973. Even though there are numerous reminders of the war’s legacy, the Vietnamese have managed to turn the page on history, perhaps to a greater extent than even Americans have.
A panoramic view of the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake
Visitors to Hanoi will find the memory of North Vietnam’s former leader, Ho Chi Minh, very much alive. Ho Chi Minh is revered the way we revere George Washington—as the founder of the country. Perhaps the best place to get an understanding of the man is to visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Here visitors can examine documents and exhibits chronicling Ho Chi Minh’s life. Stand-out displays include a bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh, as well as a kitschy cavern hideout depicted as the inside of Ho Chi Minh’s brain.
Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison is better known in the U.S. as the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” where U.S. prisoners were held, with one of the more famous prisoners being Sen. John McCain. Hoa Lo was actually operated by the French in the 1950s to contain Vietnamese dissidents.
Since 2001, Hanoi has been posting an annual 10 percent growth rate in international visitors. In fact, visitors to Hanoi account for 30 percent of the country’s total international arrivals. This growth rate has spiked in 2008 and, in the first months of this year, Hanoi has seen a 15 percent increase in foreign visitors over 2007.
This January 5-12, the city will raise its profile even higher when it hosts the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2009. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, which comprises 10 member countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The Travel Exchange portion of the forum event will be January 10-12, at the Vietnam Exhibition Fair Centre and the opening ceremony will take place at the National Convention Centre in Hanoi. The event is expected to draw more than 1,500 delegates, including tourism ministers from member countries, travel suppliers and sellers of travel. An international travel fair called Travex will run concurrently. The Travex Fair will be organized at Hanoi’s Giang Vo Exhibition Centre with around 450 booths presenting tourism products.
The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake has been open less than a year and is already earning accolades. The hotel achieves a resort-like ambiance due to its location on a 1,235-acre West Lake. The Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake has 340 rooms and 19 suites looking out on the lake, the city or the property’s tropical gardens. Deluxe Rooms have a balcony that offers fine Westlake views. The rooms have wooden floors, high-speed Internet, 32-inch LCD TV and a deep-soaking bathtub with separate walk-in rain shower. The Westlake Suites include two private balconies overlooking the lake. When your clients book a Westlake Suite they’ll have complimentary access to the lake-view Club Intercontinental, where they’ll get such perks as breakfast, butler service, free Internet, complimentary pressing of up to three suits and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access. Some of the Westlake Suites and Deluxe Rooms are situated in three unique Island Pavilions set right above the water. The Presidential Suite is the most expensive accommodation at the resort, while the hotel’s Deluxe Hanoi View Rooms offer the best value. The hotel has 29 connecting rooms, which are suitable for large families.
Atelier Room at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake
The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake recently launched a complimentary shuttle service for its guests. The new service routes passengers from the hotel to the historic Hanoi Opera House, Vincom Tower, Pacific Place, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and several other stops in a circuit of the city that takes just over an hour. The hotel’s first Mercedes Sprinter shuttle leaves the hotel at 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Hotel guests can pick up the shuttle at any of the stops along the route.
Each restaurant at the hotel has a signature dish: ossobucco at the Italian restaurant, Milan; coq au vin at the Café du Lac; and pho bo (beef noodle) at the Saigon. Café du Lac offers diners views of the lake. If your clients are looking for an intimate dining experience, suggest they book a table at the wine cellar or private rooms at the Milan and Saigon.
The hotel’s general manager is Christian Pirodon. Agents can feel free to contact him at 011-84-4-270-8888, ext. 7002, [email protected].
The travel agent liaison is Nguyen Thanh Nhan, sales executive (011-84-4-270-8888, ext. 7019, [email protected]).
When Hanoi comes up in conversation, the colonial-style Sofitel Metropole Hanoi is usually remarked upon as being one of Hanoi’s most beloved hotels.
The Imperial Suite at the Sofitel Metropole
Guests can grab a little of this heritage for themselves by booking one of three historic suites named after former occupants— Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin and Graham Green. Of these three, the Graham Green Suite is the one people angle for, since it is renowned for the number of presidents who have stayed there. In fact, the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi has hosted many major players, from former presidents like George Bush and Bill Clinton, to power couples like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and political icons such as Fidel Castro.
The hotel is situated in the heart of the capital and is surrounded by leafy boulevards and lakeside pagodas. The Sofitel Metropole Hanoi is within walking distance of the Hanoi Opera House, Hoan Kiem Lake, and a selection of galleries, restaurants and shops.
The hotel has two wings, the Metropole Wing (the oldest part of the building) and the Opera Wing (the newer wing). The 363-room hotel has 184 connecting rooms and both wings have connecting rooms.
Guests can choose between eight room categories: Classic Room, Classic Deluxe, Classic Suite, Opera Room, Opera Suite, Club Room, Club Suite and Imperial Suite.
When it comes to choosing which rooms have the best views, it really comes down to preference, because the hotel has rooms with both garden and city vistas. For the ultimate in accommodations, choose room #643, the Imperial Suite.
The hotel is planning on opening a spa in 2009. For now, guests will have to content themselves with one of the hotel’s four dedicated massage rooms on the fourth floor. Agents can reach out to Tran Dai Trieu, the hotel’s spa & fitness center manager, at 011-84-4-826-6919, ext. 8703 or [email protected].
The hotel’s Le Beaulieu restaurant has a 100-year-old history, as long as the hotel itself. In the 1950s, Graham Greene often dined at Le Beaulieu and could be found bending an elbow at the hotel bar, which is now named Le Club Bar. Le Beaulieu serves French cuisine in a setting that blends Indochine decor with French flair. The hotel also has a Vietnamese cuisine restaurant called Spices Garden.
The general manager of Sofitel Metropole Hanoi is Kai Speth (011-84-4-826-6919, [email protected]). For questions or special requests, contact the hotel’s butler team (011-84-4-826-6919, [email protected]).
Location: Vietnam occupies the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula. China borders it to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west.
Getting There: Most visitors arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport, about 22 miles (45-60 minutes) north of the city. Vietnam’s national carrier is Vietnam Airlines. There are no direct flights to Hanoi from the U.S. Carriers with flights to Vietnam include United Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Cathay Pacific, Garuda Indonesia, Lao Aviation, Malaysian Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways. Most carriers connect to Vietnam’s three International hubs via Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei or Seoul.
Entry Requirements: Residents of the U.S. need a passport and a prearranged visa to enter Vietnam. A tourist visa lasts for 30 days and costs $65. Visitors must submit an application, passport and passport photo. U.S. citizens can obtain a visa application from the Vietnam Embassy in Washington, D.C., online at www.vietnamembassy-usa.org, or by calling 202-861-1297.
Currency: The dong is the official currency in Vietnam; however, U.S. dollars are widely accepted in tourist areas. The exchange rate at press time is approximately 16,041 dong to US $1.
Languages: The spoken and written language is Vietnamese. English is widely spoken in tourist areas. French is a holdover from colonial days, and is still spoken by some older Vietnamese as a second language.
Climate: The weather in the northern part of Vietnam is monsoonal, bringing a hot, rainy season from mid-May to mid-September and a warm, dry season from mid-October to mid-March. Occasional typhoons from May to January bring extensive flooding to the middle regions of Vietnam.
Water: Drink bottled water.
Time: Vietnam is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Tipping: Even though tipping is not standard practice in Vietnam, wait staff, porters, hotel maids and taxi drivers will appreciate a small tip.
Tour Operators: A partial list of tour operators with programs to Vietnam includes China Travel Service (U.S.A.) (800-899-8618), Gate 1 Travel (800-682-3333), Globus (866-755-8581), GTS Globotours (800-988-4833), Orient Flexi-Pax Tours (800-545-5540), SITA World Tours (800-421-56430), Ritz Tours (800-900-2446) and Trafalgar Tours (800-854-0103).