This Viet-French colonial gem, capital of Vietnam and Uncle Ho’s resting place is packed full of architecture, art and food to die for. And if you’re willing to dodge the scooters, then the streets are designed for a glorious stroll.
Where to stay
Metropole | Old School French Colonial Heaven
This is the grandaddy of them all and you will need to have had a good inheritance from him to stay here. With its palatial white facade that sweeps into panelled walls, you just need Jane Fonda as a drinking partner. There is a pool to throw yourself into after a hard days snapping, hidden away from the hustle and bustle. You are also a hop, skip and a jump away from the park, Opera House and art gallery area. Oh and the Bamboo Bar…..more on that below.
Silk Path Hotel | No fuss with location on the money
Situated on the edge of the Old Town, while this hotel doesn’t have the charm of the Metropole, it does have a fabulous location. Like most hotels in Vietnam, you are better heading out for dinner and taking full advantage of the hotel breakfast, those hens know how to make a mean Omelette. Be careful to ask for a room away from the main street.
Where to Eat
Madame Hien | Viet French Joviale
When in Rome is what we say. Sitting in its own courtyard, this little treasure will bring delight and gluttony in equal measure. Do book.
Nha Hang Ngon | Street Food off the street
They might disagree with the street food label but this is fast and fresh. Mound the plates up and do take the waiters advice. A perfect end point if you are going to tackle the Metropole’s bar beforehand, or stroll around the park.
Hit the Bars
Lakeside/Cityside | Sundowners
Not all bars need a name. Head to the lake and you will find bars dotted along the side, the perfect way to finish your days exploration or begin your night time plans. The old town is also perfect for street bars – so keep your eyes peeled.
Metropole Bamboo Bar | Heaven
Go there, order the house speciality Daiquiri and that is all we have to say.
The Rooftop Bar | Kitsch Views
You definitely want to have had a few drinks before you go on here but if you are looking for a dance floor and views of the city, this is one elevator worth entering. Aficionados of karaoke will find this particularly appealing.
Must do list
Ho Chi Minh Complex | Uncle Ho Time
The Uncle of Vietnam deserves a visit – and most of Vietnamese agree so be aware (especially at weekends) that the queues can be spectacular. Head to the Mausoleum to get some personal time with the Uncle himself. He wanted to be privately buried, so forgive him if he looks a little stern. And then you can explore the rest of the complex including the museum. If you time your visit right you might even get a military parade put on for you too you lucky thing.
Temple of Literature | House of Books
Temples, plenty of them in Vietnam, so pick your targets carefully. Built in 1070, the Palace of Lit was Vietnams’ Imperial University. Dedicated to Confucius Scholars, you can suck up the incense and enjoy a myriad of carvings and statues.
Water Puppet Show | Thunderbirds have nothing on these
The Vietnamese are fiercely proud about their puppetry and this is the big boy of them all. Get your fix of mythology, folklore and plenty of singing. Book tickets and if you don’t like hanging out with tourists and flash photography, then this isn’t for you…
The Perfume Pagoda | Car, Boat, Cable and Foot
If you want to escape the city and head out for the day, the Perfume Pagoda will get you through more types of transport than most. An hours trip by boat up the river, a cable car to the top and a good jog down the hill afterwards. You will definitely deserve your supper.
Pho Hien and Tho Ha | Rural and Rice.
If you’re looking for something a little different away from he tourist trail and can handle a good car journey, then you can really soak up Vietnamese life by heading to Pho Hien. Get there early to see the market in full swing and be prepared to be laughed at if you haven’t managed to get those white legs sorted out. Head on to Tho Ha, a small island in the river to check out a village entirely devoted to rice paper making.
Sapa | Head to the hills
While you’re based in Hanoi, book yourself away for two or three nights in Sapa. It will make you come over all colonial and romantic. Sitting right up in the mountains in the north, Sapa is surrounded by Bamboo and Rainforest (and apparently white Panda’s but we didn’t see one). With its rice terraces and tribal communities, you will be swept away with the landsape
Sleeper Train | Rolling Romantic
Hop on the nightly sleeper from Hanoi – the carriages will sway like a palm in the wind but don’t panic, the French were just a little more shy about the width of their rails. Do take first class, either through the Frangipani Express of The Victoria Hotel. If you would rather have a view and want a good nights sleep, the highway opened in late 2014 – and will have you in Sapa in just over 4hrs.
In our book, it’s the only place to stay, with a great view and do book yourself a spa treatment – they are divine. Save the hotel restaurant for breakfast and head out for dinner.
The Red Dao House | Feast Retreat
Hotpots and pork in caramel make this a must. Head inside if you want to be cosy or sit on the veranda to soak up the heat – and sometimes the rain which isn’t uncommon in Sapa.
Must Do | Trekking
Errrrr Trekking? If you have a fear of walking boots and sticks, then get over it. Sapa is home to more fake North Face gear than Rodney Trotters lock up so you can always do a deal when you are there and leave your purchases behind if you haven’t formed a lifelong attachment.
Your itinerary is likely to include a visit to Cat Cat Village – if we are being brutal (and we always are darling), then don’t cry yourself to sleep if you miss it. Do ensure that you trek along the Muong Hoa River however – it’s 15km’s and perfect to do in a day. Take a picnic and the suncream. Guides are recommended, if only to fish you out of a rice field as you will be in one quicker than you can snap your fingers.
As with all of Vietnam, you need to call in the power of Moses when you cross the road. Walk slowly, steadily and calmly despite the wave of scooters bearing down on you and they will part for you. Run and you will end up maxing out your travel insurance.
Wine. Very good. Very expensive.
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