We had made a quick weekend trip to Hanoi for a much needed break. It was going to be an easy, laid-back excursion to explore the city’s food and historical sites. As with all our travels, the choice of hotel was important as where we stayed was integral to the holiday experience. It was something we were ready to splurge a bit on. I had stayed at the famous Sofitel Legend Metropole on a previous trip to Hanoi. It was everything I wanted for a holiday ‘home’—beautiful grounds, gorgeous suites, nice cocktails, good food, prompt service. (That it had a lot of history around and under it was a bonus.) Unfortunately, the location was a little isolated, quite far from the excitement and colour of the Old Quarter.

So this time, we decided to stay nearer the action, which meant choosing from among the local hotels. There were no Ritz Carltons or Hyatts around, but we could live dangerously. So the hubs and I spent a week poking about various websites, and finally decided to take our chance on Ha Noi Pearl Hotel—yes, spelt that way. The pictures on its website looked somewhat elegant, and it promised an excellent location just a one street away from Hoan Kiem Lake, the city’s main park. A few minutes’ walk along the lake would bring us to the buzzing French Quarter with its food and shops, and to the water puppet theatre. What’s more, they had excellent reviews from travellers from almost everywhere around the world.

Arriving on a Saturday afternoon, we were dropped off at the main road and made our way to Ha Noi Pearl on foot for the final 50m, dragging our suitcases along. The streets around Hoan Kiem Lake were closed to vehicles on weekends, and busy with people making their way to the park. Rock music from buskers by the lake carried over. It was a festive, messy, exuberant welcome to Hanoi.

We held our breaths as we approached Ha Noi Pearl down the narrow street. Sandwiched between two other local hotels, its façade was a 1970s interpretation of elegance. Two doormen (they had doormen!) greeted us as we approached and heaved our luggage up the few steps into the lobby where the 1970s decor continued. We took it as a good sign that the lobby was full of international tourists—mainly European retirees. If this was a bad choice, at least we knew we were not alone. But then, our trepidation dissipated when the front desk staff started checking us in efficiently and in a most friendly manner, speaking fluent English and addressing us by name. These were very good signs indeed, and we finally allowed ourselves to start feeling impressed and pleased with our dangerous little discovery.

We folded ourselves into its tiny lift and creaked up to the 8th floor. The staff would bring our luggage up later. We had booked the Premier Suite (US$132 per night), the best room of the Ha Noi Pearl, and as you can see, it was tastefully finished, with one bedroom, and a separate living room spacious enough to put a roll-out bed with room to spare. Tasteful, evocative black and white photos of old Hanoi adorned the walls. There were electrical points galore, including many three-point outlets, which meant we didn’t have to fuss with travel plugs. The bathroom was big enough to hold a cocktail party, and the shower was good and strong.

Our suite was at the end of a corridor where a narrow winding staircase brought us to the rooftop. Delight of delights, there was a bar there! It was a very tasteful set-up, with a contemporary, air-conditioned lounge complete with piped-in jazz, mood lighting, and the option of al fresco seating.

Better yet, it was quiet. International classic cocktails offered here were very decent, and delightfully priced at around S$6—inexpensive enough for several rounds of drinks in the evening. From the rooftop, there was not much of a view to speak of—just the neighbouring buildings which were atmospheric in a grotty sort of way, and laser lights from Hoan Kiem Lake. We could also hear the buskers loud and clear, belting out American rock music and playing to enthusiastic crowds of young Vietnamese by the Lake. (I wonder what Uncle Ho would be thinking if he was around to see.) The downside was that we could still hear some of that from the room while we were trying to bed down for the night.

For a local hotel, the breakfast was good. Served at the restaurant where the 1970s vibe continued, it had a more-than-decent international spread with juices, pastries, cereals, cold cuts, sausages and hash browns, eggs cooked a la minute. It was clear that effort and care had been invested, and whoever was in charge had definitely been professionally trained in hospitality. What’s more, the hotel staff were proactive and gave good service. Most spoke fluent English, and often asked for feedback or offered information about touring the city, without pushing tour guide services. They also took the trouble to remember our names. That was appreciated.

Would I go back to this dinky hotel? Yes, I would. It is not luxe and far from a Ritz Carlton, but the rooms are lovely, service is very good indeed, and value and location  excellent. If you were looking for a place to stay for your trip to Hanoi, I would definitely recommend this. 🙂

(Credit: 2nd and 3rd picture from www.hanoipearlhotel.com)

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