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This is the next installment of TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen’s series on his month-long trip to Southeast Asia. Other posts include: Send in your Southeast Asia Tips, Flight Review: Lufthansa 747-400 First Class and Trip Report: Lufthansa First Class Lounge Frankfurt Terminal 2, Flight Review: Thai Airways A380 First Class, and Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Siem Reap and Park Hyatt Saigon. In this post, he travels north to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, to visit the lakefront Intercontinental Hanoi. Here’s his review of the hotel.
The next stop on my trip around Southeast Asia was the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. The ride in from the airport to the city center takes about 40 minutes (it’s 40km away) and costs about $17.50-$20 by taxi depending on where you’re going, so I just took the easy option and got a taxi from the line of them waiting out front when I arrived.
I was actually staying a little out of the historic center of the city in an area known as Westlake because, well, it’s around a big lake to the west of the city. Though it’s a bit farther out, it only takes 10-15 minutes by taxi to reach the major historical sights like Hoan Kiem lake and the Temple of Literature.
The hotel I’d chosen was the Intercontinental Hanoi, which is right on the lake’s edge and has several buildings set on pylons out in the lake itself so you’re staying over the water if you book one of them. Nearby is also the Sofitel and Sheraton, but neither takes advantage of the lake’s proximity like the Intercontinental, and the rates for the two nights I was staying were much lower at the Intercon than the other two at just $135 per night.
I actually could have gotten the room for cheaper – around $115 per night – with an advanced purchase rate, but I thought my dates might change, so I needed the extra flexibility of being able to cancel up until the day before. I booked just a standard Superior Room because an Overwater room would have cost an extra $20 the dates I was booking (though these rooms are usually just $10 more).
Before I arrived, I got 3 separate emails from IHG asking me if I wanted to upgrade to having Club access. The opening offer was $60 per night but then it dropped to $50 per night in the second and third email. I demurred because I wasn’t sure I’d be around enough to actually use the Club amenities, and I would already get internet for free as an IHG Rewards member, so that would be $10 of the fee wasted it seemed.
When I got to the hotel, though, I took a look at the Superior Room I booked and decided it might be worth it to upgrade to Club access for $50 a day. It wasn’t just that the room seemed a bit depressing since it faced a dilapidated, dusty street, which was also noisy, but it was darker and seemed smaller compared to the room I eventually got and I just thought I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. That’s something to consider if you book – it’s not as though I was going to spend a lot of time in the room, but I did need to be there for a certain amount of time since I had to work from there, and I figured I might as well check what I could change to.
I asked what else the desk agent could do for me if I upgraded and she said she could switch me to one of two higher room categories: either a King Overwater Pavilion that would have cost $10 more a day or a Deluxe Panoramic View room, which is usually $20-$25 more a day. The Overwater room, though cheaper, actually seemed more my speed since it was way at the end of the property along a walkway past the pool and overwater Sunset bar with uninterrupted lake views and water lapping right under the windows. The Deluxe Panoramic View room would have been right in the main hotel building, just higher up.
Along with the better room, my Club access got me breakfast, tea, evening cocktails and canapes, high-speed internet (which I would have had to pay for even as an IHG member – about $10 a day) and free pressing of three items.
Was it worth $50 on its own? Probably not, but the faster internet was actually tangibly faster and gave me peace of mind for keeping in touch with work things back at home, having breakfast taken care of was also a big plus because though food is quite cheap in Hanoi, I would have had to get out and up the street and round the corner to a tiny cafe in order to sit around and eat something while answering emails, so the Club lounge made more sense, especially because I could fill up on breakfast and skip lunch if I needed to or was out without too many options during the day. Plus, a glass of wine or beer in the evening didn’t go amiss.
So I pulled the trigger and opted for the club room, which brought my per-night rate to $185 – high by Hanoi standards, but still decent overall. The front-desk staff was lightening-efficient and had me a new key, my luggage moved and my Club access letter printed out within a minute flat, and I was shown to my King Overwater Pavilion.
My room was about 450 square feet and at a corner of the building so I had windows on two sides. One on either side of the bed facing directly out across the lake, and then another on the far wall from the entrance which opened out onto my private balcony over the water, which included a table and two chairs – already a cut above my other room.
The decor was simple but elegant, which cream-colored walls, dark, straight-edged wooden furniture, white linens and a few colored accent pillows and bed runner as well as cute lamps that hearken to Vietnam’s traditional fishing baskets.
There was a large LCD flatscreen TV sitting on a chest of drawers containing the minibar. Next to that was the work desk, which had wired internet access and a universal power plug – though I had to unplug the desktop lamp to plug in my computer.
The bathroom was large if a little depressing with lighting that appeared almost fluorescent and tiling that looked like cement. It had a large glassed-in shower with wall-mounted and rainfall showerheads and a separate deep soaking bath tub. The toiletries were nice, fresh-smelling Agraria products.
And I do like having separate bath-shower amenities in the room. All rooms come with standard amenities including turndown, daily newspaper delivery, instant coffee and tea, etc.
The room was actually a good 5-minute walk from the hotel, way out at the end of both the walkway to Sunset Bar – which is a popular spot for sundowners overlooking the lake and all the new highrises going up across it. But I actually liked that since it meant it was so much quieter than the rest of the hotel.
After the chaos and pollution of Hanoi, it was a really lovely, quiet little space to come back to that still wasn’t too far out of the city center but still had a resort type atmosphere about it.
As for the Club lounge itself, I actually really enjoyed it – though whether you’d spend $50 on it is up to you. As usual, they served a lovely little breakfast buffet with fresh pastries, fruit, yogurt, cold cuts and Asian dishes like congee and dumplings as well as an a la carte menu of hot dishes including omelets, oatmeal and pancakes.
In the evenings, canapes included western choices like little finger sandwiches, as well as things like satay, sushi, macarons and cheese and charcuterie. The staff was very courteous and instead of talking to the concierge, I could just come here and get directions, suggestions and make any arrangements I needed. Was it $50 worth? Probably not, but it did make a very positive impact on my stay, though I wish I didn’t have to buy the upsell to make it happen.
The hotel also had a few other features and amenities worth mentioning. Behind the main building was the free-form pool which a lot of family guests seemed to take advantage of during my stay since the weather was nice.
The hotel also had a nice little fitness center with mostly new equipment on the second level of a building adjacent to the lobby (and yes, I actually used it!), and there were yoga and step classes offered for free to guests, as well as really nice locker room facilities with sauna, steam room and jacuzzi available. There is also a small spa where hour-long treatments run $60-$80 – expensive for Vietnam, but a bargain in international terms.
In terms of restaurants, on the lobby floor of the main building there’s a small lounge area where you can get food and drinks and then on the second floor of the main building there’s an Italian restaurant called Milan with a pretty familiar menu of Italian dishes, and a Vietnamese option called Saigon, which has a lot of traditional Vietnamese dishes – both were fairly expensive, so I ate out instead.
The most popular spot is the Sunset Bar, which is set on its own little island out in the lake and has spectacular views and expensive drinks as well as a raw oyster bar (which I also avoided), but it’s a great spot to enjoy the sunset and dusk as the buildings across the lake light up.
Overall, I thought it was a great, relaxing place to call home base during my stay in Hanoi. My one major disappointment was that I felt you had to get a non-standard room category in order to have a decent experience (anything facing away from the street or over the lake) and that the food venues were overpriced, but the staff were all very accommodating, spoke English perfectly and were very friendly, so I had a very nice stay at a reasonable price.