Vietnam’s capital is ordinarily a pitstop destination for travellers heading to Halong Bay’s mystical craggy islands and mountainous north, but Hanoi is well deserving of its own exploration with its throbbing street life, faded colonial architecture and web of winding alleyways that appear as an industrial streams, continually flowing with scooters, bicycles, bamboo hat wearing street sellers and bewildered looking tourists.
Yes, it’s busy, but unlike Asian megacities such as Bangkok the pace here is bumbling, haphazard rather than zooming and hectic, and as long as you keep your wits about you – to avoid collisions – and head out equipped for the humidity – hat on, water bottle in hand -, it’s a rather wonderful city to wander. And at the day’s end, there is a place where you can find peace and quiet without leaving the centre: the Westlake.
The Intercontinental Westlake is a big hotel, as are most of those in the Intercontinental Group, and it delivers a very consistent kind of luxury – big, shiny reception area with crystal chandeliers, bags being whisked away by smartly dressed porters, welcome drinks, all of the usual niceties – but what makes the Westlake so special is the intimacy. Despite the hundreds of rooms, the hotel is cleverly and beautifully designed to resemble an open lotus flower floating on Hanoi’s biggest lake with over water walkways leading to the Sunset Bar, and beyond that, three two-storey pavilions with rooms. There are rooms in the main building too, but the over-water pavilion rooms are the most sought after and for good reason.
We’re driven to our room on a buggy (although the distance is short enough to walk without luggage) and whilst the interiors play it safe – think traditional elegance with neutral tones, and some references to Vietnamese culture such as bamboo lampshades and wooden window shutters – the view over the lake from our private balcony (or the Hanoi skyline for some rooms) is breathtaking, especially at sunset when the water turns from glistens pink and gold.
There’s are six restaurants, including the smart evening-only Saigon headed by Michelin starred chef Herve Rodriguez which serves classic Vietnamese cuisine, the Milan restaurant with wood-fired oven pizzas and other traditional Italian style dishes, afternoon tea in the Diplomat Lounge and the all-day dining room Café du Lac where breakfast is served as well as an excellent evening buffet.
We choose to dine at the latter one evening, preferring the casual atmosphere, and are especially impressed by the sushi selection and grilled seafood, as well as an ice cream bar where you can build your own (much fancier than childhood attempts at Pizza Hut). And for light snacks, the Sunset Bar is a picturesque spot, also serving a mean Hanoi Breeze (the hotel’s signature tipple, comprised of rum, lemongrass and fresh mint). Or if you’re in a Club Room or Suite, you’ll be handed a magic key to the Club Lounge where there’s complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails and canapés.
The concierge is one of the best informed we’ve come across, which is especially welcome since Hanoi is a labyrinth and near to impossible to navigate on a first visit. He hands us a map with the hotel’s address written in Vietnamese on the back to hand to taxi drivers, and circles the best places to eat, visit and shop, and not just in the Old Quarter which is tourist-central with busloads arriving practically every hour. But there’s also plenty to do at the hotel – when the humidity’s at its peak sweatiness, walking around isn’t especially appealing – including lounging by the swimming pool, in-room massages, a well equipped 24 hour gym with steam and sauna, and yoga and Zumba classes.
Elegant, serene, centrally located and surprisingly beautiful for a hotel of this size (even from the exterior), the Intercontinental Westlake won’t disappoint.
For more information on Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake, see here.
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