Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hanoi and the Hilton Hanoi Opera

Our stay in Hué was much too short, but it was time to head to Hanoi. We took a taxi from our hotel and the ride took maybe 30 minutes. The traffic in Hue is much more manageable than in the larger cities of Vietnam. We checked in at the tiny airport and made our way up to the departure area, which was barely air conditioned and I was sweating to death. This is a picture of our plane, which was 1 of 2 planes parked out there that day.

Before long our flight was called and they had a bus to take us to the plane again. I took a picture of this new-ish airline in Vietnam called Vietjet Air.

This is the A321 that would take us on the very short flight to Hanoi. As it turned out, we were the only 2 people in the business class cabin. Oddly enough, that wasn't the first time that has happened to us. The other time was on a flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines in 2009.

They put us in row 3 again with 14 out of the 16 seats empty in this cabin. We had really good service with our own dedicated flight attendant.

The legroom was standard for business class but the seats were a little worn out. There was a small footrest, which was nice.

One of the strange things I noticed about our flight was all the bombed out areas surrounding Hue. The city is just south of the DMZ and saw some of the heaviest bombing in the Vietnam/American War. It's so strange that after 40 years a lot of areas have not grown back. It's a very sad reminder of that horrible time in our respective countries' pasts.

They served a small snack which was not so great. I ate the bread and the meat. I didn't touch anything else. I think the Star stuff was yogurt.

When we arrived in Hanoi I noticed that we were parking at a remote stand again and had to be bussed to the terminal. We were the only people on the short brown bus.

This is a shot from the bus toward the main terminal with a Qatar Airways 777-300ER visible. That plane comes from Bangkok and then back again and on to Doha. The terminal is tiny and they are building a completely new terminal beside it which probably won't open for a few years.

The Hanoi airport is a good hour away from the city. We arranged to have the Hilton car get us. Our driver met us in baggage claim and we were whisked away in our black BMW 5 series. The sun was just about setting when we arrived at the Hanoi Hilton Opera, which is a really nice hotel but has very dated decor in the rooms. The rest of the hotel is fairly nice. 

We had a welcome fruit platter waiting for us in the room, which was a nice touch. My favorite, dragon fruit, is the pink one in the middle.

The outside of the hotel reminds me of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas and it is located right across the street from the Opera house.

The next day we had a guide meet us at the hotel from Hanoi Free guides. They are a group of students and young people who take people around the city for free. It's a really great idea and our guide was really nice. He took us to the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum, but we only went to the museum. The line to see his body was wrapped around the block and was easily a 2-hour wait. In that heat and humidity, it was not an option.

Our guide also took us to the famous pagoda at the West Lake called Tran Quoc. It is really beautiful and the lake area is quite nice. He also took us to the Temple of Literature, which was the original university in Hanoi.

That evening we found a restaurant just around the corner from the Hilton called Cafe Le Bon. Of course I made a Duran Duran joke about it on Facebook. We were one of the only people in the restaurant. The food was good if not a little expensive for upscale Vietnamese food.

This is a shot of the opera house right next to the Hilton hotel. It is located in a really nice part of the city that is walking distance to a small lake and many markets including the weekend night market.

On our last night, we ate dinner at Cafe Lautrec located in the Hotel de l'Opera which was about 1.5 blocks from our hotel. This was probably one of the best meals I've ever had and definitely the best meal we had in Hanoi. The best part was that it was a set menu of 3 courses for about $20USD. It was a bargain and the service was excellent. The restaurant had a modern yet retro elegance to it and I still think about that meal.

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