It may be one of the world’s busiest and most stressful cities, but the capital of Vietnam is a great base for a honeymoon with a twist. Here are five reasons why.
1. See how the other half live at the most luxurious hotel you’ll ever stay at.
You’ve got to stay at the Sofitel Metropole Legend if you’re honeymooning in Hanoi. For as long as I live, I’ll never stay at such an elegant, luxurious hotel. As you know, I don’t like to name-drop, but we bumped into Prince Andrew in the lift, while Charlie Chaplin also enjoyed his honeymoon here.
It’s located on a wide boulevard in the French Quarter, a legacy of Vietnam’s colonial days as part of French Indochina. Two 1950s Citroens are parked by the entrance, and the hotel’s exterior is painted in dazzling white in contrast to much of Hanoi’s crumbling brickwork.
After checking-in, we were guided past the hotel’s outdoor swimming pool to our room, and were gobsmacked when we saw our home for the next three nights.
The bathroom was bigger than most bedrooms, while the bed was bigger than the bathroom.
We had his and hers washbasins, complimentary Hermés toiletries and a huge bathtub in front of a plasma screen with a waterproof remote control. Our rooms were cleaned twice a day, with goodies left after the second cleaning including a bouquet of red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates.
A dip in the pool is a great way to start the day – there are bells attached to sun-loungers to call the waiting staff, who will run, dressed in traditional Vietnamese attire and hats, to serve you.
The only downside is the dent it’ll do to your wallet. I never did tell Kat the truth about how much our stay cost, but am sure it was well over the GDP of Vietnam.
2. Old Quarter.
This ramshackle part of Hanoi is over 1,000 years old – in fact, we were there to celebrate its 1,000th birthday. Hanoi has a population of 6.5 million, and you might think they are all on the narrow streets of this area – some in cars, some on foot but most on motorbikes.
Walking around can be a chore as merchandise from shopfronts piles on to the pavement, while crossing the road can be a scary experience for first-time westerners.
The street-food here is perhaps the best in the world. Stop off for a magical bowl of Pho Bo – beef and noodle soup with coriander and spring onions, washed down with a glass of Bia Hoi. This is watered down draught beer served from kegs on the street. Plonk yourself down on one of the tiny plastic chairs reminiscent of primary school, breathe in the traffic fumes and watch the world go by with a cold beer in hand.
3. A walk around the lake.
Hanoi is a city of lakes, with the most central and most romantic being Hoan Kiem Lake, bordering the Old Quarter and French Quarter. It is so picturesque, newlyweds come here to have photos taken for their wedding albums. They arrive by motorbike, the brides wearing jeans underneath their wedding dresses.
A stroll around the lake takes about an hour and is a great way to see Hanoians in action as they go for their morning run, tai chi session or even have a game of badminton by the shore.
4. A memorable meal.
Au Lac House is the site of probably the best meal I’ve had on my travels. In the heart of the French Quarter, it’s housed in a colonial villa. Sitting outside under a rotating wooden ceiling fan, sipping local Vang Dalat white wine and sharing a platter of gorgeous Vietnamese goodies is one of the abiding memories of my honeymoon in Hanoi.
5. Hang out in Halong Bay.
I may be cheating by including Halong Bay here, a four hour drive away, but visiting Hanoi and not seeing Halong Bay is a bit like ordering chips without vinegar.
If it’s not in one of those ‘wonders of the modern world’ lists, it really should be.
Thousands of uninhabited limestone islands jut out from the jade water, some with beaches and caves, and most with jungle vegetation on top like spiky green Mohicans.
The best way to see Halong Bay is to go on an organised tour from Hanoi. There are loads of operators that offer return minibus trips with a night or two aboard a boat. We cruised slowly between the outcrops known as karsts on a wooden junk, although if I’d have known about it at the time I think I’d have booked a trip on a traditional paddle steamer.
It is so peaceful after the madness of Hanoi, without the constant beeping of motorbike horns. You can spend your day sunbathing, swimming or kayaking. Then when the sun begins to set, your junk will drop anchor for the night and you will be given a five-course seafood banquet. I am pretty sure I will never taste anything as good as the freshly caught and grilled Halong Bay tuna.