The Metropole Hotel in Hanoi dates from 1901 and is built in French colonial style. The rooms are comfortable, the staff is friendly and considerate, and the furnishings are grand. Wages must be quite low in Hanoi as the staff is huge. There were often three bellmen on duty, two concierge, six or more doormen at the two entrances, two or three at the desk, and large restaurant staffs in each of the three restaurants. there is one guy whose job is to check the contents of the room refrigerators and tally the bill.
I hate hotel reviews, and how stupid is it to do one without getting paid? You’ll pay a lot of money for a room at the Metropole, even in February, but it’s a great hotel, in an ideal location in central Hanoi, very near to the Ancient Quarter and to Hoan Kiem Lake, which is beautiful and a fine place for a walk. There is a story in today’s Viet Nam News, a pretty good little English language newspaper, noting concerns scientists have about the health of the giant turtle that lives at the bottom of the lake.
Here’s a typical outdoor scene at the Metropole. On the far left is the Maitre d’ of one of the hotel restaurants. Next is a hotel driver in full livery. Then a married couple who are having their pictures taken by a professional photographer in front of the hotel and at the nearby fountain. (Over the course of three days I saw at least 25 such couples). Behind them is a photographer’s assistant holding a reflector. Seated at the table are two officers of the People’s Army of Vietnam enjoying a refreshment.
I spoke to one of the photographers and she said the couples were in most cases married a month or more ago, and waited until the weather was right to have their portraits taken. They pick the hotel as a backdrop because it is pretty. The women are very into it, in some cases having makeup done and changing from the wedding gown into silk Ao Dai for more pictures. The men are less involved, standing around in rented tuxedos looking bored and smoking. I remember a similar scene in Philadelphia when carloads of wedding parties stopped to have their pictures taken in front of Swann Memorial Fountain.
After two nights I moved today to a much less expensive hotel in the Ancient Quarter. It’s name is La Dolce Vita and it’s more Spartan than the Metropole. The view from the window is squalid, no other word for it, but the hotel is clean and the room and bathroom are as well. The Internet is the same one as at the Metropole. The bellman wears a rumpled purple uniform and hat and came on initially like Andy Kaufmann’s foreign man character. Then he asked where I was from and when I told him he turned into Robin Williams; his voice dropped an octave and he said “Whoa America.” Why do you say it that way? “Well America is very rich.”
Before I checked out the travel desk at the Metropole arranged a soft sleeper on the train to Hue for tomorrow at around 3 pm, and had it delivered as well. As I waited for the ticket to arrive, seated on a bench watching a group of young tap dancers in the park (a bystander said you can watch at least one of them perform on YouTube, which is surprising since YouTube is blocked in Vietnam), I was approached by a fellow on a scooter. The guy is a master of the soft sell. We talked about our families for a bit, each showed our kid pictures, this and that, and I ended up proposing to hire him for three hours tomorrow to show me the sights. How much would that cost, I asked and he replied, as many do, “Whatever you think it’s worth.” This is, I believe, a tactic that works on new arrivals unfamiliar with the currency exchange rates, and always leads to overpayment. His name is An and I will definitely get the price agreed upon before we start. No more Shanghai haircuts.