Hotels are key to a SE Asian vacation. We have changed our style a bit since we moved here. When we first arrived we backpacker-styled it and weren't too upset when we got bedbugs (multiple times...) and bragged about the value we got for $10-$20 per night. Then we realised that if you just spend a wee bit more (like $30-$50) you get a LOT more. Then we had a baby who crawls around on the floor and puts everything in her mouth and we realised that you can get fabulous five star hotels in SE Asia for a steal, so we went a bit fancier. Okay - we don't usually do five star, but at least four (and they're cheap). So our first two nights we stayed in this totally random hotel - the Elegance Hotel group has about six in Hanoi, and they are basically the top 10 on Trip Advisor (the best site out here for hotel recs). It was $100/night for a suite (though the balcony was nothing to write home about - see photos). Totally clean. Totally did the job, and had the best breakfast we have had in months. They had a menu with scrambled eggs, omelet, pancake, french toast and a sandwich, and Matt ordered them all, other than the , The night in Halong Bay, most people stay on boats, but I get sea sick and was terrified of my baby floating away, so we stayed in a hotel. Back in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and stay in the Sofitel Metropole which is a super old French Colonial hotel. It was way fancy, but it also helped us recognise the Haimish Line (okay - it didn't - the service at both places was really good - but when I read that article today I thought about how going fancy isn't really that worth it, as long as the other options are clean). Going back, we would definitely stay in the Elegance Hotels (we were in the Saphire) the whole time. And we are - going back.
The food we had was yummilicious. Our favourite meal was with Hang, my friend from INSEAD. She ordered everything delicious, and we loved it. Sam was an adventurous eater with yogurt and some other random veggies. We were a bit nervous about giving her too many new things for her super raw tummy (that just started eating food about two weeks ago...). The best part of Vietnamese cuisine, if you ask me, is the coffee (iced Vietnamese coffee with milk) and the pan chocolate. Holy yummy. My stomach is growling at 11:04 pm just thinking about it.
This city has so much energy. The shopping is great. The people are so nice (and they LOVE babies! More on that later). Walking around is much easier than in Ho Chi Minh City. The architecture is absolutely gorgeous. The vibe is just great - and to be honest - though we love living in Singapore (mostly) it has exactly what Singapore lacks.
We spent our first couple of days in Hanoi exploring different neighborhoods and generally just looking around. We saw the beautiful cathedral, the big, central lake, the downtowny area (and even Matt's office in Hanoi), and we got to see Hang and her beautiful belly.
Though most people go to Halong Bay on a tour, we weren't sure how we would be able to go according to someone else's schedule - i.e. if Samara needs to sleep and she doesn't, I don't really want to be around her, and I'm guessing other strangers may agree. So, we hired a car to take us out there. We had organised through our hotel there to take us out on a boat, again, on our own time. So we had assumed it was a small boat, to explore Halong Bay. There must have been some sort of mis-communication, because we got on a boat for about 40. Two decks. At least eight tables that seat at least 6 people. It was nuts and a huge waste of resources, but we enjoyed it. We sailed all around Halong Bay for four hours. Truth is that we have been to Krabi/Ko Phi Phi area in Thailand and Palawan in the Philippines. While this looked similar to both, we kind of thought that it might have been a little too similar to impress us too much. That's not to say that it's not one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. It is. But we're super jaded.
Back in Hanoi, we walked around more, ate more yummy food and generally explored.
- Literally anyone who helped us get into a car put our carseat in the trunk.
- I tried hard to order the yummiest ice coffee with milk at a local place. I ended up with iced tea and hot coffee with milk. I didn't want to waste my caffeine intake for the day, and I knew I couldn't explain how to add ice (really - very limited English/Vietnamese interchange), so we paid and left. We felt rude, but she probably thought we were just crazy.
- I have commented on this multiple times, but walking around with a baby in SE Asia is hilarious. People literally can't help themselves. Some stop walking, turn around, grab Samara's hands, dance with her, give her a kiss and then walk away. There's no way to fight it. You have to just embrace it - and we did. She caused at least a few hundred smiles each day, and she is super flirty, so she engaged. At dinner, the waitresses (or waiters) would come up, hold their arms out, and if Samara leaned towards them (which she inevitably did, they took her away. Often, they took her out of sight. She loved it!
- We don't have a car here in Singapore, and our longest drive here is usually about 20 minutes (tops). We took a road trip when we were back in Michigan, but we're not too familiar with babies in cars. They're magical. Sam went to sleep automatically almost every time we got in the car. The thumb went in the mouth. Her eyes started to glaze, and within a few minutes she was gone. It was awesome.
- We went to see a water puppets show. It was 50 minutes, and it was a proper show in a proper theater. I did not know what Sam would do and what people around us might think. The people at the hotel didn't seem to think it was a problem that we had a baby...Samara LOVED it. She cheered. She pointed. She danced. She sang. She watched the entire thing, either standing or sitting on my lap. She absolutely loved it.
- The handiwork - like the quiltwork and embroidery was literally breathtaking. The quality and beauty was beyond anything I have seen before. I wanted to buy a whole new house - pillows for the couch, bedspread, wall hangings, even embroidered flowers. I don't get impressed by stuff, usually, and I do NOT like shopping, but I want to go back to Hanoi just to shop. BEAUTIFUL!
Here's a link to photos and a few videos.