A city of lakes and French colonial architecture, Vietnamâ€™s thousand-year-old capital offers the luxury traveler a treasure trove of delightful havens amid the weathered charm of its bustling streets.Â
Perched on the edge of iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, the French colonialâ€“inspired Apricot Hotel (84-4/3828-9595; doubles from US$115) opened its doors last summer. Art lovers will appreciate the 123-roomed hotelâ€™s dedication to showcasing the work of prominent Vietnamese artists. To date, the Apricot has over 600 paintings and sculptures on display, most of which are for sale.
The former Sofitel Plaza has just reopened as Pan Pacific Hanoi (84-4/3823-8888; doubles from US$160), with a revamped lobby and bar, not to mention a brand-new all-day dining restaurant. Its 273 rooms are housed in a 20-story tower overlooking the capitalâ€™s largest lake, offering both quiet luxury and expansive skyline views.
Modern European eatery Cousins (84/94-992-5863) has added a third outlet in Hanoi as of August. The eclectic menu, which serves up classic French dishes like beef bourguignon and Spanish cuisine staples such as gazpacho, also lists handmade ravioli and fish and chips. The trio of eateries are owned by French cousins Cyprien Pierlovisi and Maya Ruyssen, who sought to bring Hanoi its first European gastropub.
Latin and local gastronomy unite at the months-old Hanoi Taco Bar (84/125-219-2483), where the impressive selection of snack-size tacos include a tortilla-based version of bun cha, Hanoiâ€™s signature grilled-pork-and-noodle dish. The hip taquerĂa also serves up classic mixes and signature drinks, such as the pandan and cinnamonâ€“infused rum cocktail Fidel and Che, while patrons can take their pick from the most extensive range of tequila and mezcal in town.
Wine bar and event spaceÂ Lâ€™ApĂ©roÂ (84-4/3719-0618) made its debut this June in Tay Ho, the cityâ€™s expat-friendly hub of restaurants and bars. The space is co-owned by Julien Godard and Hoa My Nguyen, a husband-and-wife duo that has spent years importing and distributing wine in Vietnam. From their wine list, Godard recommends Turners Crossing (a Viognier Shiraz from Australia) and Soprano (a Syraz, Grenache, and Pinot Noir blend from France), which come from independent producers and pair well with Vietnamese cuisineâ€”especially grilled meat.
While Hanoi is more known for its low-key hipster bar scene and Bia Hoi Junctionâ€”an Old Quarter intersection where makeshift bars pour pitchers of the local draft beerâ€”Camelia Lounge (84/93- 969-3223) opened in August to fill the gap for a more exclusive nighttime venue. Revelers who come to this buzzing spot at the MeliĂˇ Hotel, just south of Hoan Kiem Lake, can sip on Bollinger Champagne while lounging on the outdoor terrace, pair bubbly with a cigar or Asian ceviche, and admire the vast wall murals of ceramic pop art inside.
A mainstay of the Vietnamese fashion and art scene is Chula (84-4/3710-1102), which is headquartered in Hanoi but also has stores in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi Anâ€”the countryâ€™s hub for bespoke fashion. In March, Chula launched their David Bowieâ€“inspired collection as a tribute to the late artist. The line features the musicianâ€™s iconic images, most notably the lightning bolt of Aladdin Sane, embroidered and patchworked on traditional ao dai.
For history and art buffs traveling to Hanoi, Sophieâ€™s Art Tour (84/121-830-3742) is an intimate journey through Vietnamâ€™s turbulent past as seen through the eyes of its artists. Stops run the gamut from the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts, where ceramics and lacquers by modern post-war artists and pieces dating back to the feudal era are on display, to Manzi, a gallery-cafĂ© housed in a restored French villa showcasing contemporary Vietnamese paintings and photography.
Vinh Nguyen,Â Art director at 99PhanTram Studio
Besides the unpredictaÂble weather which is at its most pleasant in the late fall or early winter, Hanoi also offers such exciting diversity in its cafĂ© culÂture and artisanal goods. FIKA CafeÂ (84/168-568- 7641) is a Scandinavian-style cafĂ© on the edge of the French Quarter that has great coffee and a rooftop terrace. FukuÂ (84/91-270-1357) is an artisanal leather shop hidden in an alleyway in the old quarter thatâ€™s part-cafĂ© and part-workÂshop. Look for resident leather artisan and owner Mr. Ha if you go.
Nguyen Van Khu,Â Chef at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake hotel
You donâ€™t need to dine in restaurants to experience the cityâ€™s incredible food scene and in fact, some of my favorite places to enjoy Hanoian cuisine are from street vendors. For the famous cha ca thang long (grilled fish with turmeric and dill), head to Cha Ca La VongÂ at 14 Cha Ca Street. Meanwhile, the best goi du du kho bo (papaya-and-beef-jerky salad) can be found at 51 Dinh Tien Hoang. If youâ€™re on a culinary exploration of the Old Quarter, take a walk down Hang Chieu Street and Phat Loc Lane.
This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śCity Guides: Hanoiâ€ť).