Over fifteen days traveling by train through Vietnam, we have spent more time in hotels than the previous eight months. No kidding! I’d researched our options rather extensively before making any bookings, agonizing for hours over my choices. In the end, I settled on a couple nights in Hanoi, another couple in Hue, another couple in Da Nang, only one night in Nha Trang, two nights in Ho Chi Mihn City, followed by one night back in Hanoi.
As with most of the hotels, I selected each one based on its central location, the room rate, free wifi, free breakfast (because in the end it saves us even more), the reviews on TripAdvisor, and the pictures. None of the hotels were big chain hotels as I decided to try small boutique-style hotels (less than 100 rooms with unique look and feel) for the entire Vietnam trip. Three of our hotels had less than 25 rooms, one with under 50, and two under 85. Small places, indeed!
Our first stay in Hanoi was at Hoang Ngoc Hotel near the old quarter. With only 21 rooms, we knew it would be cozy. I contacted the hotel ahead of time due to having a large package being sent to me, which could possibly have tariffs that would need to be paid. Once we arrived, we were informed the package had been delivered, but with an incredibly large (as in in the millions) large tariff, so they were hesitant to accept it. Basically, it cost more than the two room nights put together. But once we said we were OK with the charges (about $90 bucks in taxes), they had the delivery company return it the next day. Our room was spacious with a small balcony and a great view of the city that allowed me to take photos of the crazy traffic in Hanoi from up high. As a special treat, the the staff brought up fresh fruit for us and always had a smile at the ready when we walked in or out of the building. They called cabs when we needed to go long distances and always made sure we had a map and a general understanding of the area when we went out walking. And when we needed to store our bags for several hours due to our very late train departure, they did so with a smile. What a great group to work with!
We overnighted from there to Hue on the train, checking into the Canary Boutique hotel at around 10:30 in the morning -- well ahead of the check-in time. But that wasn’t a problem at all and we were promptly shown to our room. The bellman carried my suitcase up five flights of stairs, because I’d asked for a top floor, and there wasn’t an elevator. Again, this was another spacious room (we’d heard rumors of tiny living spaces in Vietnam) with over accommodating staff. As in Hanoi, they were super sweet, curious about our plans for the day and asked if they could assist us in any way. At their suggestion, they arranged for us to take a private dragon boat to see the pagoda and the Citadel. Their free breakfast was amazing. He was on his “15 days of Pho” kick and pronounced the Canary’s version fantastic! Though he might have overdone it on the chilis. After a couple bites, he uttered words I’ve never heard from his mouth before: “This might be too hot even for me” and immediately started taking chilis out of the bowl. Me? I had a lovely banana chocolate pancake, which I assumed it would be a light fluffy pancake with bananas baked right in. Nope! The deliciousness I received was a dense crepe-type pancake with chocolate and bananas spread over the entire pancake. I’m pretty sure I gained 5 pounds just from that one breakfast!
After a couple of days, we boarded the train to Da Nang. The view on the train between Hue and Da Nang hugs the rugged coastline of Vietnam and is not to be missed. Seriously. Even if you only take the train from Hue to Da Nang, do it! We arrived at the Sea Phoenix hotel in mid-afternoon and instantly fell in love! The room was on the 10th floor (yes, this time with a lift) and had floor to ceiling windows on two of the walls, with the the largest facing the ocean! The room was decorated in white and chocolate brown and featured a chaise lounge. Very posh! The pool on the rooftop is one of the best I’ve been to and not to be missed. We had a late train to Nha Trang so we spent the day at the pool and using the wifi to get a bit of work done. We even grabbed lunch on the rooftop and was surprised at how inexpensive and good the food was. And once we were done, they were ever so helpful to hail us a cab to the train station.
Our next stop was at The Summer near the beach in Nha Trang. We were placed in a spacious room with a lounging area overlooking the city. Once again, we spent a lot of time on and in the roof top pool area. The pool was lovely and had a fantastic view of the city and an even better view at sunset. We ate a late lunch and had drinks (my fruit shakes were buy-one-get-one) and the food was quite tasty! After a post-dinner walk around town, we wound up back at the rooftop to listen to a bit of music and play some pool. We made a mellow Sunday out of it, as our train didn’t leave until around 10pm. After we checked out -- they held our bags all day -- we wandered through town, hung out at the beach, and then ended back at the rooftop bar area to get a little work done and conduct a conference call. This was a great place to conduct the conference call (once we had them turn the music down just a bit) as there was nobody else up there.
Unfortunately, our good luck with Vietnam hotels took a turn for the worse in Ho Chi Mihn City. And since we like focusing on the good things, we’ll skip talking about it. Though it was much larger than the other hotels we’d been visiting. A theme, perhaps?
After a crazy 33-hour, straight-through journey by train, we arrived back in Hanoi around 5:00a. Two days after leaving Ho Chi Minh City. Quite naturally, the hotel was not yet open, so we stashed our bags at the Blue Hanoi Inn and went in search of a bit of food and some much needed coffee. After sitting on a train for the past 33 hours, it was nice to walk, stretch our legs, and get some sit down food in our bellies! We got back to the hotel around 10a, they had a nice surprise for us: an upgraded, larger room just so we could check in right away. Score for us! The room was again quite spacious and had a large working space of a desk. The breakfast was good and the staff was super friendly -- so much so that the woman who checked us in came in early two days later to say goodbye to us as we caught our cab to the airport.
I’m no stranger to boutique hotels. But this was the first time I’d made a concentrated effort to choose so many in a row. I really enjoyed the personalized service and now… I don’t think it’s an either or choice anymore. Of course, your travel needs will dictate what you choose. For us, the boutique nature worked so well for our Vietnam trip, they’re our first choice from here on out!