Do you agree that your hotel location can make or break your entire trip? I do! Hence, when we were planning for the trip to Hanoi, I contemplated long and hard before I made a decision. Vietnam’s capital is compact, yet it is divided into areas which are quite far from being alike.
There are several districts in Hanoi, but I was particularly torn between staying in the Old Quarter or in the French Quarter. I always love to be where the action is, so Old Quarter was an initial choice. But then I hate crowded and chaotic areas! And that’s why French Quarter came into the picture!
It was a petty travel dilemma that lasted for a week and was only solved by booking a one night stay in both quarters! Crazy as it may sound, but it seemed doable to me. So the final decision was to spend the first night in Old Quarter, the second night in Halong Bay, and the third night in French Quarter.
With this, we got to experience the best (and the worst) of both worlds in Hanoi. And I am happy to share it here just in case you got caught in the same situation.
Let’s start with…
The Old Quarter!
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the busiest place I have ever set foot in. I would also say it’s the craziest, next to Old Delhi! Narrow streets are lined with old colonial buildings that need refurbishment. Traffic is insane and traffic lights are shockingly not followed! Motorbikes are the kings of the road. They zigzagged their way through any available space and left me dumbfounded. I was like a deer in headlights countless times!
But don’t get me wrong! Old Quarter is chaotic, yet it is charming… very very charming! Cute coffee shops are everywhere. Locals sit happily in little plastic chairs. They watch the world (and the intense traffic) go by while sipping ca phe and nibbling sunflower seeds. The wild streets are sometimes beautifully accentuated by cyclos overly filled with fresh flowers, and the serenity of Hoan Kiem Lake offers a quick escape from all the madness!
Attractions and Restaurants nearby
Being the very heart of Hanoi, the Old Quarter offers a lot of things to do, sights to see, and food to try. What I loved about staying in this area is that most popular attractions are within walking distance. Ed and I had a do-it-yourself walking tour from our accommodation to these popular spots and restaurants:
- Hoan Kiem Lake: a scenic refuge located in between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter.
- The Huc Bridge: a picturesque red bridge in Hoan Kiem Lake often seen in Vietnam postcards
- Turtle Pagoda: a symbol of Hanoi which signifies the golden turtle in the legend behind Hoan Kiem Lake
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theater: an hour long water puppet show showcasing Vietnam’s tradition and music
- Cafe Giang: a hidden gem specializing in egg coffee
- Green Tangerine: a restaurant in a colonial building offering a fusion of French haute cuisine and Vietnamese culinary art
- Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su: one of the best places to devour a bowl of authentic pho
- Bahn Mi 25: Hands down, this street stall serves the best baguette sandwich in Hanoi!
- Joseph Cathedral: a Catholic church resembling Notre Dame de Paris
- Old Quarter is a popular base for backpackers. There are lots of hostels and budget hotels in the area. Ed and I stayed in Hanoi HM Boutique Hotel; a small hotel ideal for travelers who seek for convenience but don’t want to sacrifice comfort.
- We spent a night in a deluxe room complete with amenities and complimentary As it is smacked in the middle of Hanoi’s fascinating chaos and our room has a terrace facing the street, we were not surprised to hear loud honks in the middle of the night. Despite of that, we still had a good night’s sleep… most probably because we’re too tired to even bother.
- Complimentary buffet breakfast is served in the 9th floor. The hotel restaurant offers a good view of Hoan Kiem Lake. We had our morning meal beside the window where we could see the Turtle Pagoda. The buffet is not that big but there is a good variety of food. Egg dishes and pho are served hot and fresh from the kitchen upon request.
- The staff treated us like their new found friends. They ask how we are doing every time we pass by the lobby and helped us with directions a lot of times.
Now, let’s talk about…
The French Quarter.
Just on the other side of Hoan Kiem Lake lies the French Quarter. Although it is only a short walking distance from the Old Quarter, it radiates a contrasting vibe. It has wider pavements which serve as real footpaths and not as parking spaces for motorbikes. Road signals are still not followed, but traffic is less fierce than what we encountered at the Old Quarter.
The French Quarter is lined with grand boulevards and well-maintained colonial buildings. It actually reminds me a lot of Paris. I could see Opera Garnier in Hanoi Opera House, and the grand avenue is a reminiscent of Champs Elysees.
Attractions and Restaurants nearby
The French Quarter offers a very pleasant detour when Old Quarter gets overwhelming. Ed and I had a lovely time strolling in the boulevard from our hotel to these sights:
Hanoi Opera House: a grand remnant of France’s colonial past
- Trang Tien Street: Hanoi’s shopping street for luxury brands. I spotted a Christian Louboutin shop here!
- Kem Trang Tien: This famous ice cream shop serves Hanoi’s traditional sweet staple.
- Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi: a luxury address since 1901
- Quan Com Pho: a budget-friendly restaurant famous for home style cooking
- Hoan Kiem Lake: The natural fresh water lake is nestled in between the two very distinct quarters.
Because of its fancy ambiance, I would say that the French Quarter is ideal for business travelers, for honeymooners, for people who are celebrating something special, and for people who simply want to be pampered while on vacation. The latter is basically me!
Ed and I spent a night in Hilton Garden Inn; an upscale, mid-priced hotel situated 600 m from Hanoi Opera House. It is a property of an international luxury hotel chain; hence, it is a far cry from our previous accommodation. Our room got upgraded to a spacious one-bedroom suite with a living area, a bathroom with a separate shower and bathtub, and Peter Thomas Roth bath and body set. I have never felt so spoiled in this entire trip! Wifi is complimentary and room is soundproof!
We had our breakfast in the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant. The buffet has an array of local and international dishes. There’s a live-cooking station for egg dishes and they offer a variety of coffee! Cappuccino, please!
Service is excellent! And that’s not just because we got upgraded! The staff are polite and can communicate in English very well.