A Colonial Flavor Evocative of Indochine
The venerable French Quarter and its faded colonial charm is what sets Hanoi apart from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), its onetime rival in the south.
Built by the French when Hanoi was the capital of French Indochina (1887-1954), most of the area’s once handsome buildings are sorely in need of repair – even a coat of paint would be welcome – but the wide, tree-lined, still-elegant boulevards, and sprawling tumbledown villas afford visitors a glimpse of a proud, albeit struggling country’s European legacy harmoniously blended with Chinese and Vietnamese architecture.
Visit the 900-year-old Temple of Literature (the country’s oldest university) and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a pedicab ride away. Better catch it soon: While city officials decide what to do with this potentially potent tourism attraction, historic structures are being modified with modem additions and satellite dishes, or even being razed—not unlike what the French did in the name of modernization upon their arrival.
For accommodations in the Quarter, the Metropole hotel, recently restored to its original 1920s style, is once again a standout in Vietnam’s limited hotel market, recalling the days when it was operated by the French and was a gathering place for artists, writers, and government bigwigs.
A modern wing has been added, but you’ll be happiest in the original building, where architects have carefully preserved the buffed hardwood floors, green-shuttered windows, and other elements that give European distinction to the white stuccoed facade. No hotel has a better address: guests are just one block from the enchanting Hoan Kiem Lake, where smiling women twice your age and three times as supple encourage you to join their crack-of-dawn t’ai chi classes.