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Hanoi part 1: Arrival and Hanoi Holiday Hotel

by on April 28, 2008

Sorry for taking so long, but we’ve finally got a Hanoi post! In this part, I’ll be talking about our arrival in Hanoi, the Hanoi Holiday Hotel, and other general observations of Hanoi for a first time visitor.

The Airport

You’ll need to present this and your passport at any hotel in Hanoi

Airports are the first look any traveler will have of the city he’s about to visit. When we arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong airport last year we were blown away at the sheer modernity of it. When we saw how nice and slick the Davao airport was, we wondered why our capital’s international and domestic airports were so shoddy.

Noi Bai International airport in Hanoi has the advantage of being the newest international airport in Vietnam. It still looks new, and from the outside reminds me of the as yet unopened NAIA terminal 3. The inside is nothing special, but everything is spic and span, and the bathrooms are clean. There’s an absence of water fountains or water dispensers, which so far we’ve only experienced in the Shanghai and Manila DOMESTIC airport. All in all, the airport was pretty standard fare.

The Taxi

Night shot with long exposure in the taxi

One of the most harrowing things a traveler in an unfamiliar city can encounter is the first taxi ride into the city. Especially arriving at 1:30am in the morning, we didn’t want to be stuck in the airport haggling with a Viet taxi driver who may or may not know how to get to our hotel. Luckily for us, Hanoi Holiday Hotel kept their word about sending a hotel driver to pick us up. Well, “hotel driver” may be a misnomer. What happens is the hotel will contact a taxi driver or company, give him the passenger’s name and arrival time, and have him ferry the passenger to the hotel. If you arranged this with the hotel, they will pay the drivers ahead of time, so you won’t have to haggle with them about the fare or get duped into staying at a different hotel where the driver will get a commission.

Luckily our driver was a decent enough fellow, whose command of the english language began and ended with hello. That suited us just fine, since we weren’t really in the mood for conversation after the flight. Don’t be surprised if your taxi driver doesn’t turn on the airconditioner during your drive. I don’t know if it’s a fuel saving measure, but it seems they don’t typically turn them on. I don’t think they’d mind if you asked them to turn it on, but I wasn’t in the mood to play charades. After an uneventful 40 minute drive to our hotel, we were dropped off at a dimly lit building. After rapping on the door a few times, a sleepy hotel staff member opened the doors and told us in broken english that we would have to stay in another hotel.

Hanoi Holiday Hotel, and Hotels in Hanoi in general

After hours of filtering through reviews on Tripadvisor, two things become apparent about hotels in Hanoi. One is that bookings are rarely ever final. I can’t put my finger on why this happens, but almost every review of a hotel in Hanoi will have at least one horror story about a tourist being told that the hotel they’d booked was full, and that they would have to stay elsewhere for the night, more often than not in an seedier affiliated hotel. Never mind that you booked months in advance, or that you paid through a hotel booking aggregator like Hotelclub or octopustravel, reservations are only final once you’re in your hotel room, and even then things can get iffy.

The second thing is that you can bargain a hotel’s prices down to below their regular rates, but if you do so prepare to be bombarded with offers of tours. The hotel will try to make the money they lost on the room rate by booking a tour with a friendly tour operator, so they will continuously pester you and in some cases I read that they mock or insult you if you choose not to get a tour with them. We had planned all along on getting a Halong Bay tour, so that was never an issue with us. It’s still something to keep in mind though.

While the second of the Hanoi horror stories didn’t happen to us, the first certainly did. Bleary eyed and tired as all hell, the hotel staff member led us down an alley near Hanoi Holiday to a seedy looking hotel whose name I didn’t bother to remember. Our frustration mounted as we got to our room, which had a malfunctioning airconditioner, a dusty fan, rough sheets, and a bathroom with an open shower. This had to be, bar none, the seediest place I’d ever tried to sleep in. “Roach motel” comes to mind.Emphasis on try, because neither Aissa and I had much sleep that night. We’d arrived in the “hotel” around 3am, and stumbled groggily out at around 7. The hotel staff (who we will refer to as “night manager” from now on) had said he would pick us up by 8 or 9, but I was so frustrated I’d decided we would force the issue, and if they didn’t get us a room by then, we would simply book with one of the numerous hotels we’d seen along the way.

Luckily night manager seemed to sense our cranky moods as we lumbered towards the hotel, and told us that our room would be ready by 8am, and we could have breakfast while we waited. Hanoi Holiday’s website advertises a “buffet” breakfast, but that might have been a while back, since now they just offered us a choice of three different breakfasts: Continental, American, and Vietnamese. We ordered Vietnamese since we were in Vietnam, but were soon told that it wasn’t available. We settled on Continental, which is basically scrambled eggs and toast with juice and coffee. The juice was freshly squeezed lemon and was actually quite refreshing, and the toast and eggs were pretty normal.

The “view” from our hotel

After breakfast we were informed by night manager that our room was ready, and we greatfully climbed to the 3rd floor to our room, which to our surprise was their most expensive “city view” room. I figure they overbooked again, and this was the only room they had on hand. At that point we didn’t care though, and were just grateful to have somewhere nice to sleep. Even without the contrast to the shitty hotel we stayed in the night before, Hanoi Holiday’s rooms were as nice as advertised (check the pictures out on their website), and well worth the money. If you take a look at the room pictures they have on their website, it looks exactly like that, and for $20 a night, they’re some of the best bang for buck rooms you’ll find in Hanoi. Eventually we were moved to the real room that we booked, a standard room, which was just as nice as the city view room, except it had an airconditioner that had to be smacked around a few times to keep it quiet.

scooters along hang manh street

So do I recommend Hanoi Holiday Hotel? It’s really hard to say. On the one hand, they offer a terrific value proposition, their staff were excruciatingly polite, and they’re located in a terrific place in the old quarter that’s walking distance to many tourist attractions and shopping areas. Unfortunately that first night really threw us off. We’re not picky with hotels mind you, but we expect to get what we paid for, and unfortunately we didn’t exactly get that with Hanoi Holiday. I’ll let you guys make the decision for yourselves.

As an alternative, try the Rising Dragon hotel. They’re a bit more expensive at $30 a night compared to $20 for Hanoi Holiday, but the staff responded quickly and were up front with the fact that they were booked on the 17th, and thus couldn’t offer us a room. They offered to book us in a nearby hotel for the first night, but the reviews of that hotel were less than stellar so we passed. Little did we know…

The other hotel I’d suggest is the Pan hotel. It looks like it might be relatively new, as it doesn’t have any reviews so far. But I liked the fact that its on the same street as Hanoi Holiday, is priced almost as low, and their lights were on and the lobby was open when we arrived at 2am, as opposed to Hanoi Holiday which we had to knock on to figure out if there was anyone inside.

Lastly, I’d advise strongly against booking and paying through a hotel aggregator, especially for these smaller hotels. Many of them don’t seem to realize that they’re on these sites, and you may have to argue your way to prove you already paid for your room. Arrange to pay them when you leave, or through their own website. Next up, Halong Bay!


From → Foreign, Hotels, Travel

  1. I’m not in anyway shocked by these horror stories about the pestering tactics of hotels in Vietnam. Thanks for this very extensive review. Can’t wait for your Halong Bay adventure.

    It looks like Vietnam improved their arrival/departure card. The last time I’m in Vietnam it resembles a thin bond paper with carbon copy so it feels like you’re answering a test paper.

  2. Hehe well that was two years ago, your first trip.

    So are you sticking with Hanoi Holiday, or looking at different hotels?

  3. I’m getting headaches on what hotel to book. I got turned-off on your Hanoi Holiday Hotel story… I only plan to book for 1 night and then try to look for a room in the morning while we do our Hanoi city tour.

  4. Hi! I think we were on the same flight to Hanoi! Looking forward to more of your Hanoi posts 🙂

  5. ok! kaya pala! anyway, i would really want to have a room arranged for me prior to my flight to hanoi but it seems cebu pacific packages to hanoi are boos. is it ok if i book a flight and just look for a hotel near holiday or in holiday? or its usually fully booked? btw, rising dragon rates are reasonable already! thanx for the help! i’m going to hanoi probably in june! =)

  6. joey: checked out your blog and it made me miss Hanoi even more. Oh, and I love those bacon and egg pies. We’re certainly trying to get the posts out as soon as we can, but alas, work is finally taking its toll!

    jerik: I’d seriously consider rising dragon. Send them an email and ask them if they have available rooms when you’re staying in Hanoi, and they’ll reply in a day or two. 🙂

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