Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tokyo/Vietnam July 2011 - Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel

***This post is part 6 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

This is the best service I've ever experienced at a hotel, period. The end.

Well, no, I'm actually going to talk a little more about the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel... but without even an ounce of hyperbolic intention, I can guarantee you this is no ordinary local hotel chain. Though I would never claim to be a connoisseur of luxury hotels, I've stayed at my fair share of nicer international brands such a Le Meridien and InterContinental. The service at the Hanoi Elegance has many of these places beat hands down.

Typically when traveling abroad, I do enjoy staying at the larger international chains just because of familiarity. You know what to expect when staying at a Starwood or IHG property, and you know there won't be any unpleasant surprises in terms of service, comfort, or food. However, I also love the experience I get staying at a locally-owned hotel. Often times, the service feels a lot more personal, and the value much higher, especially in Southeast Asia.

Lobby at the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel

Streets of Old Quarter right outside

I browsed through TripAdvisor reviews for Hanoi and came across a number of Hanoi Elegance properties, four of which occupied rankings in the top ten. I was thoroughly impressed with the hundreds of reviews they each had. So despite there being an InterContinental a little further away from the Old Quarter, I decided to take a chance and book with the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel, which was centrally located and had unreal reviews with a 99% positive rating.

After a harrowing 40-minute car ride to the hotel (I'll go into the details in a later post), I arrived fairly late at 10:40 pm. They greeted me with a welcome drink, which was delicious and well-needed in the heat, and told me to go up directly to my room since my friend had already arrived earlier in the day. He had been in Asia for more than a week already exploring Bangkok and Singapore, and I was just joining him for the Vietnam leg of his trip.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the room. We had booked a junior suite for $110/night, and it looked to be well worth it. The room was very large, with a very comfortable king bed, a work area with an IBM ThinkPad laptop and ethernet + WiFi included for our personal use, a lounge area with a complimentary bowl of fresh fruit and bottle of wine, flat-screen TV, and plenty of storage/closet space. The bathroom was very modern, with a beautiful rain shower and wood floor mat surrounded by a bed of small white stones (I completely forgot to take a picture of it - my bad). We stayed in the junior suite on the 9th floor prior to leaving for the Halong Bay cruise. This room had a small balcony overlooking a view of the city. On return, we were given the junior suite on the 10th floor, which unfortunately didn't have a balcony.

The included breakfast buffet was simply fantastic. A huge variety of fresh fruit, pastries, hot dishes, and delicious congee with all the trimmings. You can even get complimentary made-to-order omelets, pancakes, and of course, pho. Since the breakfast was so good, we actually ended up eating lunch there on two other days as well, and the value was just incredible. We only tried the Vietnamese dishes, and with my friend being Vietnamese-American, he could definitely vouch for the authenticity and taste. The Hanoi-style Bun Cha was ridiculously good, and the price was extremely reasonable. No international hotel mark-ups here.

Breakfast buffet

Made-to-order banana pancake

Pomelo salad

View from the 12th floor restaurant

Outdoor patio

And finally... the service. Every superlative I read in the reviews were true. They couldn't have been more helpful. Here are just a few examples of what I experienced during the stay:
  • The private car to and from the airport was definitely worth it to avoid the notorious Hanoi taxi scams out there, and it was only minimally more expensive.
  • I had booked our Halong Bay tour using a separate travel agency, but the concierge insisted on calling them for us to confirm our pickup time and verify that they knew how to get to the hotel.
  • I had accidentally left my camera battery charger at my hotel in Tokyo, and they immediately directed me to a reputable electronics store nearby and advised me on how much I should pay.
  • Every time we walked in or out of the hotel, we were greeted with smiles and genuine questions asking how our day was or if we needed directions or help with anything.
  • Their recommendations for local restaurants were spot-on and gave us a wonderful sampling of northern-style Vietnamese cuisine.
  • When I tried to buy tickets to the famous Thăng Long Water Puppet show near Hoan Kiem lake and they were completely sold out, I shared my disappointment nonchalantly as I came back to the hotel. Low and behold, about two hours later, I received a phone call in the room telling me they were able to secure two first-class tickets.
  • The ladies at the front desk and concierge spoke almost perfect English. I actually asked one of them if she was from the States since her accent sounded very American. She wasn't, but she had worked on a number of American movie sets in Vietnam.
By the end of our stay, I was simply floored as to how good the service was. There was nothing they weren't willing to do for their guests, and that's just something you will never find at an international chain - at least not without being nickel-and-dimed to death. From the welcome drinks, to the fresh fruit bowl that was refilled every day, to the incredible breakfast spread every morning, there was not a single fault I could find with the Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel. Upon checking out, I remarked to my friend that it could only go downhill from here unfortunately, because they simple set the bar too high for any other hotel we were going to stay at during this trip.

The hotel is located centrally in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It is a 3 minute walk to Hoan Kiem Lake (although walking across streets in Hanoi is a story in and of itself), and there are countless shops, stalls, and restaurants nearby to try.

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