City Guide

Four hours in Hanoi

30 Sep 2019 by Michael Allen

1 - Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, Phố Ngô Quyền, Street, Trang Tien, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam

Start your afternoon with an elaborate lunch at this storied hotel, which is the oldest in Hanoi and worth visiting even if you’re not staying there. It’s where US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un held their ill-fated summit back in February. At Angelina, one of the hotel’s in-house restaurants, you can order a Trump & Kim Lunch for between 2.5 million dong (US$108) and 3.6 million dong (US$155), or a Trump & Kim Tribute dinner for US$155. Be sure to try to get a tour of the 40 sqm bunker located next to the hotel swimming pool. It was used to protect guests from air raids during the “American War”, including famous visitors like Joan Baez and Jane Fonda.

The Bookworm Hanoi

2 - The Bookworm

44 Châu Long, Truc Bach, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam

Located down a little lane at 44 Chau Long Street, English used bookstore Bookworm is a haven for Hanoi’s bibliophiles spread over two levels. Make sure you check out one of the upstairs sections that is devoted to books on Vietnamese history, culture, literature, art and photography, while outside the front of the store you’ll find an eclectic bargain-bin style selection.

The shop was established in 2001 as Hanoi’s exclusive English language bookshop. It is now owned by Hoang Van Truong, who says that of the 15,000 books at the store, 40 per cent are imported from the US and the UK. The rest are bought back or exchanged with customers. The shop has more than 20,000 English books representing almost all genres in both new and second-hand editions.

Highlands Coffee boat

3 - Highlands Coffee Boat Coffee

9 Thanh Niên, Thuy Khue, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam

Chain coffee shops should not ordinarily be on your to-do list when travelling (unless you’re in Seattle and are keen on seeing the first ever Starbucks outlet), but this branch of Highlands Coffee, a Vietnamese coffee-shop chain, is unique in that it is situated on the beautiful Truc Bach Lake, famous as the place where the late US politician John McCain was shot down during the Vietnam War. The coffee shop is split between two levels: an air-conditioned lower level and a non-air conditioned, partly open-air upper level where you can get better views of the lake.

The coffee isn’t too dissimilar to your average Starbucks offerings, though you’ll find some drinks with a Southeast Asian twist such as the Golden Lotus Tea that consists of “cooling oolong tea” as well as “luscious lotus”.

But it’s a fascinating place to engage in a bit of people watching of Vietnam’s emerging middle class, as well as to check out a Vietnamese business success story. Originating as a packaged coffee business in Hanoi in 2000, the company has grown into a chain of well-known coffee shops that have expanded throughout Vietnam and abroad since 2002.

Once you’re finished with your coffee, just outside there’s a place where you can rent swan pedaloes for a leisurely cruise around the lake.

The Alchemist Cocktail Bar

4 - The Alchemist Cocktail Bar

The Alchemist - Cocktail Bar, Nguyễn Quang Bích, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam

Speakeasy-style bars are increasingly in vogue in the Vietnamese capital. Tucked away on the second floor of 19 Nguyen Quang Bich street, The Alchemist is an atmospheric, dimly lit speakeasy in the Old Quarter that celebrated its second birthday in August. It’s a great place to slowly sip a cocktail either alone or with friends.

Speakeasies are designed to be difficult to find to maintain their air of mystique and exclusivity. The Alchemist doesn’t have a website, though its Facebook page does list the address of the bar. “Many people ask why our bar does not have any signboard outside the door. The answer perhaps is that we’re afraid of the light, and so are our beloved guests,” reads the only post on the bar’s “About” page.

Live music is performed in the bar and the prices are high when compared with other drinking venues in Hanoi; the average drink will set you back over US$10 (beers can be had in Vietnam for less than a dollar), but the atmosphere and intimacy make it worth at least starting your night here.

Pan Pacific Hanoi - The Summit Terrace

5 - Pan Pacific Hanoi

Pan Pacific Hanoi, Thanh Niên, Truc Bach, Ba Đình, Hanoi, Vietnam

Extending your four hours for a nightcap, head over to the Pan Pacific Hanoi’s 20th floor rooftop bar, The Summit, which boasts impressive views over Hanoi. Open from 4pm to midnight every day, it offers a selection of indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor seating. You can also come here earlier to enjoy an incredible sunset over the gorgeous West Lake. The bar offers a “wine of the month”, though oddly this changes every two months rather than monthly.

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