My partner and I recently visited Vietnam for the first time. We chose Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh because of its history, colonial architecture and blend of East and West. I’m a sucker for blended cultures.

I booked a room in the historic wing of the Sofitel Metropole Legend in the heart of Hanoi’s French Quarter. Our first room faced a roof, literally. Absolutely no view. Now I don’t know about you, but I like to get what I paid for. And I didn’t pay extra to stare at tile. My partner said, “I’m going to lie down, you do what you want.”

This being my first time in a rather die-hard communist country, I was antsy and in a Dora the Explorer mood. I grabbed the camera and made my way downstairs taking pictures of the gorgeous hallways, tapestries, furniture and fixtures on the way down. When I got to the front desk to complain, I did so politely. I’m a firm believer in being friendly first. It usually works. When it doesn’t, I go into vengeful Mexican bitch mode. This always works.

Yuku was so helpful, she actually escorted me to the new room first to make sure I liked it. It was a bit smaller but had two big windows that opened onto the top of a tree and overlooked the street below, a colonial building in front. She offered to have the porter transfer my bag but I declined. I went back to my original room to wake Sleeping Ugly. My God, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

“I was napping! Why the hell did you change our room? It’s going to be noisy looking over the street. I didn’t come to Hanoi to be woken up by traffic. That’s why we left Hong Kong!”

Two hours later, my partner was praising our new room and it’s view. Not once did I get a thank you or an apology. I’m used to this but still. Pisses me off.

But I digress.

We met some Hanoi based friends for a drink downstairs at the Bamboo Bar overlooking the pool. It was a cool evening, the candles flickered in the breeze as we talked about Hanoi, Hong Kong and the US. Eventually we made our way to Club De L’Oriental, a beautiful restaurant in a restored French villa, where we dined on fresh Vietnamese food. Lots of vegetarian options by the way, very thankful for that.

The next day, we walked to Hoan Kiem Lake. I was lucky enough to see the revered giant turtle stick his head up above the water. This is supposed to bring you good luck. Here’s to hoping.

We continued on to the Hanoi Cathedral, a dreary but beautiful cousin of Notre Dame in Paris. It was Sunday and the service was in Vietnamese. I said a little prayer and took a photo on my way out. I don’t like taking photos of people praying. I think it’s disrespectful and rude but I just had to get a shot of that alter.

Along the way, I kept snapping photos of colonial era buildings with modern day Vietnam literally growing up around, on top of and below them. Again, I love the blending of cultures. And why not? I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Spanish and Germans screwing Aztecs and Mayans.

In the Old Quarter, I haggled for a table runner/bed runner. Very colorful and hand stitched. My partner can’t haggle to save his life so he waited outside.

We visited a couple of art galleries, entered into some narrow alleyways and wandered into a Buddhist temple serving vegetarian food, and another with elderly women chanting, the incense rising up to the trees and ornate roofs. Everywhere, a little quiet amid the chaos. A courtyard here, a coffee shop there.

In Hanoi, you are either dodging scooters, bicycles and people or sitting down having the best coffee of your life and taking it all in. We sat down at a popular cafe, Long Van, with a view of the park surrounding Hoan Liem Lake, the traffic and the street vendors. Later, we had a vegetarian lunch and a well deserved nap. That night we had dinner at Le Beaulieu, the Metropole’s French restaurant. They even had a vegetarian tasting menu for me, the highlight being this mango dessert that made me want to pleasure the pastry chef it was so good.

Incidentally, the French food served at the Metropole’s restaurants and bakery is like Paris but on the other side of the world. You can’t get baguettes this authentic in Hong Kong. And in the hotel, you couldn’t turn around without being offered one. Hell, you’d see street vendors hawking baguettes next to fish head surprise.

On our final full day in Hanoi, we explored the French Quarter. I’m not sure why, but except for a few grand buildings including the must-see Hanoi Opera House and our hotel, it seemed like most colonial buildings could be found in the Old Quarter or in the embassy district surrounding the Temple of Literature (tranquil and lovely but not a must-see in my opinion).

We didn’t get to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body because frankly I’d rather stare at locals walking down the street than a dead man playing Snow White.

Thoughts of Anthony Bourdain in his head, my partner tried some street food for lunch. I was surprised when I didn’t have to rush him to the hospital. I ate a proper cheese baguette sandwich at an airy cafe popular with moneyed locals. Yes, Commies with dough. Who knew?

Dinner that last night was in yet another restored French villa, the Ly Club. Again, fresh Vietnamese food. The interior of this place is a bit fussy in an old world kind of way, very different from Club De L’Oriental’s Asian minimalist chic. The woman playing The Carpenters on the upright piano didn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Karen but it’s a bit cheesy and somewhat disrespectful given that Karen wasn’t much of an eater. Better to play Mama Cass.

That last night, we went (again) to Le Club for a martini(s). Located next to the Bamboo Bar inside the Metropole, this swanky venue offers live jazz. The resident singer, a Canadian who sings a bit like Anita O’day, was a real treat. The Island Shangri-la Hotel in Hong Kong needs to book her, Heddy Something-or-other. The Lobster Bar at the Shangri-La is my hangout but some of their live acts are tired. Heddy would be a welcome change. She sings classic numbers, Gershwin, Porter, keeps it real. Love jazz standards.

The driver who picked us up at the airport when we arrived, brought us back when we left. Nice guy. I’m a big tipper but this isn’t a tipping country. I hate that, really feel constrained. Back in New York, not tipping is a capital offense. I tipped our driver. He works hard. Hanoi traffic is a nightmare. Besides I can pretend I don’t know better.

On the drive over, I said to my partner, “Last night, I was ready to go back to Hong Kong. Hanoi can be so overwhelming. But now, I just wish we could spend one more day here. We’ll come back.”

And we will.

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