The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake has a prime location and a near-monopoly over Hanoi’s Westlake (Tay Ho) the city’s largest freshwater lake. Thankfully, no boating is allowed here, whether for fishing or for excursions, thus keeping the waters as pollution-free as possible.
The lobby has a circular atrium and is surrounded by the rooms on the upper floors. The ambience is quiet and discreet. Rather surprisingly, it is not centrally heated and is therefore quite chilly, given the low temperature outside. A clever trick the hotel has employed is to “rent” out wall space to local artists and so the lobby is artfully (pun intended) decorated by some really talented pieces of work. The artwork is changed every six months and is available for sale, should guests request for it.
The sprawling hotel has 318-keys, of which 166 are in the main lobby wing. Three pavilion sets which are situated on the lake itself make up the remaining rooms, including 25 serviced apartments. The room categories are divided into: Superior; Deluxe Panoramic View; Over Water Pavilion; Over Water Panoramic View; Lotus Suite; Westlake Suite and the Presidential Suite.
At 43 sqm, all the rooms are essentially the same, except for the difference in view. All have balconies and wooden flooring and come equipped with amenities such as tea/coffee maker, electronic safe, minibar, iron and ironing board, TV, torch and bath robes. It is nice to find a pillow menu which includes novelties such as a bamboo pillow, goose down pillow or water filled pillow.
The Over Water Panoramic View rooms have orange-coloured panels made of natural cane fibre on the wardrobe doors and on the minibar cabinet, which goes well with the wooden flooring. A subdued orange runner along one side of the bed vertically draws attention to itself by this simple act of placement. A tribal art panel and cane bedside lamps complete the decor. A comfortable balcony gives on to panoramic views of the placid lake. The bathrooms are well appointed with bathtub as well as separate rain shower cubicle; a very sensible idea is to have a towel rack. A major drawback is that the bathrooms are not equipped with jet sprays.
The Presidential Suite is quite comfortable and, as is usually the case, a separate entity in itself. There is a fair-sized living room with a study area and a dining area with a 10-seater table. Both the spaces are done up in soothing tones of brown, yellow and deep red and very pleasing wallpaper in fawn, with a silk finish. The master bedroom, in pistachio overtones against a richer brown, has a daybed and another, smaller, study space. There is a sweeping view of the lake from the fantastic balcony. The bathroom is along the same lines as the other rooms, just larger in size. The pantry, with its own entrance, is quite basic, with just a fridge and microwave oven. The second bedroom is en suite and has its own balcony and a connecting room as well, if need be.
The serviced apartments come in one, two or three bedroom types and are really quite cosy. The orange blinds impart a welcoming touch, while the doors have lower panels made of natural cane fibre, dyed orange to match. They are fully equipped with washing machine, cooking range, fridge, oven and crockery.
F&B options include Cafe Du Lac, the all-day dining outlet with a lake view; Saigon, offering Vietnamese cuisine; Milan, the Italian fine dining restaurant; the patisserie, Le Gourmet and the Sunset Bar, situated in the lake and thus giving out to sweeping, tranquil views. The Diplomat Lounge, with framed photos on the walls of all the statesmen who stayed at the hotel, offers drinks and finger food and also a fashion high tea once monthly with local designers exhibiting their collections; adjacent to this is the Cigar Lounge.
Rather sensibly, the Club floor is at lobby level. The Club Lounge is quite large, with enough privacy accorded to all the seating spaces. As it is situated in the centre of the lake, it has a simply spectacular all-round view. A cosy little library has a pleasing colour scheme of warm brown, mellow yellow and sunburst orange. There is a meeting room to accommodate eight people and four computers for complimentary use, only for Club guests.
Convention facilities include four meeting rooms that can accommodate 45-70pax theatre style. The Grand Ballroom can take 400pax reception style. The Sunset Bar can accommodate 100pax while the Milan-Saigon Terrace, above the lobby porch, can take 120pax reception style.
Recreation facilities include a surprisingly small swimming pool done up in green-and-black marble instead of the usual boring blue tiles. The Health Club is quite large and offers the standard gym equipment as also free yoga and Zumba classes. There are separate sauna and steam facilities for men and women. There is no spa, but the hotel does provide for some massage therapies.
Pest control over the property is good. The Housekeeping and F&B staff are well trained and polite; Front Office are mainly good but some of the team are not too welcoming. Most of the staff across the teams speak English; quite commendable when you consider that most of Vietnam doesn’t!
The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is close to the famous, 800-year old Golden Lotus (Kim Lien) pagoda. The 6th century Tran Quoc pagoda is also in the vicinity, as is the Quan Thanh temple. It is not close to the Old Quarter however, which is basically where the city’s action zone is; it takes about 30-minutes and anywhere between 70-100,000 dong to get there. The Old Quarter is an absolute labyrinth of crowded little alleys and passing scooterists will stop just short of running over your toes! Here you will find little shops selling pure coffee and the Vietnamese version of cafes, which are basically little, low-slung stools set haphazardly along the pavement. The coffee however, is quite excellent – strong and aromatic. Here is where you will also find plenty of travel agents selling tickets for Halong Bay (4.5 hours each way by bus/van) and other excursions as also all the touristy kitsch shopping – the paintings, though (oil on canvas) of traditional Vietnamese scenes, are fairly remarkable. The Old Quarter is also home to Turtle Lake (Hoan Kiem lake) a scenic spot where the locals love to come to and relax. Sadly, the turtle, said to be only one of four living giant Yangtze soft-shell turtles, passed away in January this year.
If you are looking to try typical Hanoi cuisine, I cannot recommend ‘The Home’ restaurant strongly enough, whose signature dish is prawns wrapped in aluminium foil, liberally sprinkled with sea salt and then set aflame and barbecued at your table. Apart from the food, the restaurant is itself is a marvel – a former French building that has survived two wars and has been done up in an un-ostentatious, soothing country manner. The restaurant is quite close to the Intercontinental, at 34 Chau Long street and the taxi fare is only about 25,000 dong.
As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is accessible by air through its Noi Ba airport. Civic infrastructure is quite poor and the most convenient way of moving around is by taxis. Remember to use only the white colour ones, not the silver or the green and insist on the meter. From the airport, take only Noi Ba taxis. The fare to the InterContinental is USD20. It is quite confusing as the country uses the USD currency freely, as also the local dong. At the time of writing this article, the dong was fluctuating between 22.5-23 thousand to a dollar.
INTERCONTINENTAL HANOI WESTLAKE
TEL: +84 4 62708888
FAX: +84 4 62709999