Falling for the Chaotic Charms of Hanoi, Vietnam

Posted on May 10, 2012 by

This is the second edition of an ongoing series of reviews on properties (budget hotels and hostels) we’re staying at during our travels in Asia, as part of our partnership with HostelBookers.com.

On the streets of Hanoi, traffic ebbs and flows as slick chrome scooters weave between old-school rickshaws and pushcarts. Miniature stools and tables line the alleys, where street vendors have set up shop, brewing up hot and steamy pho for the daily stream of customers. Centuries-old colonial buildings stand alongside marble-floored mini-hotels while hundreds of cables criss-cross overhead. Yes, it’s chaos all over Hanoi – but instead of ruining the city, adds to its charm.

Roundabout in downtown Hanoi

During our time in Vietnam, we spent two weeks in Hanoi to recharge and catch up on work. I’m not a big fan of big cities – allergic to places like New York and London – but I was strangely hypnotized by the poetic flow of disorder in this city. Somehow – in the midst of streetside pho and bia hoi stands – I got hooked to Hanoi. We didn’t do much sightseeing – instead we spent our days wandering through the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarters, strolling along the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake – the liquid heart of the city, and hopping from one food stand to the next. At our favorite cafe, La Place, we spent long afternoons working on our laptops and sipping fresh lime juice, to a view of St Joseph Cathedral. Most of all, we spent time kicking back at our base in the Splendid Star Grand Hotel, living like a local.

Street vendor at St Joseph Cathedral

Snucked tightly within the narrow alleys of the Old Quarters, the hotel brings all the mod cons of this millennium right into the historical heart of the city – stepping into the hotel feels almost akin to time travel. Right on its doorsteps are ladies wearing conical straw hats, selling steamed banh baos and barbequed meat skewers – but once through its doors, you’re transported to modern-day Vietnam. With its polished and stylish decor, it looks more like a slick boutique hotel than a family-run establishment, but with strong cozy, friendly vibes, it makes one feel comfortable, welcomed and at home. The hotel staff is always friendly and cheeky, sharing excellent recommendations and a joke or two.

Despite its ‘mini-hotel’ label, its rooms are, again, quite the opposite of ‘mini’. Spread out generously over wooden parquet flooring, the double rooms are spacious and bright – almost a rarity in space-constrained Hanoi. Although there’s not much of a view outside – with the neighboring buildings just an arm’s length away (as with anywhere else in the Old Quarters), the sunlight that spills through the massive room definitely creates an airy setting. Silk lampshades hang from the ceiling, with oil paintings of old world Hanoi in the backdrop. Fusing old and new – just like the city itself – black and red embroidered cushions are combined with polished wooden furnishing. With a comfortable working desk, lighting fast high-speed internet and even an in-room desktop computer (!!), the hotel room makes an excellent office for digital nomads like us.

Room in Splendid Star Grand Hotel

Breakfast at Splendid Star is a huge affair: I’m a big fan of Vietnamese food – if you still haven’t noticed by now – and the hotel offers a range of breakfast items that even my favorite street vendor lady can’t compare. From local delights like banh mi and steamed sticky rice to thick, juicy club sandwiches, you can choose anything from the massive list of items, and best of all, breakfast comes complimentary with the room.


Splendid Star Hotel is so splendid (forgive me for the punt) – that the owner has opened up several hotels of the same name next door. We stayed at Splendid Star Grand Hotel for most part of our time there, and also two nights at Splendid Star Jupiter Hotel. The latter has slightly smaller rooms, with simpler design and furnishing, but it’s also cheaper and almost as comfortable. For those interested in staying here, be sure to check which Splendid Star they’re booking you into when making your reservations with hostelbookers.

Lobby of hotel

We had initially planned to stay in Hanoi for just a week, but ended up extending our stay at Splendid Star (paid for part of it ourselves) – just because we’d enjoyed it so much. I might have still fallen in love with Hanoi without Splendid Star, but one thing is for sure, our experience in Hanoi wouldn’t have been the same without them.

Prices for Splendid Star Grand Hotel start from US$24 a night, with rooms ranging from private doubles to family rooms.

Disclaimer: Our stay was made possible by hostelbookers and Splendid Star Hotel, but all opinions are my own.


About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

7 Responses to “Falling for the Chaotic Charms of Hanoi, Vietnam”

  1. Meaghan May 10, 2012 11:26 am #

    Hanoi has to be one of my favourite places in South East Asia! I feel the same about big cities but somehow Hanoi is just different. We spent a couple weeks there during Tet (the Vietnamese New Year) just hanging out wandering the streets, eating all the street food we possibly could and taking in the New Year celebrations. I would love to go back one day!

  2. Ruth (Tanama Tales) May 11, 2012 12:36 am #

    Hanoi sounds like my kind of city. I would definetly stay at the Splendid. You can beat those gorgeous quarters at such a good price!!!

  3. Rebelfone May 16, 2012 3:08 pm #

    Hanoi is is one of the most beautiful cities. The vietenamese cuisine is a very traditional one and I am a big fan of it.

  4. Car Hire Boston May 17, 2012 3:49 pm #

    Hanoi is a wonderful place to go for a visit. One should surely take a visit once in a lifetime.I liked the information shared by you.

  5. Steven Scott May 20, 2012 10:07 pm #

    Nice post. I'll try the Splendid Star the next time I'm in town. I also like the DeSyloia…nice boutique hotel, just far enought from Ho Hoan Kiem to be a bit quieter.


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