Travel Diaries

Between the City and the Beach in Vietnam

by Yamine Daaboul of Wylde Magazine

Vietnam is known for picturesque landscapes, distinctive cuisine, street markets and the friendliness of its people. In order to experience as much of this as possible, my travel companion and I decided to divide our time between the capital city and cultural heart of Vietnam, Hanoi, and the coastal town of Ninh Hòa.


The perfect landing spot after an almost 12-hour flight from London: the esteemed Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Opened in 1901, it has welcomed stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda. The hotel has two wings—the older Historical Wing has a charming French colonial style, while the contemporary Opera Wing boasts neoclassical interior décor. I chose to stay in the former. Our room was spacious, elegant and a welcome respite from the bustling, motorbike-crammed, ultra-humid world outside. The hotel grounds felt special and calming. Classic white walls and green shutters wrap round a jungle-style garden filled with palm trees, tropical plants and a good-sized pool. There are plenty of places to relax both indoors and outdoors. As a nod to their history, they have a multitude of restaurants and cuisines on offer, including Le Beaulieu (French), Angelina (Italian) and Spices Garden (Vietnamese). During our stay, we also took the hotel’s complimentary private tour of their 1960s bomb shelter which was uncovered during renovations in 2011.


We managed to fit in an excursion, curated by Sofitel, to Ninh Binh. Cuc Phuong National Park was our first port of call, located deep into the Tam Diep Mountains. We found ourselves hiking amongst lush tropical vegetation. In the park, we visited two vital conservation centers. After a simple lunch, our day trip culminated with a bamboo boat ride on the tranquil Van Long Nature Reserve, home to Vietnam’s largest community of Delacour’s langur monkeys. As we made our way around the lagoon, forested cliffs and mountains seemed to dance in and out of the misty view. The two-hour drive there and back meant we could also take in more of the stunning landscape, including every shade of green you could imagine, rice fields, pagodas and wondrous flora.


On our third day in Hanoi, we transferred to InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, which sits along the banks of Ho Tay Lake. Due to an early arrival, we had time to take a stroll around the expansive grounds before checking in. Spotting my favorite flower, Plumeria, nestled on every corner, I couldn’t help smiling. Our room was immaculate with a huge marble bathroom that included a separate bath and walk-in shower. There was even a complimentary pillow menu which had 10 different types of pillows on offer, including a body pillow and a water pillow for headache relief. There’s a lively spirit to the property, which is further accentuated by the mellifluous sounds of birds singing in the trees. Their breakfast buffet is exceptional and the 24-hour gym facility is a highlight too, but the view of the sunset from the aptly named Sunset Bar is truly etched in my memory. We’re were so captivated we forgot to take pictures!


Although a motorbike is the preferred method of transport in Hanoi, I opted to explore on foot—it’s one of my favorite things to do in any city. Both hotels were perfectly situated in this sense. We were walking distance to the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake and cultural sites such as the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Other must-sees include Dong Xuan Market, a huge wholesale market where it’s impossible to leave empty handed; Craft House, a delightful souvenir store that sells handmade goods by local artists; and, Mekong Quilts, a non-profit that supports indigent women from remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia through the sale of handmade quilts.


The sanctuary of Six Senses Ninh Van Bay was our final destination. The Six Senses experience began at the airport, as we were greeted by a member of staff who offered us fresh cool towels, crystallized ginger slices and water to help us freshen up before our private car transfer to the Six Senses dock. Turns out, the resort is only accessible by boat. We arrived, refreshed by the sea air to an arc of golden sand, stone boulders and nature interwoven with pavilions.

Ashore, we were greeted by our GEM (Guest Experience Maker), Thao, who would be our right-hand woman for the duration of our stay. We were whisked off to our Beachfront Pool Villa, one of 35 at the resort. It’s the most popular choice and it didn’t take us long to see why. The bedroom is steps from the serene private pool with direct access to the beachfront. A standalone living room upstairs overlooks the bay. There’s a huge en-suite bathroom with a gorgeous handmade wooden bathtub and an outdoor shower. The villa also came equipped with bicycles, personalized with carved wooden signs hung on the back. A sweet touch and even better, we got to take the name tags home.

Outstanding features abound, including an outside tennis court, yoga pavilion and a water sports and diving centre that offered us complimentary access to kayaking, snorkelling and paddle boarding. Of course, a Six Senses is never complete without a world-class spa. I particularly enjoyed snorkeling in the quiet waters, and the private Vietnamese cooking class we were treated to with the resort’s experts.

The sense of soulful seclusion I felt was magical. I will miss walking the beach with the waves gently brushing against my feet, the charming staff who felt like family, and the food, the incredible food! My only wish would have been to stay longer.