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The Most Famous Hotels in the World

Traveller’s Notepad


uddenly, at some distance, the Red River appeared. When the light is right, the name seems well deserved, indeed. To the sound of Italian opera classics from the Metropole’s ‘Winter Collection’ we crossed the bridge. The Metropole’s Mercedes limousine swiftly reached Hanoi. We passed lakes, tree lined alleys. Old villas, magnificent European turn-of-the century style buildings. Here and there the occasional modern office block. Bicycles, motorbikes, busy traffic. Then the car pulled up in front of the good old Metropole. A friendly smile, ‘Welcome back’, and there I was. The lobby and the reception receives me with a cleverly lit warm atmosphere. I check into the Charlie Chaplin Suite, lovingly decorated with memorabilia of the great entertainer. The stairs in the old wing have character. They creak and moan and groan as if they were telling me the story of their first one hundred years. The next morning: workout at the gym, followed by a dip into the pool. Breakfast at Le Beaulieu. Lunch at the Spices Garden, Le Beaulieu or Angelina, the hotel’s new ‘Italian Restaurant & Lounge’. The sidewalk café La Terrasse has been successfully revived by the energetic management team. Strolling around the hotel takes you to the hotel’s delicatessen, where you find foie gras, escargots and special 8

Hotel Métropole Hanoi

Risotto rice along with hundreds of other delicatessen, a Vietnamese silk fashion shop, a wonderful spa, Angelina and an elegant shopping arcade. Right here, until 1880, there was a lake. The French spared no efforts to cultivate this area. ‘After a visit to Hanoi one is curious to learn what the French would have done to Singapore or Hong Kong if they had possessed them?’, wrote Alfred Cunningham in 1901, full of genuine admiration. Later I take a first stroll through the mild Hanoi night. The old Opera House gleams at a distance. It has been exquisitely restored. I walk towards the dyke that protects the city from the regular threat of floods from the Red River. Behind its walls flows the mighty waterway. Once the river provided the only means of transportation between the outer world, the harbour at Haiphong and Hanoi. Then the Correspondance Fluviale plied its services up and downstream. This was where they arrived: Paul Bert, Paul Doumer, and all the others. Gold-diggers in their own right. Adventurers, civil servants, explorers, visitors. So many characters, so many destinies. Here, early one morning many years ago, Gustave Dumoutier must have stood, too. Waiting.

Andreas Augustin


The Most Famous Hotels in the World

Hotel MĂŠtropole Hanoi

Preserving the historic character while offering state-of-theart technology and amenities is one of the characteristics of The Most Famous Hotels in the World, the world's most exclusive collection of historic hotels.

Metropole around 1902.



The Most Famous Hotels in the World

Hotel Métropole Hanoi

At the Metropole ... from 1975 to 1981 ... diplomats of all embassies were recognisable by their bicycles with diplomatic number plates (NG for Ngoai Giao). Of course they had ‘privileged parking’ facilities ... 16


Hotel Métropole Hanoi

Phoenix from the Swamps

The establishment of infrastructure in ‘Tonkin’ included an efficient railway system (below Hanoi station in the 1930s) and various public institutions such as the palatial museum building.

Building the Archives Researching and collecting historical material is part of the research work for a book like this one. Building the archives of a famous historic hotel is a core competence of The Most Famous Hotels in the World organisation. The collection of historical photographs grew over the years, including old views of the hotel as well as a collection of scenes from the history of Vietnam. Today they are part of the presentation of the hotel, on permanent exhibition at various points of the house.



Hotel Métropole Hanoi

Phoenix from the Swamps

The permit was issued. On the spot where 10 years earlier a small, muddy lake had provided an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, opposite the former site of the ancient Pagode des Supplices which had made way for the buildings along rue Paul-Bert, a huge hotel now took shape. Its façade spanned over 80 metres, making it the largest hotel complex in the whole of Indo-China or, as the Revue Indo-Chinoise remarked on 18 March 1901 in a comment that needs no translation: ‘un immense hôtel’. All that was needed now was a name. It seems that the owners couldn’t quite make up their minds. Clearly the name should reflect the building’s grandeur and when the building opened in the summer of 1901 their choice left nothing to chance. It was christened the Grand Hôtel Métropole Palace*. Soon it would become known more simply as le Métropole. From the summer of 1901 on, travellers in Asia had one more home away from home. Elegant perfection


* The name of the hotel was – interesting enough – written in many different ways. However, this book follows a simple pattern: You find the various different names of all hotels and this one in particular (e.g. Grand Hôtel Métropole Palace, Grand Métropole Hôtel, etc.) and all international accents exactly the way the hotels were advertised or registered at the different times. Only during the period when the "Met" was known under the Vietnamese translation of the name Reunification Hotel we will omit Vietnamese accents as we have - in accordance with Vietnamese language specialists – left them out from all Vietnamese names throughout the book.


Alfred Cunningham, a British visitor in 1901, was one of the Métropole’s first guests. He was clearly impressed by what he found. ‘The most important hotel in Hanoi is the Hôtel Métropole. It is a splendid building, only very recently erected, and is situated on the boulevard HenriRivière, immediately opposite the Résidence Supérieure. ‘The hotel is elegantly furnished, each bedroom has a bathroom adjoining; and there is a public hall, salon de conversation, reading room. The sanitary arrangements are perfect, and the general accommodation leaves nothing to be desired. ‘The service is good, being Chinese, and the room boys are Annamites. The cuisine is what one would expect in a French town, and the charges vary from $6 to $7.50 a day or $125 to $155 a month. For two persons $10 to $12 a day and $210 to $250 a month, and according to custom a bottle of white or red wine, and liqueur, is free at both meals, Tiffin and dinner.’ From: The French in Tonkin and South China; Alfred Cunningham, 1902


Hotel MĂŠtropole Hanoi

The swamps had given way to broad boulevards. A modern city with a well planned street system was laid out.


Phoenix from the Swamps

Hanoi eventually had eight miles of tram tracks, the coaches carried Hotel Metropole advertisements.


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

At the Turn of Time

Prince Henri d‘Orleans (1867–1901) born in 1867 in England, the youngest son of the Duke of Chartres was what we would call today a dropout. He made expeditions through Central Asia, East Africa and Indo-China. His book De Paris à Tonkin à travers le Tibet inconnu (From Paris through unknown Tibet to Tonkin), published in 1891, made his French readers dream of a life in the colonies. The adventurous prince died in Saigon in 1901. Hanoi was a pearl of architecture. The Palais du Gouverneur brought European splendour to the East, its Salle des Fêtes was the venue for many a ball.



Hotel Metropole Hanoi

‘Plenty of good rickshaws with wire wheels on large pneumatic tyres and ample springs, as noiseless and comfortable conveyances as those of Peking and far better than the ones to be found in Canton and southern China in general, plied the streets of Hanoi. But they were used almost exclusively by foreigners, one European each, while the bone-breakers in which even mandarins were glad to save an Indo-China nickel served the natives.

Rue Paul Bert and the Opera House yesterday and today.

The rickshaw men of Indo-China are so hungry for work that they always know, whether they understand him or not, where a possible client wishes to go. Scores of times I had the same experience as all foreigners in Indo-China have had: a mob of rickshaw pullers, seeing me come out of a hotel, a shop, a government office, the home of the lone Protestant missionary couple in Hanoi or of the customs officer turned novelist, rose up like a battling mob along the sidewalk, each vociferously offering his little seat on wheels, those behind thumping the others with their shafts, so common a trick that none of them are angered by it, as if it were all a part of the day’s work, of the eternal struggle for rice for their thin bodies and the many dependent upon them. “Rue de la Soie!” I cry through the uproar. All begin to shriek, to howl in chorus: “Moi connaître! Moi


At the Turn of Time

connaître!” I step into one of the vehicles at random. The others give a little smirk of amusement to cover their chagrin, to save face by pretending that they were not keen for the job after all, while the lucky fellow speeds away straight before him, as if he knew the way perfectly. But he goes too straight ahead; the way to an Asiatic goal cannot be as direct as that, even in this less labyrinthine part of the Orient. I begin to grow suspicious; at the end of several minutes at full speed I stop him with “Mais, ce n’est pas—this is not the way to the Rue de la Soie, is it?” He has no idea what I am saying as longer experience will show; all he understands is that I have said something. So he turns around and flees as rapidly in the direction from which we have come. I call out again, and though he still does not understand, he pretends to, and feeling that he must do something to satisfy me he forks off at random, to the right, to the left, no matter which, and continues to trot, now and then turning his head to look at me more or less surreptitiously, like a clever old horse, as if to gather from my expression some notion of where I wish to go.’ Harry Franck, East of Siam (1926)

Following pages: Angelina's wine collection.


Hotel Metropole Hanoi


Belle Epoque – Postponed


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Belle Epoque – Postponed

An empty boulevard Henri-Rivière in 1913, with the Hôtel Métropole. To the right, an advertisement from 1919. Soon cars in front of the hotel (below) became a common sight.

A 1920s label of the ‘Grand Hotel Metropole’, designed by Dan Sweeney. A seasoned illustrator, Sweeney worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and World Traveller Magazine. He drew posters for leading Asian hotels, among them The Oriental in Bangkok, the Majestic, the Astor House and the Palace in Shanghai, the Manila Hotel and the Continental Palace in Saigon.



Hotel Metropole Hanoi


Limelight 1920–1940


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Previous pages: In 1965 the hotel had to build an air-raid shelter in the courtyard of the hotel. The bunker proved to be more durable than expected. Even after the war it could not be destroyed. This is apparently the reason why the pool is shallower on one side.


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

The Imperial Suite’s sitting room. The hotel offers 364 rooms and suites in the historical Metropole Wing and in the new Opera Wing. For the record: in 2010 all rooms were equipped with broadband Internet, LCD, and DVD player.


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

a few brilliant and seductively gowned Congais, or Eurasians, in the arms of men who are generally not their husbands. It is all very gay and on Saturday nights, when dancing lasts until two o’clock, it even partakes of a breathless abandon. Everybody drinks too much but does not become obnoxious, the army officers grow warm but seem happy in uniforms which it appears they wear for all occasions. The French ladies are charmingly French in gowns that are completely décoltées.’ Among those described by Snow was perhaps Jeanne Loubet, whose father was the ‘Directeur de l’enseignement de l’Indochine du nord’. For her family and all the other bourgeois, nobles and mandarins, the Métropole was the place to go. Jeanne Loubet was only two years old when she and her family moved to Hanoi in 1926. She recalls that the private receptions and important balls were held in the Métropole’s large ballroom (parallel to the lobby). She recalls ‘réunions dansantes’ as very much ‘en vogue’. While the Philippine Orchestra was playing the latest waltzes, the ‘jeunes filles’ could meet the young boys, dance and have fun – all under the supervision of their parents or some other chaperons. In her day , in the late 30s, the Sunday afternoon ‘réunions dansantes’ were already considered old fashioned. The hotel bar became the favourite meeting place. Her family gave at least two large receptions at the Métropole. One was a cocktail to celebrate her father’s admission to the ‘Légion d’Honneur’, a high French mark of distinction, and her own marriage luncheon. On 14 October 1942 she married a young French officer who was killed two years later in the war. Apart from family and friends, high French officials as well as mandarins attended, altogether about 300 people. Her last reminiscences of the Hotel Métropole were American officers who came to Hanoi in 1945, drinking at the bar. In 1946 the Loubet family returned to France.   


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Prominent Arrivals For the French in Tonkin, Hanoi was the most attractive city in the East. The French in Saigon called their city the Paris of the Orient. Maybe both were right. But when one listens to a cynical Maugham or an equally sarcastic Coward . . . We all know that Somerset Maugham’s writing added to the popularity and mythical quality of the Far East. His travels through the region have left an enduring legacy, a collection of beautiful Somerset Maugham suites at many of the region’s finest hotels. Maugham had his own very special reason for staying at the Métropole in 1923 while working on The Gentleman in the Parlour. ‘Here I had the intention of finishing this book, for at Hanoi I found nothing much to interest me. It is the capital of Tonkin and the French tell you it is the most attractive town in the East, but when you ask them why, answer that it is exactly like a town, Montpellier or Grenoble, in France.’

William Somerset Maugham (1874—1965), modern master of the short story, travelled with his American companion Gerald Haxton from Rangoon to Bangkok and then through Indo-China to Haiphong and Hanoi from October 1922 to April 1923. This was the fourth of five trips that he made to the Far East with Haxton between 1916 and 1926, all of them a valuable source for his writing.

Noël Coward arrived at the harbour of Haiphong in 1930 and drove to Hanoi, where he put up at the Métropole, only to find the city under curfew. ‘We were not allowed out of the hotel as


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Excellence on wheels The restaurant cars between Hanoi and the cities of Vinh, Hue and Tourane in the south were operated by the Compagnie Française Immobilière, the parent company of the Hotel Métropole. The food was freshly prepared in the kitchen car next to the dining car. Six chefs and a team of eight kitchen helpers were regularly employed, working shifts and providing excellent fare to travellers between the capital in the north and destinations in the south. 94

L’Eveil Economique de l’Indochine, 3 January 1932



1936 Hotel Metropole Hanoi

In 1911, in a small, sleepy suburb of

Paulette Goddard (1911—1990) played opposite her second husband Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. This was her debut as the leading lady of Hollywood of the 1940s. Chaplin had invited her for a short holiday in Honolulu, where he changed his mind and continued to Hong Kong: ‘But I have no clothes with me,’ Goddard protested in Hawaii. ‘We will buy everything you need on the way,’ Chaplin answered and went to the radio room, where he sent this cable: ‘PLANNING TO BE ON MS COOLIDGE TO HONG KONG STOP WILL BE AWAY THREE MONTHS STOP CC’


Los Angeles a little film studio opened. The suburb soon became a byword for the entire American movie industry: Hollywood. By the 1920s this little spot on America’s west coast dominated the world motionpicture market. Its silent films were distributed worldwide. The Americans and Europeans, the British in Malaya, the Germans in Africa and the French in Indo-China were all able to laugh at the same funny movie. The stars of these films became household names, their faces recognised around the world and their travels followed with relish by the world’s press. Hanoi was not necessarily on many globetrotters’ itineraries as a port of call on the major shipping routes between Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. In a way it suffered a bit from its remote situation, like Bangkok. Its nearest harbour, Haiphong, was 80 km away. But its reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the Far East gave it an undoubted allure. In April 1936 the Métropole’s manager, Mr Brunelière, welcomed one such world traveller. His name was Charlie Chaplin. A huge crowd of people gathered in front of the hotel. They were cheering a man who looked unfamiliar without his trademarks:

Hotel Metropole Hanoi

a bowler hat, pencilled-on moustache and twirling walking stick. Chaplin was accompanied by his new wife, Paulette Goddard.

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin; 1889—1977)

Chaplin’s film, Modern Times, had just opened at the Rivoli in New York and at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood when he decided to leave America for a short holiday in Honolulu. On arrival there he changed his plans and suggested to his travelling companions, Paulette Goddard, her mother and his valet, Frank Yonamori, that they continue on to Hong Kong.

in civilian clothes.

Chaplin eventually took his party to Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and then Canton, where he secretly married Goddard. From there they set out for French Indo-China. In April 1936 the party arrived at the Hôtel Métropole.

the Métropole with

Many would more

easily recognise the silhouette of the artist with the bowler and the crooked walking stick than the real man. He spent his honeymoon at his wife Paulette Goddard, whom he had just married in Canton.


Hotel Metropole Hanoi

A New Morning

VII Becoming a Legend During the mid 80s, Pullman International Hotels (PIH) first began sending clients to stay at the Thong Nhat. The hotel’s elegance and charm were still apparent despite the neglect and long years of war, but the concept of service had been forgotten, and facilities had not kept pace with international standards. Guests, for example, still had to rely on ceiling fans rather than air-conditioning during the hot summer months. Some rooms still graced dirty old mosquito nets. In 1987, Pullman International Hotels vice-president Jacques Herbert, who had married the daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s first minister of finance, arrived in Hanoi. He recognised the Thong Nhat’s potential and so he entered into joint venture negotiations with Hanoi Tourism, the owners of the hotel. The result was the first successful Vietnamese joint venture between a local company and a foreign partner. 70% of the shares were domestically owned, the largest percentage in any Vietnamese joint-venture at that time. The new direction of the government was confirmed. 90 years after it had risen so gloriously from the swamps of ancient Hanoi, the Thong Nhat Hotel was closed for the face-lift of the century. While the walls remained intact, old interior structures had to make place for a new design. Plans were drawn up for a new wing at the open end of the courtyard. On 8 March 1992 the hotel reopened, again called Hotel Métropole – first with the prefix ‘Pullman’, later the management company Sofitel took over. Vietnam’s first 5-star hotel ‘Hotel Sofitel Metropole Hanoi’ was turned into Sofitel’s first ‘Legend’ hotel in 2009 (left page).



The WHorld of P olitics otel Metropole Hanoi

The first general manager of the new ‘Sofitel Metropole’ Ricardo Perran welcomes Mr and Mrs George Bush. General manager Kai Speth presents French Prime Minister Francois Fillon with the official Metropole Hanoi history book (top, right). In 1997 the Sommet de la Francophonie brings the delegates of 49 Francophone states to the capital (and to the Metropole). Among the guests of the hotel are Jacques Chirac, accompanied by former general manager Richard Kaldor (left). Chirac phoned Bill Clinton from the Graham Greene Suite to tell him that France was ‘in solidarity with the UN and the United States’ in the 1997 November Iraq crisis. To the right Abbas El Fassi, Prime Minister of Morocco, the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (below).


W ho’sEvents Who Notable

President Vladimir Putin of Russia did not stay at the Metropole, but he savoured the delights of chef Didier Corlou’s kitchen. He eventually asked for the chef and autographed a menue for Didier. Ambrose Dan Kurus, Director of Food and Beverage, (left of Corlou) looks on. Bill Clinton tested the Metropole’s kitchen during his historic visit to Vietnam in 2000 and autographed his menu (left).


Hotel etropole Hanoi WMho ’s Who

Events VIPNsotable & A rtists

After the war, the Metropole was the home of various embassies, among them the Italian embassy (1975–1981). Diplomats were recognisable by their bicycles with diplomatic number plates (NG for Ngoai Giao). Of course they had ‘privileged parking’ facilities. From time to time this ‘diplomatic family’ met for a drink at the hotel bar. In 2006 Italian Ambassador Alfredo Matacotta Cordella and the hotel’s general manager Gilles Cretallaz officially recognized the newly renovated rooms 216 & 218 as the place that hosted the Italian Embassy in Vietnam 30 years ago.

US movie star and producer Danny DeVito arrived with his family in Hanoi (January 2010). Mr and Mrs Roger Moore were accompanied by former general manager Franck Lafourcade, who presents the hotel’s history book to Brendan Fraser (in town for filming ‘The Quiet American’ by Graham Greene; in 2002). In December 1996, Hoang Van Nghien, then Mayor of Hanoi, opens the new Opera Wing (right). The most beautiful women of the world arrived in 2008: Miss World 2007 Zhang Zi Lin & Miss World 2008 Ksenia Sukhinova.


Marc Levy (top right) arrived in 2008. His novels have exceeded the 20 million copy mark. Marc Levy is the most read French author in the world (‘If Only it Were True’, filmed by Steven Spielberg as ‘Just like Heaven’). French Movie Star Emmanuelle Béart and husband Michaël Cohen arrived in 2008. A warm welcome from resident manager Charles-Henri Chevet for Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Thibaudet was selected to give the 10th Hennessy Concert at the Hanoi Opera House, an event that is broadcasted annually across Vietnam.


Hotel etropole Hanoi RMoyal Box

Who’s Who? Important Women at the Metropole

At the end of 1993 Patricia Kaas embarked upon another of her extensive international tours, this time playing dates in no less than 19 different countries. In the spring of 94 the singer ventured into new territory, performing two concerts in Vietnam (in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh-Ville). Patricia Kaas was the first French singer to perform in Vietnam since the 1950's and, true to form, she absolutely brought the house down. The French Foreign Ministry recognised Ms. Kaas as a veritable cultural ambassador to Vietnam, her songs renewing interest in the French language (which had been completely overtaken by English in modern-day Vietnam).

In 2009, Margarethe II, Queen of Denmark and members of the royal family paid an official visit to Vietnam following the invitation of President of Vietnam, Nguyen Minh Triet. HRH, Juan Carlos, the King of Spain is welcomed by former general manager Gilles Cretallaz. Albert, Prince of Monaco

Royal Box

at the Metropole

“The Vietnam film that needed to be made.” says Michael Moore, fellow director and filmmaker, about Tiana Thi Thanh Nga’s movie. Her award-winning documentary, From Hollywood to Hanoi (1993) was not only the first American film shot in Vietnam, this poignant and personal narrative was the first to depict the country and its people as more than a battleground. Vietnam’s most prominent Hollywood export: Tiana Silliphant is the widow of Stirling Silliphant, the Oscar-winning author of "In the Heat of the Night". Two courageous ladies spent time at Hanoi when it was not one of the world's top tourist attractions: Jane Fonda (left) stayed at the Metropole for two weeks in 1972 in protest against the war and gave an interview to the press while bombs were still falling on Northern Vietnam. Joan Baez (right) sang in the hotel’s bunker.

Margarethe II, Queen of Denmark Juan Carlos, King of Spain King of Malaysia Albert, Prince of Monaco Yang de-Pertuan Besar Duke of Gloucester, England Duke & Duchess of Bedford, England




Welcome to the Grand Hôtel Métropole Palace, as this wonderful hotel has been called on its opening day in 1901. Come and see the old coloni...

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