Why should Hanoi become your next MICE destination in Southeast Asia?

Several years ago, my full time job was to sell Hanoi as a destination for a living. Yes that was true, I was a MICE & Catering Service Planner for one of the most prestigious international five star hotels in Hanoi, the place where I am glad to call it home. I thought the job as an event planner for me was one the best jobs in the world. I had many chances to speak about Hanoi as a meeting destination to numerous professional conference organizers (PCOs) in the world, who were trying to picture how the capital city of Vietnam should be like. If you need more than one reason to choose Hanoi as your next MICE destination, I’ve got at least a dozen reasons why you should definitely give Hanoi an opportunity to host your upcoming events.

1. Hanoi – A millennial city

Founded over 1000 years ago by Ly Thai To, the first Emperor of Ly Dynasty, Vietnam’s capital city is rich in history, with the streets of its rambling Old Quarter dating back to the 14th century. Wandering these tree-lined lanes past crumbling colonial facades will transport you back in time. Hanoi features a fascinating blend of the legendary history and the future. The dynamic of the city lies in its distinctive architecture, traditions and charming people. Hanoi’s Old Quarter serves up a sensory overload. Wisps of incense drift out onto streets from ancient temples, while the clang of blacksmiths’ hammers mingles with mobile fruit sellers’ call. Jump in a cyclo and tour this intoxicating maze.

The Huc Bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake | Image: Shutterstock

2. The city of 12 seasons of flowers

Hanoi is the only capital city in Southeast Asia that has four seasons per year. But not only that, we are talking about Hanoi – the capital city of Vietnam, a unique city in the world which offers 12 seasons of flowers. From the month of January where the cherry blossoms start to bloom to April when the elegant lilies are seen all over the places. It’s a total sensory experience all over Hanoi’s street corners. You will either see bouquet of flowers being tucked at the back of the street vendors’ bike-cycles or seasonal flowers to naturally appear on the trees of Hanoi’s main streets.

Read Hanoi’s twelve seasons of flowers by Allan Wilson

When you see June spreads its wings in Hanoi, it’s time you see its symbol – Lotus flowers – Image: Internet

3. A city of Art and Creativity

Believe it or not, some of the best artists happen to live in Hanoi, Vietnamese or expatriates. This is how I used to win in every challenge from my clients who asked us to craft a unique activity or experience for them. For instance, once I worked with this company called ‘EM’ for confidentiality, the event organizer started a challenge if I could come up with a creative team building activity which is safe for everyone to play but it has to be unique and fun that nobody had done similar things before. In the meantime, the team building activities must result in good contribution to the local community. This challenge didn’t cause me so much of a trouble after all because I know I can always count on Tòhe Social Enterpise to help with creative and social projects. After having our general briefing, my partners from Tòhe didn’t show a slightest concern of what they cannot do based on client’s requirements, as if creativity is simply the thing that they do, with a combination of fun and social responsibilities to the local community. The below image is a sneak peak of what we’ve achieved:

EM Group CSR Project: Building Playground for Children in February 2017 at Protection Centre 3 in Tay Mo, Ha Noi

Location: Protection Centre 3 – Tay Mo – Ha Noi

Scoop of work: To create a lively playground for the children and elderly at the protection center by using 70,000 painted recycle bottles

Date of completion: 27 February 2017

Motto: 100% playful

Organizer: Tohe Social Enterprise

Read CSR Creativity: THE MAD FACTOR HERE

Speaking of creativity, Tay Ho District in Hanoi or West Lake area, with a breathtaking view of Hanoi West Lake, has been known as a district of Western expatriates in Hanoi. However, what you might need to know is that every street you walk along every day in Westlake is a place of great historical provenance, arts or culture. So next time you scoot, cycle or walk up and around the area of Westlake, you can be a little more aware of the significance of the local street names. Behind them are fantastical myths and legends and much-acclaimed Vietnamese writers, musicians and artists.

“Some of the best things about Hanoi? It’s the place where East meets West, fashion meets architecture, architecture meets culture and where culture meets Chula” – Camellia Dinh

In this article, I would like to take you to Nhat Chieu Street of West Lake in Hanoi, where the lakeside Chula fashion house resides. Chula is a famous fashion and culture space co-founded by Laura Fontan Pardo and her late husband Diego Del Valle Contizas (Diego Chula), a lovely couple who had spent almost 18 years in Vietnam before Diego’s sudden passing on October 13, 2021. Chula has been home to many unique fashion and art designs by Diego, the late architect-turned-designer, who was also a poet, music composer, a philanthropist and a true cultural ambassador. Diego was perhaps the only foreign designer who has been attending every single Vietnam’s fashion week.

My first Chula dress. Picture taken in front of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi

In loving memory of Diego, I would like to share with you the melody of “Book me a ride” one of the most beautiful songs about Hanoi, written by Diego Chula, performed by the talented artist Dattie Do.

“Book me a Ride” – written by Diego Chula – performed by Dattie Do

Read Wear Chula, Wear Happiness HERE

4. Home to some of the best hotels in the world

Yes, you heard me, Hanoi is home to some of the best hotels in the world, including the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.

Offering 364 rooms, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi is packed with French colonial charm and might just be the most luxurious hotel in the city. At the very least, it’s certainly the luxury hotel with the most fascinating back story. Formerly the residence of the French Governor of Tonkin (the historic name of northern Vietnam), it’s centrally located right around the corner from the Hanoi Opera house and the neo-Gothic St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Boasting a classical white façade, green shutters, original wrought iron detail, wood paneling and a lush courtyard lawn, the hotel is one of the region’s few remaining hotels of its era. Built in 1901 by two private French investors, the hotel quickly became the rendez-vous point for colonial society in the first half of the century. Following Vietnamese independence in the 1950s, the new national government opted to maintain it as the official hotel for visiting VIPs. During and after the war years, it became a base for press and diplomats.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. Under the first phase, the existing hotel was refurbished over an eighteen-month period and reopened in March 1992, again called Hotel Metropole. The second phase started in 1994 when work commenced on the 135-room Opera Wing, and the four-storey Metropole Center office tower above it, both of which opened in late 1996. After the reconstruction of the new Club Rooms, replaced Metropole offices, the third phase will be fully finished end 2008. The Club Metropole Lounge and Imperial Suite, opened in May 2008, introduce an impressive new oasis of charm and luxury at Metropole Hanoi. 

6. A city of seasonal signature dishes

Bún Chả, Phở, Chả Cá Lã Vọng, Cốm, Bánh Mì, Bánh Rán (Vietnamese Donuts), Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm, Cà phê trứng (Egg Coffee) to name a few of some of the best dishes in Hanoi. I am going to spend a moment to talk about “Phở” in Hanoi. Interestingly, “Phở” is not only about a type of Vietnamese noodle soup that you will be able to find in many regions in Vietnam. Hanoi is also famous for a variety of “Phở”, soup or dried versions such as the famous Phở spring rolls or the ‘fluffy’ fried Phở with sautéed sauce and vegetables or stir-fried Phở that you can find in Ngu Xa Street.

A variety of “Pho” in Hanoi

Bún chả is one of my all time favorite Hanoi dishes. It is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle. Bún chả is served with grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce. This Hanoi’s specialty became famous especially after the visit of US Former President Obama to Vietnam in 2016.

Image: US Former President Obama and Chef Anthony Bourdain having a dinner of bun cha at the Bún chả Hương Liên restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam May 23, 2016 (Image: The Thao Van Hoa).

7. Hanoi’s scenic views

Hanoi is perhaps also one of the most scenic cities in Vietnam. The city has many charming lakes, surrounded with locals doing Tai Chi (slow meditation in motion) in the morning and just enjoying the surroundings. The city features a delightful blend of French and Vietnamese architecture, delicious restaurants, and an intriguing old quarter, Hanoi, although changing fast, is one of the few truly beautiful cities in Southeast Asia.

8. A home-coming shopping experience at the Old Quarter of Hanoi

The best shopping in Hanoi Old Quarter can be found along narrow alleyways close to Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can find retailers that have managed to retain their particular trades for generations. Street markets and roadside vendors are also plentiful in this atmospheric area, attracting travellers looking to experience the local lifestyle and enjoy authentic Vietnamese dishes during their holiday in Hanoi. Bargaining is normal here and, as with all busy markets, be aware of your personal belonging and the motorcycles riding all over the streets.

Hang Ma Street during Mid-Autumn festival | Image: Carol Garborg

As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi also has plenty of modern boutiques and art galleries housing breathtaking paintings, photographs and sculptures by renowned artists from across the country. Whether you’re looking to purchase a cheap conical hat or splurge on a valuable artwork, our list of great places to shop in Hanoi Old Quarter caters to just about any budget level. You will also be able to shop for some of the finest silk products or to get your new tailor-made dress within 24-48 hours.

As a tourist, you may be able to get an unparalleled travel experience to visit Hanoi’s Old Quarter on a cyclo and experience a bunch of shops selling products mainly for international tourists .

9. One of the best five star taxi services in Asia

As a corporate traveler, I have jumped to this conclusion that Hanoi offers one of the best five star taxi services in Asia. This is my conclusion after having been travelling to several major cities in Asia such as Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, or even our beloved Southern city Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam. Even long before cab-hailing services such as Grab or Uber were introduced to the Vietnamese market, I have always been so proud that most international hotels or large commercial centers in Hanoi are partnered with a reliable taxi company which allows a certain number of taxis to be parked permanently at the hotel lobby and the taxi drivers would be ready to take the guests to anywhere they like in the city, without having to wait or going to through a complicated booking system. Taxi Group in Hanoi has been able to offer various payment methods including credit-cards or cash for a long time. If you don’t speak the language, all you have to do is to download the App! You will know the estimation for each journey before you go. An electronic receipt will be printed for you to keep at the end of the journey with full information of the vehicle, contact information and your journey so you can also trace back after if you need further support to find a lost property or to give a feedback.

A Taxi Group in Hanoi at Lotte Hanoi Hotel Lobby

My tip for all corporate travelers in Hanoi, if you really need to catch a taxi but you are unsure whether it is reliable, please just find an international hotel nearby and ask for a taxi (many taxis may have hotel logos printed on). The taxi fare within the city is also considered reasonably lower compared to many other cities in Southeast Asia. For example, a 10-minute trip to go travel within the inner-city would costs about 60,000 VND to 120,000 VND (equivalent to 3-5 USD). Please do remember to speak to the hotel concierge if you are unsure of anything and please do not tell the hotels that you get this information from me.

10. You may call Hanoi ‘the little Paris’, but definitely NOT some ‘Beijing of Vietnam’

There was a colleague of mine from China once compared Hanoi as the “Beijing of Vietnam”, to him, Hanoi is like Beijing. Well for me as a Vietnamese, I would take this a little more personal. I would totally agree that Hanoi can be considered as “Beijing of Vietnam” in the sense that both cities are the national capital and political cities, and it’s also true that Vietnam was under much influence by the Chinese history and Confucius culture for over 1,000 years. However, Hanoi is still very different, in a way that you might be able to find a Chinatown in many other cities in the world, including our Southern city Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), there is simply no place known as a Chinatown in Hanoi. Quota had this question: Is Hanoi the only city in Southeast Asia without China town? The reasons for this could be many, but the answer is Yes – there isn’t any Chinatown in Hanoi.

With almost a decade of French colony, Hanoi’s got many of the ancient French-style architecture projects. Many of them such as the St. Joseph’s Cathedral or the Hanoi Opera House or the Long Bien Bridge are some of the key projects that have become Hanoi’s must visit tourist attractions.

Constructed in 1899, Long Biên Bridge is a historic cantilever bridge across the Red River that connects two districts, Hoan Kiem and Long Bien of the city of Hanoi, Vietnam. It was originally called Paul Doumer Bridge | Image: Duong’s Restaurant

French Quarter Hanoi is one of the most popular places for tourists. Compared to Hanoi Old Quarter, French Quarter is not as busy, however it has the charming and elegant beauty thanks to the ancient French-style architecture in the breath of modern life. Let’s check out the must-know things about this area. Located in the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, this area is now home to many five-star hotels, government offices, embassies and buildings. French Quarter is perfect for sightseeing, especially for travellers who are interested in historical landmarks, museums and fashion boutiques.

The French Quarter in Hanoi

11. The gate to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Hanoi is the gate way for international tourists to explore the natural beauty of Northern cities and provinces in Vietnam such as Ha Long Bay and Trang An complex in Ninh Binh, both are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you have more time then a trip to the mountain part in Moc Chau or Sapa is also highly recommended for some of the best trekking experiences in Vietnam.

Hanoi is the gate way for international tourists to explore the beauty of Northern cities and provinces in Vietnam.

12. Getting to know the Hanoians

Hanoi people, also known as Trang An people, are famous for the long-standing tradition of elegance and courtesy, that is the reason why tourists have been attracted by the typical nature of the Hanoians. In North of Vietnam, people dress differently compared to people who live in the South, perhaps this comes from the history, tradition and also the weather of Hanoi. The fact that Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam has made it more appropriate for its people to dress formally when living in the same place as the diplomats and government officers. It is said that Hanoians always appear to be more obsessed with beauty, which is less existent in the South or at least it appears like that. All in all, we can forcefully say that the beauty of Hanoi people comes from their own simplicity.

Artist – Actress Chieu Xuan is known for her timeless Hanoian beauty for decades.

Over centuries, Vietnam had been known for a long history of war and hardships, Hanoians always prioritize education, thus they send their children to go to school and embrace an opportunity to contribute for the better Vietnam. Knowledge has been gradually completed the young in Hanoi for both male and female, they are more and more subtle than ever. Vietnam in general and Hanoi, in particular, has undergone the influences of different social standards and values of Confucianism, Communism and some major religions as Buddhism, Catholicism, and also experienced a tremendous social change in recent years. As a result, moral education in Hanoi nowadays stands for many forms and definitions. Despite the fact that Hanoi people are still pure like they used to, but they have been becoming more and more outgoing, more subtle than before. Hanoians today are said to be more open-minded to the new trends and vibrant developments in both national and global scale. At times, foreigners may find it hard to establish business partnership with Hanoians due to cultural distance, but this is actually normal that you will need to conduct your own study before entering a new destination and market. It might be difficult in the beginning, but if you are able to build trust, success will follow.

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