I stayed alone my first night in Vietnam at the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi. Jack had gone on to visit manufacturing facilities in Taiwan and I journeyed to Hanoi by myself.
What a lovely welcome I had. The Metropole is very nice comfortable hotel, beautifully restored and loaded with history. When I walked into the lobby after checking in and getting settled, I encountered Charlie Chaplin.
Yes, standing in the lobby, smiling and miming for all the guests. Doggone it, I didn’t have my camera and frankly not sure what it was all about.
But I learned later on the Hotel Tour, Charlie Chaplin spent a lot of time at the iconic Metropole in its glory days during the French colonial period. So did lots of celebrities. Evidently, he occasionally returns.
I often take Hotel Tours when we stay at historic hotels that offer them. It’s always good to ask the concierge if they do them. You can have some amazing experiences.
And this time we did.
Jack joined me on the tour two nights after my Charlie Chaplin encounter where we learned the history of the hotel and we also learned that in the last several years, the bomb shelter used during the Vietnam War had been discovered. And the bomb shelter was part of the tour.
After being thoroughly informed of the hotel’s history, we made our way into the claustrophobic cement jail like bomb shelter, five interconnected rooms designed to hold 40 people. We were transported to the middle of the conflict in the bare low ceiling dark, damp and musty rooms.
Most poignant– while we toured, we listened to a shortened version of a Joan Baez tape, “Where Are You Now, My Son? “ which she made in 1972 at the hotel. She recorded sirens, sounds of bombs and the gut wrenching words of a Vietnamese mother, lamenting the loss of her son.
It was truly a memorable experience and one that trumps the rest of the lovely facility located in the heart of Hanoi near the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. .
Yes, there’s lots to see and enjoy at this hotel–the place to see and be seen through much of the early 20th century, the opulent hotel celebrities stayed like Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maughn. Later Jane Fonda holed up there, it became a government run guest house, and now, a place where a lot of high end tours bed down their guests. In recent years the hotel has welcomed Catherine Deneuve, Michael Cain, Mark Zuckerberg, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to name a few.
In the early mornings Vietnamese residents play lively badminton across the street. And the hotel staff will will take you on tours in vintage automobiles if you ask.
I thought I’d be seeing a suite, the gorgeous dining rooms, and, if lucky, the hotel kitchen (always my favorite on a hotel tour). Instead, I went back to a terrifying, horribly emotional period in the lives of Vietnamese and Americans alike and had a moment in time to grasp the horror of war. Makes me appreciate what so many have lived through and wish we could end wars and the brutal things that we do to each other.
Optimistic and unrealistic, but it is my wish.