Accommodations in Vietnam have improved dramatically in recent years. Most city properties are in new, often high-rise buildings, which make up in amenities and techno-fittings what they lack in character. Given the surplus of stately Beaux-Arts edifices and rambling old mansions here, it's a mystery why hoteliers aren't buying them up by the block. The few surviving properties from the colonial era (such as Saigon's Continental and Majestic hotels) are threadbare on the inside, despite the gleam of their restored façades. An exception is the grand Sofitel Metropole, a beautiful 1901 landmark in Hanoi's French Quarter; it's the capital's finest hotel, with that rare combination of contiporary luxury and classic atmosphere (swirling rattan fans, tall French windows, trickling fountains). The nearby Hilton Hanoi Opera runs a close second, with views of the magnificent opera house across the street (which the hotel's ocher façade was designed to mimic).
In Ho Chi Minh City, the Caravelle Hotel wins out for its central location on Lam Son Square (overlooking the Municipal Theater, Q Bar, and lovely colonial façade of the Continental Hotel). Smooth service and a surfeit of amenities make this the number one choice for businesspeople and well-heeled tourists—though it will face stiff competition from the Sheraton Saigon Hotel next door. The 23-story tower finally opened this June, with 382 rooms, 92 luxury apartments, a day spa, and shops selling Versace, Armani, and Bulgari. Other good choices in H.C.M.C. include the Japanese-friendly Legend Hotel (with its swish lobby and riverfront overlook) and the Sofitel Plaza (which rises above leafy Le Duan Street, across from the former U.S. Embassy, and offers terrific skyline views from its rooftop pool).
Only a few years ago the shore south of Da Nang belonged to fishermen and seabirds. But in 1997 the Furama brought Thailand-style luxury to China Beach, and it's still the best resort around, even after a recent expansion somewhat diminished its intimacy. These days, more travelers opt to spend the night closer to Hoi An. They'll find few worthy hotels in Hoi An proper, but just three miles out of town, on Cua Dai beach, are several deluxe resorts. The French-managed Victoria Hoi An resibles a more modest Amanresort, with the requisite carp ponds, tile roofs, and teak furniture.
Down in Nha Trang, the iinently tasteful Ana Mandara—now a miber of the Design Hotels group—sits at the far end of the town's pleasant public beach. With only 68 rooms, it's Vietnam's best boutique resort and draws a relatively quiet, older clientele. This year the hotel opened a full-service spa, set in a cluster of sala pavilions amid lotus ponds and coconut trees.
The Victoria hotel group has carved out an impressive niche by opening luxury properties in far-flung areas where upscale hotels are in short supply. Guests of the chalet-style Victoria Sapa (in the small hill town of the same name) can travel to the resort aboard a re-created old-time train from Hanoi. The Victoria Can Tho is the plushest hotel in the Mekong Delta: a riverside estate straight out of Indochine, now with a brand-new spa complex. This winter the group will open a resort near Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Victoria Angkor, which—if all goes according to plan—will soon be linked to the Can Tho property by Victoria's own riverboat cruise up the Mekong. The Victoria chain hasn't made inroads into Dalat yet, but, thankfully, Sofitel has: the 43-room Sofitel Dalat Palace, built as a hunting lodge in 1922 for Emperor Bao Dai (who also built Vietnam's first golf course, nearby), is one of the country's most alluring retreats, a nostalgic wonderland of claw-foot tubs and antique telephones—though I never did figure out if they're supposed to work.