A lilliputian property on a busy Old Quarter street, Essence has an unassuming entrance that gives it the appearance of a breezy clothing boutique, making it fit right into the surroundings. Neighbors are jewelry stores, cafés, bars, clothing shops, and minimarts. Opened in late 2011, the eight-story hotel has a small lobby with a simple front desk and a set of photo-worthy spiral stairs to the side (for the less athletic, there’s an elevator). Rooms come mostly in white, enlivened by splashes of color in the bed throws and upholstery and feature a free laptop for guest use; Wi-Fi is also complimentary. The setup of the rooms is refreshingly straightforward—a down bed; an armchair or chaise longue; a handful of small framed photos; and a desk with a lamp in the living space. It’s a relaxed, informal, playful property, where turndown service includes flower petals sprinkled on the bed, and towels are folded into the shapes of animals (swans are a favorite). Welcome amenities in the room include fresh seasonal fruit such as mango, papaya, and pineapple.
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The Old Quarter, also known as "36 old streets and guilds," is a tight warren of artisan workshops, temples, day and night markets, and traditional medicine stores. Essence is located near tour operators and scooter rental outfits, and it's close to the neighborhood’s best bars, street-food vendors, and the famous beer-drinking corner at the intersection of Ha Tien and Luong Ngoc Quyen. The northern shore of Hoan Kiem Lake is only three minutes away on foot, and here you’ll find Hanoi’s most popular temple, Ngoc Son (or Jade Mountain). Built on an island in the lake and connected to the lakeside by the lacquered-wood Huc Bridge, the shrine is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao (vanquisher of the Mongols in the 1400s), scholar Van Xuong, and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu.
Need to Know
Rooms: 30 rooms. From $60. Check-in: 2 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Unsurprisingly, given the size of the property, there is only one place to eat on-site. The unpretentious ground-floor Essence Restaurant serves Vietnamese and Western dishes (French toast, sandwiches, poached eggs) in the daily buffet breakfast, then lunch and dinner menus of local dishes such as pho and Vietnamese rice-paper spring rolls. Spa and gym details: The four treatment rooms in the second-floor Essencia Spa offer facials, Vietnamese fruit or rice scrubs, and Himalayan salt stone treatments. There is no gym.
Who's it for: Corporate travelers on tight expense accounts (the hotel offers a decent number of single rooms); inquisitive tourists who like the idea of a reasonably priced, locally run hotel; revelers who prize the ability to stumble home after a night out. Our favorite rooms: The living room and bedroom are separate in the Essence Suite Single room, giving guests the opportunity to spread out, but what really stands out is the 10-meter balcony with views of the tangle of tin and tile rooftops of the Old Quarter. For light sleepers: The hotel is in the thick of the Old Quarter, near bars and nightlife, so if street noise—incessant motorcycle traffic by day, raucous partygoers at night—is a nuisance, ask for a room at the back.