PARK HYATT SAIGON (*****L): Those wishing to enjoy Saigon in the lap of luxury and class, already know by reputation this authentic palace hotel: where mouth to ear, combined with the prestigious image of the Park Hyatt brand, attracts the most prestigious guests. Enquire with anybody in Saigon about the best five-star hotel in town; the reply is always the same: “-Go to Park Hyatt!”.
We dropped our luggage in this caravanserai of luxury a couple of days, during the weekend. When leading businessmen give way to sophisticated leisure travelers, and when the restaurants and bars fill up with festive Saigonese and expatriate patrons: making this imposing five-star hotel turning into a classy entertaining center for the local elite.
The first reaction when our taxi reached this imposing, immaculate neo-colonial building, was: “-What a location!”. Right in the center of District 1, with all the business, museum, cultural attractions and best restaurants at an immediate reach. We understood that our next ride would be on our way back to the airport only. It took us less than five minutes to walk to the Nguyen Hué Square, City Hall, Opera House, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and amazing Central Post Office built by Gustave Eiffel. Restaurants and trendy bars are flanked along the colonial Dong Khoi Street (former Avenue Catinat): a place where Saigon never sleeps. Union Square, Levis Parkson, Vincom and further high-end shopping malls are concentrated around the hotel.
This feels like magic; the monumental lobby looks both impressive and reassuring. Quiet, yet animated by the presence of the elegant Park Lounge, famous for its Afternoon Tea. The equilibrium of its architecture makes it astonishingly homey.
Check-in procedure went as smooth as silk. It took less than five minutes to get to our Garden View Room, overlooking the swimming-pool. Spacious and ritzy, with a sublime floral carpet and nostalgic photos of the old Saigon, it featured tall colonial windows, framed with white wooden shutters, a well-sized hardwood writing desk, large-screen LED TV, Bose Bluetooth speaker, and a mini iPad displaying weather forecast, wake-up alarm, etc. We liked the Nespresso coffee maker, with a generous selection of blends which the housekeeper refilled everyday: just like the high-speed Internet connection, it was provided with compliments. Another bonus was the round-the-clock private butler service available to all 245 rooms and suites. Our gorgeous bathroom was equipped with the most complete toiletry kit ever, and with hyacinth and lime blossom fragrance amenities by luxury Vietnamese brand Cochine exclusively to Park Hyatt. Last but not least, the bed, with plush feather pillows, the finest linens, and a first class mattress, was one of the most comfortable which we experienced during our June/July 2016 Southeast Asian tour.
Like all palace
hotels, the Park Hyatt Saigon sells its suites
like hot cakes. The “Park Suites” are subdivided into different
categories. The cream of the crop, the Presidential Suite located on
the highest floor of the hotel covers not less than 190 sq. m. It
doesn’t show the flashy and stifling “Chinese influence” which we had
experienced so many times staying in premium suites in
South East Asia and China; no shining gold, no heavy marble, no shabby
“Louis Style” furniture, but elegant interiors with a cozy atmosphere.
Oil paintings, antiques, lacquerware and handcrafted embroidery by
established Vietnamese made us warmly feel at residence. We liked the
grand living room and the dining-room seating up to ten persons for a
dinner or a business meeting. And also the white marble bathroom: with
walk-in rain shower and TV-embedded mirrors. The rate was
quite reasonable, though we visited the hotel during the peak season
(it remains quite variable; thus we would say that it costs more or
less the price of an executive suite in a palace hotel in Paris and
London, while Deluxe rooms are 50 till 70% cheaper compared with
Make sure to book in advance your treatment at the awards winning Xuan Spa. A pride of the Park Hyatt Saigon, it brings a note of luxury and exclusivity to the Mekong Delta world famous reputation in term of unmatched rejuvenation therapies and exquisite massages. A new concept embracing the Mekong Delta’s essences, such as fresh herbs, local grains, and fruits, is used in the 4 private single treatment rooms equipped with brand new high-class equipment.
Gastronomy at Park Hyatt starts with the breakfast served at the Italian restaurant Opera. Comparable in term of elaborated cuisine, pleasant setting and impeccable service, with the best buffet breakfasts (with “a la carte” offers) ever experienced in referents high-end hotels groups worldwide, like Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, InterContinental, Four Seasons, … A Top 20 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World by Daily Meal, and One of 82 Hot Tables by Condé Nast Traveler, the atmospheric Square One restaurant has an attractive International Cuisine Business Lunch Set Menu (about USD 18), served in five different dining areas displaying integrated open-kitchens.
INTERCONTINENTAL ASIANA SAIGON (*****L): "Asia's Leading City Hotel", "Vietnam's Leading Hotel", "Vietnam's Leading Business Hotel and Conference Hotel 2016" by the World Travel Award, this palace enjoys a priceless location in the heart of District 1, surrounded by illustrious competitors. The “five-star hotels war” in Saigon increases each year the level of comfort and services in a city where hospitality is part of the culture. But InterContinental always offers a premium bonus, which makes us have a liking for this brand since many years: the Club InterContinental Lounge.
The lounge at Saigon reaches a peak level. In term of altitude, by definition: perched at the 19th floor, dominating the most scenic area of the city and the River Mekong. In term of service, above all. The staff behaves five-star. We have for instance been recognized and called by our name by the ravishing hostesses: all about pampering us, anticipating our requests, and assisting us with the excellent concierge in confirming some important details of our complicated travel itinerary. We liked the intimate corners (plus a small meeting room) distributed within the lounge: we found it most pleasant to work on our laptop, or discuss with our companion, drinking one glass of Chilean red Cabernet Sauvignon wine. Spirits served during the happy hours were all fine quality brands. We have been particularly impressed by the attractive buffet, elegantly displaying Western snacks, quality cheese (including Camembert), and refined desserts. What we preferred were the Vietnamese snacks, and the thematic degustation station with a hostess preparing each day a different specialty: cocktails, soups, spring rolls, etc . High-tea is always a good moment, back from meeting or shopping, relaxing in style when the traffic goes amok in the bustling Saigon… We experienced our breakfast at the lounge and at Market 39. Though the choice of dishes, pastries, and beverages is obviously much larger in the lobby level restaurant, we preferred the lounge for the distinction of the service, the intimacy, and for the selection of high-quality dishes.
F&B at InterContinental Asiana is globally excellent. We can’t judge that much, as we had no time to experience all their restaurants. But everyone in Saigon considers Yu Chu as one of the 10 best Cantonese restaurants in town. It serves in style authentic cuisine which we gladly experienced. Basilico is a great trattoria, and a fashionable venue. We had a drink at Purple Jade, and liked the mundane atmosphere of the best competitor to the still unbeatable Park Lounge at Park Hyatt Saigon. The bartender at Purple Jade is a master in cocktails, and the snacks / tapas are surprisingly fair value for a five-star luxury hotel. Last but not least, there is a Food mall attached to the hotel, with the most famous franchised Asian and Western restaurants.
We booked in a corner Executive Room. Perfect! Sincerely, InterContinental Asiana has the most pleasant business rooms in Saigon. With far less bling compared with The Reverie, but showing better taste. Bedrooms have been tailored made to work, sleep, and enjoy the panorama; not to impress your business guest or girlfriend. We liked the hardwood panel floor, large desktop area, the relaxing chair, and the spacious bathrooms with a cornucopia of top quality amenities. Toiletry is by Agraria, like in all the hotels from the chain; those are fantastic products, manufactured by America’s oldest and largest luxury home fragrance company. There was a "Be your own Barista" professional coffee machine in our room, which we experienced with different blends of "Café de Colombie" Gimoka. We considered this complimentary bonus ways smarter that the boiled water / cheap powder coffee provided in 95% of the hotels. Thumbs up to InterContinental Asiana!
We asked to inspect a few suites. Though the hotel was high occupancy, we could see a couple of them. Located on the superior floor, they are tastefully designed, top-luxury but not baroque. The room / suite rates at InterContinental Asiana are reasonable. Particularly with the suites.
The SPA is lavish, the gym super-equipped, and the transparent pool nice-looking (though a little bit impersonal, with many high rise buildings all around...but we are in District 1!).
A luxury annex to the hotel, InterContinental Asiana Saigon Residences offers a short or long term stay in the finest and most contemporary serviced apartments in Ho Chi Minh City.
Last but not least, InterContinental Saigon is the premier meeting venue in the city and offers the latest technology in equipment.
One of the best InterContinental which we have visited recently, this is a top 5 best hotels in Saigon by Tripadvisor.
INTERCONTINENTAL ASIANA SAIGON: Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Nghé Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 3520 9999 FACSIMILE: +84 8 3520 9955
LE MERIDIEN SAIGON (*****L): The latest chain hotel in Saigon, one of the largest with 343 rooms and suites, this is also the most contemporaneous. With unique artworks referring to Vietnam everywhere: from the imperial lobby, until the brilliant rooms. We liked the uninhibited luxury of the public areas and restaurants, the swimming pool with a mesmerizing river view, the large spa and fitness area, and the spacious fine dining restaurants.
With a tip-top, central location, five minutes walk from the colonial Dong Khoi street and the Opera House, this is the dreamed place to wander in the historic Saigon. It also suits the businessmen: all the banks and large companies headquarters are located in this section of the District 1. Designed like a business hotel, with an artistic touch and a relaxed atmosphere, Le Meridien is very different from, let's say, the cosmopolite Renaissance or Sheraton, and not as posh as Park Hyatt. Presenting a very special, trendy and cool position in the still limited five-star hotel scene in Saigon. We saw a lot of young, relatively informal travelers. Some accompanied with their family. Predominently Asian during our stay in October (just before the beginning of the high season). This would explain the memorable buffet breakfast, with one of the richest selection of Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese specialties in town. F&B is excellent, and moreover reasonably priced compared with further high-end hotels in D1. As there is no coffee machine in the room (which we found a little bit odd), complimentary coffee vouchers are available for the guests who would like to experience a cappuccino, espresso, or any other type of coffee anywhere in the hotel. We grabbed a selection of signature Eclairs at Art Cacao (a give away at a couple of dollars...), and enjoyed it sipping our coffee at the so in Latitude 10 Lounge. That's finally a good idea, inviting the guests to get out of their room and socialize.
Which is sometimes a challenge, as we indeed love to laze around our relatively large (38sq.m) Premier Classic Room. Ideal for a single traveler or a couple, this is -but doesn't look like- the first category of lodging at Le Meridien Saigon. It doesn't differ much from the Club Classic (giving access to the smart Club Lounge), with an elegant graphic wood paneling depicting the curving lines of the Saigon City or River views, extra large panoramic windows for an exciting Saigon river (actually the Mekong) view, and a chaise lounge oriented to the LCD TV. The "LM Bed" competes, in supreme comfort, with the "My Bed" by Sofitel. The black marble bathroom was as simple as stylish. We loved it, with its river / District 2 view. Internet was very high speed and complimentary.
The long and quite straight salted water pool gave us the impression that we were swimming in the air. It has also a million dollar view, and we noted that the drinks from the poolside Explore Bistro where not expensive on the five star standards. We spent much time working out in the large, super modern and generously equipped gym. One of the nicest in Saigon, together with Park Hyatt (using the same exclusive "Life Fitness" brand to train its guests up to the top).
The young, prominently feminine reception staff is as pretty as anticipating. Even the two hostesses, routinely opening the hotel door, did the job with an unexpected enthusiasm and kindness. Though we stayed only a couple of nights, it didn't take long to the waiters at Latest Recipe international cuisine restaurant, to remember that we liked our breakfast with two double espressos. The Vietnamese hotels have the best-trained staff ever: only competing with Thailand and some high-end resorts in Siem Reap.
Le Meridien Saigon perpetuates the tradition of Indochinese hospitality, at a relatively soft rate. Another bonus for one of the best hotels in the country.
LE MERIDIEN SAIGON: 3C Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
PHONE: +84 28 6263 6688 FACSIMILE: +84 28 6263 6689
THE MYST DONG KHOI (*****): Contemporaneous, yet nostalgic, this is one of the newest and most awesome five-star luxury hotels in the “Triangle of Gold” of Saigon. We loved everything from the uniquely boutique Myst Dong Khoi, indeed. Let's start with the architecture. When shoe-box like high rise hotels are mushrooming all around, replacing the lovely colonial houses which gave Saigon its charm, the white-painted, fourteen-floor asymmetric structure, punctured by dozens of irregularly shaped windows with greenery cascading down the facade, quickly became a landmark recommended from mouth to ear. This is how we discovered The Myst, peeped into the ylang-scented lobby (so unique with its Marseille red-tiles, and rusted industrial girders, reflecting the constructions from the colonial era), and fell under the charm of the young, mostly feminine staff... We said to ourselves: "-We shall book our next stay there"... and did so.
Everything looks eccentric at The Myst Dong Khoi. Starting with the entrance, adjoining the Bason Cafe, repleted with maritime items, salvaged from a neighboring torn down shipyard. The check-in is managed quickly and with much elegance, in a classy sofa, surrounded by Cham sculptures of Hindu deities, and high-tech Apple computers. The lift is also quite odd. It looks as small as in the few remaining French buildings along the former “rue Catinat” (Dong Khoi street); this impression is given by the deliberate absence of a mirror, quite uncommon in a five-star hotel. Giving, from the beginning, the delicious impression of getting into a private residence rather than a hotel.
After a short walk along the picturesque corridors copying the labyrinthic alleys of the old Saigon, we got into our room. Though new and yet scarcely marketed, the Myst was full house the day of our visit. We could only stay in the most “standard” category of accommodation. Which we didn't realize; we found our “Dong Khoi Room” gorgeous. It looks like very “maisonnette”. 40 sq.m, open-plan, with arches rather than walls, and 1920's Indochinese furniture rather than partitions, it comes with freshly waxed tropical hardwood flooring, separate toilet/bathroom, separate writing... and a Jacuzzi al fresco! Use it with a swimming costume to enjoy the amazing city/river view (which will be soon party covered by the erection of a massive Hilton, next door...), or on the nude with your companion (it takes one minute to deploy basic bamboo shade for a complete intimacy). It gave our not so basic room the allure of a suite! With bonuses like vintage telephones from the 1970's, carefully selected local handicrafts, IPTV Multimedia, excellent Bluetooth speakers, and Grohe bathroom products, it gave the impression that we booked in a much higher category of rooms. Those looking for a supreme design will like the “Saigon Signature”, and “The Myst” suites. They are not that large (70 sq.m for the largest one), but extremely stylish.
The hotel operates noteworthy restaurants and bars. We would rank our breakfast at “The Nest” amongst the top 10 best in the city. Brilliant in term of location: book a breezy table al-fresco, and enjoy the view from the 12th floor. Distinguished in term of service: young, smiling, anticipating... Unique in term of quality: the buffet served over a nine-meter wooden boat, and a 100% Vietnamese cooking station, with spring rolls made in front of the guests. We liked the freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice, and the special “à la carte” exclusive breakfast offer. We won't forget the “Chef's Thermidor Omelet”, with Tiger Prawn Béchamel, Mustard, and Parmesan Cheese. A masterpiece of gastronomy, worth a Parisian palace-hotel, and totally unexpected in a classy yet fairly priced hotel in Saigon. Thumbs up to the F&B!
Prices are light like a cloud at the 14th-floor pool “Bar Bleu”. This is a romantic place which we shall visit again back to Saigon. We liked the open-air section, with a city view, next to the long and straight, so pleasant pool. It closes up too early (8 pm): like the opposite, so unique steambath with a window. The one and only hammam with a view in Saigon. The hotel operates a panoramic state-of-the-art gym. Everything is unique at The Myst Dong Khoi!
This is the kind of hotel which the spoiled first class globe trotter will record in his address book. It is kindly and efficiently managed by a charming and active manager, imported from Accor. Acting like a "maîtresse de maison", she deploys enthusiastic efforts to launch her new hotel, assisted with an excellent guest relations manager, graduated from the best hospitality school in Singapore. With the rest of the staff, they make all the guests feel VIP during their delightful stay.
THE MYST DONG KHOI: 6-8 Ho Huan Nghiep St., Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
PHONE: +84 28 3520 3040
VILLA SÔNG (*****): Ideally located along the
Saigon River, in the clean, quiet and
upper-class residential District 2, a short and memorable 15 minutes complimentary
speedboat cruise to the District 1 tourist / business /
shopping attractions, Villa Sông competes the number one ranking in Tripadvisor
with the five-star luxury The Rêverie, and comes
before superlative palace-hotels like Park Hyatt Saigon and Caravelle!
challenging 23 rooms
boutique hotel with a serene ambiance,
this posh, immaculate mansion owned by a group of investors from
Singapore accommodates tourists (the place is ideal for a honeymoon)
and businessmen (no traffic to the city center thanks to the boat).
Usually welcomed in person by Yega, the courteous Malaysian
general-manager, or by the exquisite, multilingual Miss Thuy, always
princely pampered by one of the best-trained staff in Vietnam, lots of
the guests made Villa Sông their home away from home in Saigon
kind of hotel where you like to come back, it has relatively small
but amazingly cushy rooms: so well-appointed and quiet, with supremely
smooth beds, dashing design, and brilliant bathrooms. It would be hard
to describe their distinguished interior, as no two rooms are the same.
Ours was a delightful “Sanctuary River
Room”, ideally located on the
2nd floor, with a dreamy view of the Mekong. In this category,
equivalent to a superior deluxe room in a chain hotel, the size varies
quite a lot between 32 till 48 sq.m. Those who like space should,
therefore, inquire in advance to book in the largest available room. We
liked very much the complimentary WiFi, minibar, and Nespresso Machine.
Another good mark for the elegant, high-tech Apple TV.
for more volume and style? Then straightly book in a 71 sq.m
“Villa Suite”, with a pleasant balcony and parlor. The gracious
four-poster bed would particularly seduce those on a romantic stay.
That category of room is equipped with a bathtub and a separate rain
shower. The largest room in Villa Sông (105 sq.m) is the “Imperial Suite”. Glamorous, it has
2 balconies with river view and pool view.
Swimming in the cool salt-water pool allows an interesting perspective on the French neo-colonial design of the white villa, totally refurbished in 2013, and on the lush gardens planted with palms along the sleepy banks of the most dynamic river in Asia. The powerful, comfortable shuttle-boat can be hired for short excursions. Do like us, book it just for one hour, and discover the hidden parks, with piers and yachts, of the most secret and sumptuous villas in Saigon, housing politicians, movie stars, and tycoons. Those sanctuaries of capitalism alternate with temples and modest fishermen houses. District 2 is indeed worth the incursion: it has excellent restaurants, like the almost homonymous La Villa, regarded by expats and Saigonese alike as one of the top ten French restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. It is located five minutes from the hotel by taxi. Do not neglect the in-house restaurant, Bistro Sông Vie: the gastronomic experience along the river is to die for. From the extravagant à la carte breakfast, till the candlelit dinner, we have experienced a technical perfection by Chef Kevin Marchetti,
Sông is a member of the prestigious Secret Retreats collection
of boutique hotels, intimate inns and camps, beautifully designed full
service villas, exquisite restaurants and exotic cruises.
SAIGON DOMAINE LUXURY RESIDENCES (*****): This Swiss managed residence doesn't only welcome expatriated top executives and CEOs on a long stay, but also offers to the demanding traveler superb XXL accommodation, comparable to the presidential suites in the best five-star hotels... and at a portion of the price. This is the reason why we decided to experience this well-established serviced apartments, located in the green and residential Thanh Da Island. A refreshing breeze reduces the temperature to an average of four degrees compared with the rest of the suffocating city. Staying on our large terrace was particularly pleasant and relaxing, feeling dozens of kilometers away from District 1...accessible withing exactly seven minutes, using the residence complimentary and powerful speed- boat, dropping the passengers at the historical Mong Bridge (built by Gustave Eiffel). The cruising experience is impressive: prepare your camera! Discovering Saigon from the river is a well worth the trip experience. Particularly at sunset, with a radiant orange light bathing the quays and high-rise buildings. The boat is, practically and leisurely, one of the factors which would incite us to book again at Saigon Domaine Luxury Residences. In parallel, a shuttle bus connects the hotel to Dong Khoi, close the restaurants, bars, and main businesses.
We felt like staying in a holiday resort. The residence has been designed to create a complete contrast from the vibrant city. The lobby is grand, yet homey. It even has a nice art gallery, where exhibitions by local or foreign artists are organized permanently. There is a mini-market next to the extensive fitness room (with sauna). Some space has been managed for the kids, and there is also a billiard table. We loved the casual atmosphere of that residence; so different from a hotel, indeed.
The lushly swimming pool area faces the river. Large and pleasant, it has a separate bath for kids. The restaurant and bar have been set along the water, and were particularly pleasant at breakfast time. Few hotels offer such a proximity with the scenic water scene. This is another great bonus at Saigon Domaine Luxury Residences.
Size does matter: the 45 rooms are actually classy apartments, providing all the comfort of a mansion. Even the “smallest” one bedroom suite beats in surface an executive suite in many hotels. We occupied a 169 sq.m two-bedroom suite, with a vast living-room equipped with deep white sofas, and decorated with smart Asian furniture and art items. The warm and elegant hardwood flooring gives a tropical touch of elegance to the harmonious, contemporary display. The well equipped American kitchen will please those on a family stay. There is of course LCD TV in the living room and each bedroom, broadband WiFi, and sound system. We liked the superb terrace, with a pool-view. The higher the better: some suites have a panoramic city view, making it so magic! Would you travel with friends, you might like the actually gigantic 3 and 4 bedrooms apartments, covering up to 377 sq.m.
The rate for our two-bedroom suite executive suite was USD 150-200 during our visit, in May 2017. It goes quite up and down depending on the season and occupancy.
The staff if on pair with the standing of the residence. Always efficient, it participates a lot to the homey feeling which we felt from check-in until check-out.
A member of “The Prestige Hotels Of The World”, this opulent hotel received the “Certificate of Excellence” from Tripadvisor.
SAIGON DOMAINE LUXURY RESIDENCES: Binh Quoi Ho Chí Minh, Vietnam
PHONE: +84 8 3556 6163
CONTINENTAL (****L): Since 1880, still a living symbol of French Indochina, the Hotel Continental inherited its name from the homonym hotel in Paris. Those were years that we dreamed to stay in this landmark, following the paths of adventurers, novelists, politicians, and cineasts who stayed there by necessity -that was the unique luxury lodging in Saigon- and now by tradition. Dorgelès, Malraux, Rabindranath Tagore, Graham Greene (The hotel features prominently in his novel "The Quiet American" and in its two film adaptations), President Jacques Chirac, Valery Giscard D'Estaing and many statesmen on a private visit, dropped their trunks in the large and beautiful, amazingly nostalgic rooms facing the Opera House (by Garnier) or the ravishing courtyard planted with centenary trees. Lots of movies have been shot at the Continental: including Indochine, featuring Catherine Deneuve.
When our taxi stopped in from of the lovingly restored colonial white façade, as much a symbol of Saigon as the Eiffel Tower for Paris, two vintage cars parked in front of the main entrance. That was like traveling back in time. We took a picture, slightly photoshopped it for the fun, and the impression was evident: this magic hotel captured the time and essence of the dreamed Indochina! Despite the repeated refurbishments undergone over the years, the colonial spirit, mixing dream, ambition, intrigues, success, disillusions sometime, love often, remained almost intact over the walls. Once charged with the sour essence of French “Pastis”, perfumes by Guerlain, and dark smoke of opium, the public areas and rooms alike have captured the magic of the golden age when South Vietnam was still Cochinchina, and when rutillant Citroën and Peugeot cars engaged into the “rue Catinat” (now Dong Khoi Street), the local Champs-Elysées.
Saigon was then called "the Paris of Asia". After being transferred from different owners, including Duke Montpensier, the hotel had been acquired by a man of many legends: Mathieu Franchini, native like Napoleon from the French Island of Corsica. Referred as the "Saigon Emperor", a former gangster for his enemies, an innovative investor for the friends, he was the patriarch of further generations of Franchini managing the hotel until the Communist takeover of 1975.
The Franchini family transformed the Continental into a modern palace hotel, yet never built that important element missing nowadays to get it a fifth star: a swimming-pool. This is a disappointment for many: except in the SPA Jacuzzi, don't expect a refreshing splash during the hot season (meaning ten months per year). The courtyard would be the ideal place for this; but the conservative Corsican refused to remove the now secular Frangipani trees. Planted before the erection of the hotel, which means before the main Post Office (by Eiffel) and splendid Notre Dame Cathedral (both located a five-minute walk), they still bring shade and style to the most colonial section of the landmark. Creating a major issue to many guests (“-Should we rather book a courtyard or Opera view?”), this was our meeting and relaxing point during the all stay. The neighbouring Park Hyatt Saigon, which is five-star luxury, and amazingly comfortable, has a lushly park and a pool, which we love so much; but nothing can replace the old-style charm of this courtyard with this “je ne sais quoi” retaining the last breath of France in Southeast Asia! That was the place for wedding parties during the French Protectorate; this is still nowadays. Expect much atmosphere in this animated hotel: certainly one of the most entertaining in Saigon. There is always action at the Continental.
The best time to enjoy the courtyard is early morning, for one of the most attractive breakfasts in town. We experienced the hotel end of June, during the relatively low season. It was still high occupancy, principally with Asian guests preferring the air-conditioned "belle-époque" restaurant to the warmer courtyard where we preferred to sit, under a frangipani. Those tables are hard to get during the high season, when western travelers rush to this world famous hotel; if you stay there, ask the staff to book a table for your next day breakfast.
This is a state run hotel, and the reputation of those establishments is often disregarded: poor service, lack of refurbishment, etc. We were positively surprised, as this wasn't the case at all in the Continental. From the reception till the restaurant and room, we have been treated with much kindness and efficiency. Back from Paris, where we stayed in the ultra chic and expensive Hotel Le Bristol, we noted that in comparison the staff was more plethoric at the Continental. This is particularly evident during breakfast: with dozens of employees, extremely polite and usually young (therefore with a convenient knowledge of English), cleaning our table as soon as we finished a dish, and having a smile or a nice word for us. This impression goes up to the rooms, with one housekeeping counter per floor: dating back from the origin of the hotel, very stylish and therefore much photographed, those small offices with a large window allow a direct contact with the staff when we wanted to have our room made up in priority, more water or any extra, and more security. We had a visitor accompanying us and, though having the profile of a guest, she was kindly asked to produce her ID card. We appreciated, indeed.
The 95 rooms and suites reflect a former palace hotel, now rated four star international, and that we would define as a “historic” or “atmospheric hotel”. It has too many rooms and suites, is too “grand” to fit the “boutique hotel” classification. Just like the remarkable Majestic Saigon (also perfectly well managed by SaigonTourist), the Continental is too old fashion to compete in term of modern luxury with the top-end Park Hyatt (or even the tacky The Reverie). It also offers much more affordable rates. But guests are the same: businessmen, and individual travelers with a distinguished taste. For a honeymoon or first trip to Saigon, we would definitely give a preference to the Continental. Because this is, with Majestic, the most authentic luxury hotel in town. Now, the architecture of the turn of the last century palace-hotels means some details which would not please everybody: for instance, the Superior rooms, though awesome with a new hardwood paneled floor replacing the plain grey carpets from the 1970s, do have windows with a view...on the long and dark corridors! Advertised at a loss-leader price, they sell like hot cakes through Booking.com or Expedia.com. Skip them, and do like us: book in advance, directly with the hotel, an Opera Wing room. Spacious (45m2) and atmospheric, it matched exactly what we expected from this venerable hotel. A nostalgic Indochinese setting: with very high walls (4m), wood cabinets patinated by one and a half century (the heavy teak hangers, with the carved logo of the hotels, are pieces of collection), pictures of the Old Saigon, and a bedside table incorporating a 1970s radio-set (just for the vintage touch, it doesn't function anymore since decades). A large balcony: from where we liked to observe, day and night, the best of Saigon: the Opera House, the hypnotizing ballet of the motorcycles, the elegant Saigonese wandering along the streets, and the terrace of the hotel, a meeting point for the local upper-class. An unexpected level of service: kind and efficient, the housekeeping always let us an impeccable, extremely clean room. We liked the separate “petit-salon”, along the large French-windows (providing a soft light into the room), and the large writing desk: only a culturist could move the heavy -and comfy- chair. The furnishing of the room mixes quality with a nostalgic rusticity. The bathrooms are five-star, and the equipment (complimentary high-speed WiFi, 32' LCD screen TV, tea/coffee facility) is modern and adjusted to the standing of the hotel. Once refurbished with wood-panelled flooring (soon), those rooms will be among the most awesome in Saigon.
Besides the lively lobby, with live piano and violin in the evening, the most frequented spot is the “Café de la Hien” (it means cafe under the veranda): renamed “La Dolce Vita Café” (this Italian name sounds odd in this French setting), this is still one of the most sought-after places for an aperitive, before dining at “Le Bourgeois”. Graham Greene featured both places in his novel “The Quiet American”. The restaurant is superb, with a name which doesn't lie. Bourgeois indeed, and maybe too much, it would easily be another “La Villa” or “La Côte d'Azur” (the two best French restaurants in town), with a less international menu. Though the imported steaks are excellent, and the Vietnamese specialties delicious, it lacks a French chef to renew with the tradition of a place where the walls, if they could talk, would reveal many secrets...and maybe some good recipes.
Those wishing to turn their experience of Saigon into a novel should straightly book in this hotel of exception.
CARAVELLE (****L): Its architecture might look somehow Jungenstill, with a solid French touch; but the Caravelle dates back from 1959 only; while the other palace hotels located in the old Saigon colonial quarter have been erected in the 1920's. With its ritzy Italian marble, bullet-proof glass and state-of-the-art air-conditioning system, it became the leading hotel in Vietnam, and one of the most sought after address in S.E. Asia.
Modernity seems to be the best definition for a hotel which, half a century later, still copes with the rules of supreme elegance, unmatchable comfort and improved high-tech. We visited it during the Ten Years Celebration of its reopening, after up and downs, with a new tower erected in 1998, and the complete refurbishment of what we would call the «Old Wing» (the original Caravelle corner building) in a 4 star luxury hotel.
This refurbishment re-launched the prestige of what was in the 1960's home to the Australian Embassy, the New Zealand Embassy, and offices for the Associated Press, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post, to name but a few. Air France opened its Vietnamese headquarter and ticketing office in the ground floor, when the airline begun operating a fancy new jet airliner of the same name.
For the most part, the ambiance at the Caravelle was one of relaxed conviviality. The rooftop bar was the centre of operations - both professional and social - for the international media. From their tenth-floor perch, cold beers in hand, journalists could, by the war's closing days, see the front line from their bar stools. If things got lively enough, they would ride the elevator down to the lobby, take one of the hotel's swanky American limousines out into the field and be back in time for cocktails and note comparing. By the end of the war journalists claimed that they could cover the action without even leaving their bar stools.
Following the Liberation of Saigon in 1975, the hotel was taken over and operated by the government and renamed the Doc Lap (Independence) Hotel. And so it remained until 1998, when the Caravelle name was relaunched, and what has once again become widely regarded as the city's finest hotel was reopened - still, as before, intimate, welcoming and mercifully free of pretense.
The original ten-storey building is now adjoined to a smart 24-storey tower that forms the bulk of the new property. Developers with less foresight might have been tempted to tear down the original and start from scratch. But somehow it seems unthinkable that those strikingly curved, balconied corners that have for almost half a century occupied one side of the city's most picturesque square, should be lost.
The immediate views from that rooftop institution so beloved by foreign correspondents, and now called Saigon Saigon Bar, have changed little since 1959. If you look across the Opera House and the Hotel Continental and up along Dong Khoi Street, you can still see the twin spires of Notre Dame Cathedral. Along this thoroughfare - once called the rue Catinat - in 1975, a Vietnamese tank rolled down to the Place Garnier, now Lam Son Square. Pulling up opposite the Caravelle it is said to have turned turret and taken aim at the hotel's facade. Why it didn't fire is anyone's guess, but rooftop tipplers with an appreciative eye for the heritage of this atmospheric corner of the city might consider raising a glass or two to whoever was giving the orders on that historic April afternoon.
The Saigon Saigon Bar still stands: its antique fans still whirl languidly from the raked ceiling, cocktails are still carefree on the garden terrace, dating back to 1956; and the veranda remains a “lookout tower” across Ho Chi Minh City, with its romantic purple glow at sunset. We are too young to tell you if the original atmosphere remains or not; what comes sure, is that there is still much action there! Just like everywhere in the hotel. We liked the «Latino Night» (once per week), with Cuban music and cigars, Armagnac and whiskeys costing the price of a bottle of Perrier in a Parisian terrace! We liked also the Filipino singers, whose chilly voices defy the rumblings of the thunder! Let's say that we certainly stay at the Caravelle first of all because of the reputation of its bar, which we haunted every night; mixing with the expats and local bartenders, which are the most social and friendly you might meet in Asia.
is a private venture, with a very dedicated service, visible as soon as
we had stepped inside the lobby. Four doormen and a smiling, delicious
hostess greeted us; a ritzy though somehow familiar atmosphere made us
feel at ease at first sight. Were we actually in a communist country?
felt like in The Oriental, Bangkok; privileged just like one can be
in South East Asia.
19 Lam Son Square, District 1,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
PHONE: +84-8- 823 4999 , +84-8-824 3999
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