- Danai Molocha
The Continental, credited as the first hotel in Vietnam, is among the city’s most famous 19th-century architectural treasures. Like the Opera House (the former National Assembly), the City Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral, it sends shivers down your spine with its evocative 1880 colonial façade. It’s in room 214 that Graham Greene wrote part of The Quiet American, and the Continental features in both the book and the film. It also played a vital part in the Oscar-winning romance Indochine. But behind the imposing façade, the interior struggles to retain its star quality and charm and only parts of the decor are open to literary and cinematic nostalgia. As for the scandalous Continental Shelf bar, where spies, politicians and journalists alike used to casually mingle over a drink, it is now history. But take a seat in one of the front pavement tables of the Dolce Vita Cafe across the street from the Opera House, and nothing stops you from recreating times-gone-by.
Inspired by the 15th-century Iberian caravelas, The Caravelle has starred in endless journeys of our collective imagination since it first opened on Christmas Eve 1959. A central figure itself in wartime Vietnam, the hotel provided the setting for countless professional and convivial meetings of foreign correspondents during the 60s and 70s (it housed the offices of NBC, ABC and the Australian and New Zealand Embassies, among others), who kept safe views of the action from the rooftop bar. Having added a luxurious 24-story tower to the renovated 10-story building in the 90s, the hotel these days mainly narrates its story though framed pictures on the wall. The completely transformed Saigon Saigon bar now observes the changing city-scape with effortless elegance. The hotel boasts a fascinating list of guests, including Sir Michael Caine and Bill Clinton.
Grand Hotel Saigon
Despite its name, the Grand Hotel might be a less conspicuous star of the French era Saigon, but this 1930s colonial beauty on the historic Dong Khoi Street has an exterior every bit as impressive as the best of them. Divided historically and aesthetically between the new and old wing, it is better to opt for one of the spacious original rooms with parquet floors and French windows in order to relive the memories of this colonial-era legend. It will cost you slightly more, but for the large part of the year the rooms are still reasonably priced. Among the rather flat modern additions, timeless details like the lobby elevator open a window to the past. An atmospheric swimming pool and a central courtyard also do their bit to complete the picture.
This 1925 French heirloom on No. 1 Dong Khoi Street majestically opens to breezy and busy riverside views, somewhat irrationally blending colonial chic with Ho Chi Minh City’s contemporary floating frenzy. Stripped of its heavier period features, the Majestic still holds plenty of French poise in its rooms, like the signature parquet floors. Just make sure your room comes with a view, as in Ho Chi Minh City windowless accommodation is pretty common. The terrace of Breeze Sky Bar and M. Bar offer magnificent views of the river and city skyline, complemented by the Cyclo restaurant’s fine dining and local entertainment.
Rex Hotel Vietnam
For over 80 years, this old French garage-turned-luxury hotel has been a silent chronicler of the city’s trials and tribulations. The Rex was the legendary aesthetic backdrop to the so-called ‘five o’clock follies’, the press briefings that the American Information Service used to conduct for foreign correspondents during wartime. In the 60s, the Abraham Lincoln Library was also established on the ground floor. After suffering a bland phase as the Rex Trading Center during the 70s (hosting three cinemas and a disco-hall), the hotel has now undergone a series of refurbishments that have modernized its interior. The Rex’s highlight is, four decades later, none other than its iconic rooftop bar, where the old ‘follies’ are replaced by new ones, stunningly tempered by one of the city’s most romantic sunsets.
Ma Maison Boutique Hotel
Ma Maison aims to be your home-away-from-home, if your home is a farmhouse in Provence, with a Little Bistro on the side to watch Saigon go by. The hotel is located in an alley off the main Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, in a residential area where the commercial district’s hustle and bustle is replaced by children playing in the street. Catering to ‘demanding clients of long-term expats and French art aficionados’, it offers pure harmony in 12 rooms packed with selected antique furniture and textiles in pale shades and elegant prints. Art on the wall ranges from symbolic landscape to cubism. Dishes in the Little Bistro are equally varied, with a blend of European and Asian cuisine, along with custom-made Vietnamese dishes upon request.
The Alcove Library Hotel
Spotting the need for more stylish, customer-oriented accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City, The Alcove Library Hotel opened its doors in July 2012 in a quiet neighborhood a short taxi-drive away from the airport and the city center. Aesthetically, it’s an eclectic gamut of timeless elegance, with its most spectacular feature welcoming the visitor in the lobby right from the start; a floor-to-ceiling dark wood library framing the inner doorway to the hotel reception, holding an intriguing variety of fiction and non-fiction books that you can borrow during your stay. Rooms are bright with earthy colors, while the Roadhouse Saigon Bar and Restaurant on the top floor serves steaks American-style, accompanied by an extensive list of beers, cocktails and selected wine.
The Spring Hotel
A few minutes walk from the famous city market and the major historic attractions of District 1, The Spring Hotel offers value-for-money accommodation with a splash of concentrated colonial glamour. The room decor is rather outdated, but there’s a small atmospheric rooftop garden with great views, a good selection for breakfast, and friendly staff to make up for any losses (including the limited vegetarian choice in the menu). Nothing compares to the striking ambiance of the lobby, though, with a collection of flowers and indoor vegetation, wicker furniture, marble pillars, chandeliers and a grandiose staircase, which you will descend feeling like a king.
Villa Sông Saigon
Drop Ho Chi Minh City’s hectic urban lifestyle for Villa Sông , a 1930s colonial getaway in District Two, right by the Saigon River. Though a bit further out from the city center, the hotel offers a free ten-minute boat ride to the town center, and it has plenty of serenity, beauty and comfort to make up for the lack of shopping and nightlife. The hotel has recently undergone a major revamp and has reopened with its impeccable and serene colonial charm intact but with additional luxury touches, including a new spa and gym. It now features spacious, breezy rooms overlooking the river or the hotel pool, with sophisticated design elements, like the freestanding bathtub in The Art Suite. The swimming pool and the riverside restaurant blend luxury and relaxation, ideal for summer splashes and romantic dinners under the palm trees.
Beautiful Saigon III
Just a few minutes walk from the famous Ben Thanh Market, the latest Beautiful Saigon III (only a few meters away from Beautiful Saigon II) is located in a quiet alley in the perpetually buzzing backpacker’s district. It offers 18 rooms with reasonable prices, modern and understated, with spacious bathrooms — just make sure you pick one with a window and a bit higher up to enjoy the street feast and city views. Here, you’re in the middle of the colorful and vibrant city life, with plenty of dining establishments and cafes to choose from, along with travel agents to help you organize your next thrilling Vietnamese tour. Otherwise, just ask the friendly staff, who always have a good recommendation up their sleeve.