Slap bang in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City’s swanky District 1, the Caravelle Saigon joins the dots between the city’s historic past and its exciting future
In the early 16th Century, the first traders from Portugal arrived in Vietnam; seeking new markets with which to trade, they were carried on small but manoeuvrable sailing ships named caravelles. And it is trade that fuels the thriving economy of Ho Chi Minh City today, with the city’s success evident in the gleaming towers and stately boutiques of glossy District 1.
Since Vietnam’s embrace of capitalism in the 1990s, the city formerly known as Saigon has gone from strength to strength. The abundance of five-star hotels is testament to this, and one of the brightest lights in the five-star firmament is the Caravelle Saigon. The hotel first opened its doors on Christmas Eve 1959 and soon became a haunt for journalists covering the Vietnam War, many rarely leaving the stools of the rooftop bar that remains a popular space in its contemporary-colonial incarnation as Saigon Saigon Bar.
Popular too are the cordial Champagne Corner, tempting Tapas Kitchen and the bounteous buffet at Nineteen restaurant, all on the recently refurbished ground floor. For those looking for a more discreet venue for assignations, upstairs there is Reflections, a fine dining restaurant with a seasonal menu and guest star chefs, or Martini Bar, with its walls adorned with the work of acclaimed US photographer Catherine Karnow.
Standing on one of the balconies of a capacious Signature Suite in the early morning, the view takes in the old and the new. In the distance, the sun picks out the bright red bricks of the Roman Catholic Notre-Dame Basilica. Across the road stands the Opera House, where winged statues above the entrance look down their noses at the traffic wheeling around the square. Just up the street are the gleaming glass towers of the five-level Vincom Centre, Ho Chi Minh City’s largest shopping mall. After turning the latch and settling down on the modernist sofa, the Caravelle Saigon manages to feel right at home in Ho Chi Minh City’s past, present and future.
Don’t know your bánh xèo from your bánh mì? Confused between canh chua and canh kho qua? Why not take yourself on a four-hour walking food tour with Street Foodie Saigon. Food writer and photographer Vinh Dao, along with journalist and foodie Brett Davis, will introduce you to numerous types of delicious street food – plus whatever snacks present themselves along the way.
Night at the opera
A little piece of fin de siècle French glamour transplanted to Vietnam and adjacent to the Caravelle, the Saigon Opera House – officially the Municipal Theatre – is one of the only places in the country to see this wondrous art form. It is currently hosting the A O Show, a vibrant blend of traditional Vietnamese elements and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics.
Window on the world
Stripped-back brick walls, gilt mirrors and art deco chairs lend bar-restaurant La Fenetre Soleil the
air of a well-appointed living room. A short drive from the Caravelle, there are cocktails, imported beers and coffee on offer along with its Vietnam-via-Japan-inspired menu. Toward the end of the week it transforms into more of a nightlife hotspot.
If putt-putting around the city’s streets on a vintage scooter is your idea of heaven, then let the guides of Vespa Adventures take you to some of the less well-known places in this metropolis. From parks to Chinatown temples, flower markets to city landmarks, you’ll see sides of the city hard to find under your own steam.
Tel: +84 838 234 999. Website: caravellehotel.com Address: 19-23 Lam Son Square, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rooms: range from 38.5-square-metre Deluxe rooms through to Signature rooms for the business traveller and up to the 180-square-metre Heritage Signature Suite. Rates: from $307 per night for a Deluxe up to $974 per night for the Heritage Signature Suite. Suggested accommodation: the Heritage Signature Suite featuring separate living and dining areas and full-height bay
windows overlooking the city is simply unbeatable.
Rising above the chaos – The sleek Pullman Saigon Centre provides a sky-high retreat from which to view Ho Chi Minh City’s urban vista