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Resting on the river

A watery oasis on the fringes of Ho Chi Minh City

Get wet: escape Ho Chi Minh City at An Lam Saigon, just a short boat trip from the city centre
Get wet: escape Ho Chi Minh City at An Lam Saigon, just a short boat trip from the city centre

“Saigon… shit, I’m still only in Saigon,” says Captain Benjamin Willard, played by Martin Sheen, in Apocalypse Now. Present-day visitors to the city could be forgiven for saying, “Ho Chi Minh City… shit, this is no longer just Saigon.” The city, renamed in 1975 in honour of the father of modern Vietnam, has changed so much. “There are no more adventurers, but there’s so much money around. Saigon can become one of Asia’s most interesting cities,” says a French expat. But the city goes back to being Saigon for the new adventurers of finance: brokers, businessmen, top managers and entrepreneurs, all dealing in billions of dollars.
“Vietnam has entered modern times,” comments Mai Lam, an artist and designer who personifies the female image of viet kieu, the Vietnamese who fled the country in 1975 and returned in the 1990s: wealthy, busy and cosmopolitan. In the meantime, a new ruling class mixing communism and capitalism has formed, and an exponent of the latter category has created a resort that meets the requirements of the most sophisticated travellers. Located, it is said, in an old family property, the An Lam Saigon River Private Residence is a luxury lifestyle boutique hotel found on the fringe of Ho Chi Minh City, just a 15-minute boat ride from the city centre.
The short trip along the Saigon River makes a clean break with the city: after the views over the harbour, the panorama opens onto banks of palm trees and villages (beyond which, however, new industrial estates are springing up). It’s an ideal setting for those wishing to relax, enjoy a romantic weekend, or talk business in a less formal, yet more confidential, way.
The property blends the utmost privacy with serenity and exclusivity, and occupies more than 6,000-square-metres of land. The hotel comprises seven luxurious riverside villas set in vibrant tropical gardens, offering extraordinary views of the river. The villas host a total of 15 rooms, each exclusively designed and furnished with its own contemporary identity and graceful Vietnamese touches. Natural exotic wood floors set the tone, where simplicity reigns. Elegant features define a clear sense of place, with attention to the smallest of details adding to the unique charm of the resort.
When you are there, the utterance most likely to escape from your lips is, “Saigon… good, I’m still in Saigon.”
Sophisticated Shopper
Ho Chi Minh City is gaining a reputation as a stylish shopper’s paradise. Two key addresses to note are: Mai Lam (132-134 Dong Khoi Street, mailam.com.vn), a fashion showroom, art gallery and concept store reflecting the eclecticism of its creator; and Gaya (1 Nguyen Van Trang Street, gayavietnam.com), for furniture and furnishings, home fabrics, beautiful lacquered pieces and clothing, all in a renovated 1970s building.
Palate pleasers
Two places to treat tastebuds are: Xu, the place to be for the new middle class, with a lounge on the first floor and excellent contemporary Vietnamese cuisine; and The Refinery, a French bistro serving international and Vietnamese cuisine in an interesting location. It is set in the former “Manufacture d’Opium”, as described by Graham Greene, the former HQ of the leading opium refinery in old Indochine.
Raise a glass
The Bitexco tower, owned by one of Vietnam’s most powerful conglomerates, dominates the new Saigon skyline. Standing 262m tall, it is inspired by the shape of the lotus flower, as the helipad suspended 190m above ground shows. An observation deck on the 49th floor provides 360° views of this Asian metropolis (saigonskydeck.com).
Epikurean
According to the ancient Greek philosophy devised by Epicurus in the 4th century BC, the point of life is to attain pleasure (in the highest sense). This philosophy was the inspiration for Epikurean, a company specialised in the design, development and management of resorts, hotels and residential projects. An Lam is one of these, and there are four more in Vietnam, all ‘Jet Set-style’.
Essentials
Website: epikurean.ws/index.php/intro-an-lam-saigon-river. Tel: +84 6 5037 85555. Reservations: resv-vn@epikurean.ws. Rates: deluxe rooms from $265, villas from $470. Suggested accommodation: Saigon Villa (with private pool, sauna and steam room, river views) from $630.
 
 
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