Saigon Saigon the rooftop bar of the legendary Caravelle Saigon Hotel is buzzing with the early evening cocktail crowd, a far cry from its former life during the Vietnam war as the war correspondents’ briefing room. Back then, it was the hotel of choice for all the war media and today, the photos lining the walls are a reminder of those heady days. I’m here en-route to Australia and with ten hours to kill before my next flight, I’m enjoying a few hours hospitality at Caravelle Saigon Hotel the perfect Saigon stopover.
Let’s be clear about this for a moment. I had a choice; ten hours sitting in the lounge at Ho Chi Minh City airport or a day time stay at one of the city’s most famous luxury hotels in District 1 just a 20 minute drive away.
The advantages to a hotel day stay are obvious. A stroll around the neighbourhood for some sights and fresh air, some pampering with a relaxing massage, a swim in the pool, a comfortable Signature room bed for a nap and access to the Caravelle Saigon Signature Lounge for all day drinks and either breakfast or canapés depending on the time of day.
I had arrived from London very early into Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon if you want to endear yourself to the locals) on Vietnam Airlines’ new Dreamliner service and with just a small carry on with me as the rest of my luggage was checked through to Sydney, I was in the hotel car and delivered to the lobby inside an hour.
Caravelle Saigon Hotel lies in the very heart of Saigon directly opposite the city’s famous Opera House and just a few minutes’ walk from all Saigon’s major sights; the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, Ben Tanh Market, Notre Dame Cathedral and the newly pedestrianised Nguyen Hue Boulevard.
“I going to take you somewhere a little special for breakfast” promises Carl, Caravelle’s Director of Marketing after I check in.
“Do I need to dress up then?”
“If you want to stick out like a deer in the headlights”
I get the feeling I’m in for a little bit of a local experience.
“It’s only open for a few hours each morning, best pho in the city.”
Pho is Vietnam’s signature dish and although it might have regional variances it is basically a bowl of broth and rice noodles with beef, chicken or fish and a pile of herbs.
We walk for a few minutes, turn down a narrow alley and stop at Pho Minh, a local hole in the wall with a few tables and chairs, four gas burners and a few steaming pots of boiling broth. Somewhere, frankly, I would pass by without a second thought if I was on my own.
“For five generations they’ve been serving the same thing.” Says Carl. ” Trust me it will be delicious.”
And it is. The bowls are accompanied by a plate of fresh leaves including coriander and mint, bamboo shoots and chilli which all go into the pho. I almost feel like a local. What a feast, and just $4 including tea and dessert.
Back at Caravelle Saigon Hotel and I relax in the room with a hot shower and some coffee before taking a walk around the sights using a route supplied by the Caravelle concierge.
I’m back at the hotel by 4pm in time for an hour’s massage in the Kara Spa with a promise from my therapist for ” a massage using oils to help you sleep on the night flight ahead.”
I have time enough before heading back to the airport to meet up with Carl again on the roof at Saigon Saigon for an evening cocktail and some tapas downstairs at Tapas Kitchen, the only tapas restaurant in the city. We sit on an outside balcony while the nightlife wakes up below us.
“It was up here an ABC crew shot film of the helicopter taking off from the roof of the CIA station house just over there” says Carl pointing a block or so away. I’m reminded again of this hotel’s past life. So many journalists here all filing their own pieces of history.
Today, the hotel has undergone some major renovations with an impressive 24 story tower and interior furnishing with more planned. But nevertheless remains a landmark luxury icon. A place where the great and the good frequented including The Quiet American author Graham Greene whose movie of the same name, starring Michael Caine, was shot at Caravelle Saigon Hotel.
As I’m whisked back to the airport through Saigon’s teeming streets, I feel I’ve been here a lot longer than just a few hours. I’ve had a taste of what Vietnam offers and enjoyed the hospitality of a legendary hotel.
The perfect Saigon stopover.
All Saigon street images (c) Andy Mossack
More about Caravelle Saigon Hotel the perfect Saigon stop over Package
Caravelle Saigon Hotel the Perfect Saigon Stopover Package runs for 12 hours from 06:00 to 18:00.
6:00am: Pick up by Caravelle private Mercedes E Class and transfer to the hotel for check in and freshen up.
7:30am: Meet up with Caravelle staff and start the day with Pho Bo as breakfast at local restaurant Pho Minh. Meeting venue will be at hotel lobby.
11:00am: Gym work out at Caravelle fitness centre followed by Rejuvenating Spa Package for 60minutes including healthy lunch “Garden fresh mixed lettuces with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic dressing & Cabbage, Carrot and Cranberry Juice”
17:00pm: Cocktail at Saigon Saigon Bar followed by light dinner at Tapas kitchen including 3 tapas and one glass of champagne at Champagne Corner
18:00pm: Pick up by Caravelle private Mercedes E Class and transfer to the airport for your onward flight
Price: £270 net per person, applied for booking of 2 people, valid from 01 Jan – 31 Mar 2016
The bespoke travel experts Experience Travel Group (0044 203468 6268) offer a 10-day tour of Vietnam from £2567 per person, including flights, transport, accommodation and all excursions listed. Return seaplane transfers to Halong Bay are available for an additional £700 per person.
UK Airport car parking: I Love meet and greet offers valet parking at Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow airports. Costs vary throughout the year with a week’s parking at Gatwick starting from £78. Book atwww.ilovemeetandgreet.co.uk