Modern escapism in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City
March was a very busy month for me – training new teachers in my kindergarten job and also travelling down to the south of Japan to work with the tourist board and review a hotel there. April was quieter, but I did find myself flying to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam for five days over Golden Week. While there, I purposely chose to avoid the tourist sights – instead opting to slowly wander the backstreets early in the morning and eat lots of local food. At the end of my stay I was a guest at Le Méridien Saigon, a five-star hotel based in the heart of the city. Only a few years old, this hotel is an example of how Ho Chi Minh is fast becoming – along with many other cities in SE Asia – a luxury travel destination.
With over 300 rooms, this is by no means a small boutique hotel. Yet despite its size it has managed to maintain consistent, quality design. The rooms of the hotel are built around a towering centre space, with a delicate crane sculpture on the far wall. The lobby and adjoining mezzanine is absolutely huge with thousands of glass bobbles hanging from the ceiling.
My Premier Classic King River View on the 18th floor had a view over the Saigon river below, with small boats chugging up and down during the day and neon signs twinkling over the water at night. The bathroom and bedroom were joined through the use of a glass partition, helping to make the room look bigger and create a nice flow. Luxury toiletries were also provided, with a range of products made from coriander, sage and peppermint extracts. The overall feel of the room was modern, with a twist of old style in the form of a retro hanging lamp and chaise lounge.
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And the rest of the hotel? Well the entrance to the fitness centre and outdoor pool area is perhaps the most lavish you are ever likely to see – a colourful dome that to me looked like a giant crown. The gym was well equipped with good machines, and the pool looked out on to the same river as from my room.
For me, breakfast is what often sets five-star hotels apart from their lesser-starred counterparts, and it’s evident that a lot of time and effort has gone in to Le Méridien Saigon’s breakfast options. The dining room wasn’t crowded at all when I visited at 8am – with a nice amount of guests and lots of light coming in from the huge windows. The hotel manager was doing the rounds speaking to all the guests, and I only mention this because he was genuinely friendly and down-to-earth, making sure everyone was OK and checking in on each of the breakfast stations. Dressed impeccably in a tailored suit, he somewhat reminded me of Robert De Niro looking out for the finer details in the film Casino.
The food itself was faultless, with so much variety that I almost felt a little intimidated. I never know what to choose when there are so many options in front of me. In the end I went for a Greek omelette prepared at the egg station, served with some roasted pork and salad. There was a noodle station serving steaming Vietnamese pho, as well as a good cheese board and bakery area. I could even have filled myself up with donuts and ice cream had I wanted. A bit early for me though. No ice cream before 10am.
Located in District 1, Le Meridien is actually right bang in the centre of the Japanese quarter and so if you like Japanese food, you are in luck. I myself live in Tokyo, and so I eat Japanese food every day. Therefore I was more interested in trying local Vietnamese food, and I wasn’t disappointed. At a nearby fusion restaurant I got to eat deep fried basa fish served with a passionfruit sauce, and I also had a fantastic experience at a small restaurant called Mitau just ten minute’s walk away. (That place was so good I wrote a separate post all about it here.) Of course, being in District 1 means you are never far from all sorts of cool stuff in Saigon. Since I was travelling solo, motorbike taxi was the fastest and easiest way for me to cross the city.
My few days at Le Méridien Saigon was the perfect end to my Vietnam trip, and I am looking forward to returning to the country and exploring more sometime in the future.