Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known locally, is a dynamic, bustling city where streets are abuzz with motorbikes, delicious street food and cheap massages are offered on every corner and the charm of French colonial architecture and colourful, sleek Vietnamese style oozes from surrounding buildings.
It’s the biggest city in Vietnam and it’s hot, exciting and fun to walk around on wide tree-lined streets, crossing busy intersections – slowly so the motorbikes can dodge you – and grabbing banh mi, pho and cold beer from street-side stalls. More than 10 million people live here, and sometimes it feels like they are all riding motorbikes in the streets, snaking along to the drone of horns and engines that rises through the dusty air.
A weekend getaway – like we did- or a few days on your way into or out of Vietnam is time enough to wander the city, soak up the sun and enjoy the busy vibe of this complex and beautiful city that owns a compelling and heartbreaking past.
Of course the recent history of Saigon is fascinating underneath the veil of the agony of war and we discovered that the beautiful hotel were staying at what was the central point for news reporting and information back in those days of war from the late 1950s and 70s.
The Caravelle Saigon is a gorgeous five-star heritage hotel in the centre of the city. I was in Saigon for a girls weekend with my best friend who had flown in from Singapore and we chose to stay at the Caravelle for its perfect city location, its Moet & Hennessy Champagne Corner, its free flow champagne Sunday brunch and sparkling rooftop pool. The hotel had the ingredients to make an excellent child-free weekend a huge success – and this is before we had discovered its incredible history.
The Caravelle’s location is perfect – directly opposite the Saigon Opera House, a short walk from the riverside and a five minute walk to Book Street and the incredible Saigon Post Office designed by Gustav Eiffel – the very same architect who designed one of the most recognised buildings in the world – the Eiffel Tower.
But for me what set this property apart from the other luxe hotels in the city is its incredible heritage, the role it played during the Vietnam war and the maintenance of its original features in the heritage wing – including the amazing Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar.
When the Caravelle Saigon opened in 1959 it was the tallest building in Saigon and the height of luxury with air conditioning and telephones in each room, elevators and its own generator. It was the tallest building in the city – with fabulous views and its status evident from its position above the skyline.
During the Vietnam war it was home to journalists and news teams who would meet in the afternoon after filing their stories to gaze out over the city- the bar was the highest point at the time – and share stories and information. Wouldn’t that have been amazing to be part of?
The Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar is on the top of the original building, and is a beautiful spot for an afternoon drink while waiting for sunset, with a view over the city scape that could be easily mistaken for Paris – soft greys and curved domes overlaid with the the dusty pinks and oranges of sunset. Plantation shutters and flowers line the open windows that surround a huge wooden bar in the middle of the room. You can try signature cocktails or an extensive beer and wine list and listen to live music and soak up the atmosphere and history and imagine being here during the war.
It’s said that at the wars’ end in 1975 the front line could be seen from the rooftop and the famous evacuation of US diplomatic personnel – that well known photograph of people scrambling into a helicopter from the rooftop – happened just down the road.
The Opera Wing was added to the Caravelle Saigon in 1998 and boasts the rooftop swimming pool. Big enough for laps and with a curved shallow end for kids, the pool is the perfect spot to retire to after a morning wandering the city to soak up the sun with a cocktail or a beer and some peanuts.
Complimentary fruit skewers are offered around at intervals during the day and the staff is attentive, making up your sun lounge, fixing the umbrella and bringing fresh towels. You can also buy goggles (like I did) if you feel like doing some laps to offset the poolside drinks.
Just through the doors from the pool area is the fully equipped gym and Kara Spa that offers fitness and treatments, sauna and spa bath and is well worth a visit.
Each morning breakfast is served in the lobby restaurant and has everything you could need to start the day with a full belly – and with lovely little touches like the fresh coconuts in the shell, fruit juices and delicious pastries. For me it was perfect as it had my favourite cheese and fresh baguettes, and a generous selection of hot and cold dishes.
On Sundays at lunchtime you can join the free flow lunch here and devour seafood and other dishes while devouring bubbles from 12 – 3pm.
If you still fancy more champagne you can wander a few steps away to the Moet and Hennessy Champagne Corner for another flute of bubbles while you recline on fancy lounge chairs, oder cocktails from the martini bar
Our room, on the twelfth floor of the Opera Wing had views over the Opera House and large twin beds with a good sized bathroom. The rooms will be undergoing a refurbishment over the next 12 months and will be freshened up and brought in line with the hotels heritage aesthetic. Beds are super comfy and complimentary water is provided.
For a girls weekend or a family stay with kids the Caravelle is a fabulous choice with an incredible history that adds an extra layer to the experience. It’s a truly unique and historical hotel – if only the walls could talk.
I flew with VietJet from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh. They often have the cheapest flights and are a really great airline. You can search airfares here.
The Caravelle Saigon kindly hosted our stay.