Staying in Saigon with Style

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The stylish Intercontinental Asiana Saigon proved to be a winning when staying in Vietnam's largest metropolis, and as editor Chad merchant discovered, though Saigon is undeniably the nation's commercial hub, this bustling city has a charming depth of heart, too.
Ho Chi Minh City – still largely called Saigon by locals – is one of Southeast Asia’s cities to watch. Fuelled by double-digit economic growth of late, the city has seen a mini-boom of construction in the aftermath of the worldwide economic downturn. The iconic Bitexco Financial Tower, the city’s tallest building (262.5m) was completed in 2010, the upscale Vincom Centre, which includes a high-end shopping mall with numerous branded luxury shops, opened just months ago, and our favoured hotel, the beautiful InterContinental Asiana Saigon, opened its doors in 2009. Owing to our preference for the brand, we selected the hotel without much thought to its location. We did know it was in District 1, and a quick look at Google Maps assured us that this was probably the best place for newbies to stay. What we didn’t realise until we arrived was how much was within easy walking distance (or at worst, a short taxi ride) from the InterContinental, a five-star property named as Vietnam’s Leading Hotel in 2012, as well as Vietnam’s Leading Business Hotel 2012, as voted by the World Travel Awards.


An ideal Location

The beautiful Opera House, the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, the Vincom Shopping complex, City Hall, and the ornate Saigon Post Office (which looks more like a major train station, so grand is its interior) were all an easy stroll from the hotel. The famous B.n Thành Market – a must-visit place – was a longer walk, but still manageable. Taxis in the city centre are plentiful and very reasonably priced, so there’s never a reason to walk if you don’t specifically want to. The concierge service at the InterContinental was fantastic, and they were able to recommend great places to visit, restaurants to check out, and things to do in the area. They also handled our taxi requests with perfect efficiency.

As we were in Saigon during the Lunar New Year holiday season, called T.t Nguyên Ðán in Vietnamese (“Feast of the First Morning”), or T.t for short, many shops and restaurants were closed for the second half of our visit. The Vietnamese celebrate this holiday even more effusively than the Chinese; it is by far the biggest and most important holiday of the year. Even the major malls shut down for days on end as many of the locals return to the countryside for family gatherings and celebrations. Because of the holiday and its attendant closures around the city, our hotel played a bigger role in our stay than it might have otherwise done, so it’s a good thing we chose the InterContinental. With a trio of excellent restaurants, Yu Chu, Basilico, and Market 39, serving up Chinese, Italian, or French-Vietnamese fusion, respectively, complemented by an entertainment bar (Purple Jade), a lobby lounge called The Library, and the sophisticated club-level lounge on the 19th floor, we were assured of good food at almost any time of the day… not to mention plenty of that wonderful iced Vietnamese coffee.


A Luxurious Oasis

There was always a delightful contrast between the pulsating heart of Saigon – a city rich in its charms yet still possessing a gritty urban feel – and the refined elegance that always greeted us when we returned to the hotel. There’s something to be said for roughing it and backpacking in a foreign city, and that is certainly a fun way to travel… but sometimes, you want the comfort and pampering of a classy five-star hotel awaiting you after you’ve been out exploring. The InterContinental definitely provided that. Each time we returned from our touring, whether we had been to the Saigon River, the War Remnants Museum, the Reunification Palace and the lovely park adjacent to it, or even the amazing fireworks celebration on the eve of T.t, a vibrant street party attended by tens of thousands, we would stroll into the lobby of our temporary abode and think, “Ahh, back to the lap of luxury!”


We also enjoyed the pool, the gym, and the sauna and steam room facilities of the InterContinental. The gym is open 24 hours, so we didn’t have to forego any prime touring time to get in a short workout. The facilities were all staffed by knowledgeable and professional employees, and the 20-m lap pool was a particular delight as two of its four sides were clear acrylic, viewable from the sides. It was a bit like swimming in an aquarium!

So it was a great introduction to a city replete with personality. Musicians, street-side flower displays, markets, friendly people, roving coconut vendors, and oh, the food! If you’ve not been before, be sure to add this bustling cosmopolitan centre of southern Vietnam to your list of places to visit. It’s also easy to recommend the InterContinental Asiana Saigon as a most enjoyable hotel, one which is conveniently located, gorgeously appointed, and professionally staffed with gracious and capable people who will be happy to welcome you to this remarkable and vibrant city.


Taxi tips: Stick to Vinasun taxis for reliable service and metered fares. Many drivers speak very little English, so written instructions or locations are helpful. Fares are generally inexpensive.

Visa tips: ASEAN nationals need no visa, but most other countries’ citizens do. One option is to go to the Vietnamese Embassy in KL (4 Persiaran Stonor, quiet street, easy parking) to apply. Best to go in the morning from 9 to 11am. A single-entry visa is RM260 with a five-working-day processing time, so you’ll need to return to the Embassy with your passport and receipt to collect the visa. Once at the airport, if you have this visa (a full-page sticker is affixed in your passport), you may proceed to any counter at Saigon immigration.

Conversely, you can use an online processing service (as mentioned in our Saigon City Guide), which will be slightly less costly, but may require you to stand in a potentially long queue at the airport to actually buy the visa. When we arrived, the queue for this visa was at least 75 people deep; the queue for the numerous regular counters (serving people who already had the visa) was nonexistent.

Practical matters: Drive on the right, opposite of Malaysia. There are innumerable hordes of motorbikes in Saigon, many carrying three or four passengers, but the roads are laid out logically, numbered addresses flow sequentially, and the drivers somehow seem considerably less crazed and unpredictable than those in Malaysia. Electricity is 220/240V, 50Hz. The plugs are similar to those in Thailand and can accommodate two parallel flat prongs or two round pins.

Safety first: Similar to KL, be mindful of snatch thievery and carry bags, cameras, and purses opposite to the street side, and keep wallets and money clips in front or zippered/fastened pockets to thwart potential pickpockets in crowds.

Crossing the busy roads is an act of faith, desperation, and sheer nerve, all in equal measure. You cannot wait for a break in the stream of motorbike traffic: it may never come. You must simply take a deep breath, swallow hard, make a point to avoid actual cars and taxis, and walk straight across the road. Don’t break your stride, don’t change direction, and don’t do anything unexpected. The motorbikes will weave masterfully around you.

Malaysia Airlines flies to Saigon (SGN) 2-3 times daily.



InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Corner of Hai Ba Trung St.
and Le Duan Blvd.
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: +84 (8) 3520 9999



Source: The Expat March 2013

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