Is it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City? Good question. Much like when we were in India and Bombay was used more often than Mumbai, Saigon is used a lot. It goes without saying it is easier to say and write. The name change occurred in 1976 after the Reunification of the country. Saigon was stop #2 in Vietnam after Hanoi during three weeks in Southeast Asia.
Our hotel for this stop is The Reverie. The hubby astutely observed that “a lot of marble died in order to build this place.” There is no way to amply describe it. One could surmise that the term “over the top” was coined here, but somehow it is all in good taste. Our digs on the 26th floor are referred to as “Residences.” The stacking washer/dryer (with detergent!) in the “powder room” is a good hint. I am doing my best to refrain from that task to keep the vacation vibe going.
The complex housing the hotel was seven years in the making from the ground up (36 floors), debuting in 2015. We were fortunate to have stellar views of the Saigon River although the air quality made the word “view” relative. Others have written about the contrasts between the more historic Hanoi vs. the modern Saigon, and I totally agree. Saigon is a very cosmopolitan city. We were told the business opportunities are greater in the south and it shows — upward mobility flows from Hanoi to Saigon to the U.S.
We booked the “do not miss” activities, which included a day-long tour of the Mekong Delta area, roughly two hours south of Saigon. The Mekong River flows through six countries, beginning in China and ending in Vietnam — some 2,400 miles. Our guide this day was a wonderful and knowledgeable man by the name of Thao. He works daily as a guide until the off-season — May though October — when it’s just too hot and rainy. During this time he sells life insurance. Quite the contrasting careers! As his large family’s youngest son, he is tasked with supporting his elderly parents, even though many of his siblings are in a better position to do so. He shared with us his parents still live the village life, meaning no phone, computer, TV and have never been on an airplane. Fascinating.
The first stop upon arriving in the area was a local market. Thao assured us we were away from the general tourists and he was absolutely correct. One of the best takeaways is not only do the locals welcome their photos taken, there’s no outstretched hand after doing so. Meaning none of the “take my photo and then give me money” experienced in other countries. Their hospitality is genuine and so appreciated. Given the fastest path around the area is via scooter, we found ourselves on the back of bikes driven by two complete strangers, but vetted by the tour company. As the saying goes, “when in …” They were great and we felt perfectly safe.
Back in Saigon, we accepted the grand experience of High Tea at our hotel. It was straight out of the movie Crazy Rich Asians. Young girls dressed to the hilt, full hair and make-up, who order lots of food but eat none of it. All the while, they are taking ENDLESS photos — mostly selfies. It is really something to watch. We ate, by the way, and enjoyed the experience. The dining room is manned by a very tall Frenchman and the executive chef (a very talented Italian) who oversees a lot of moving parts including several restaurants within the hotel complex. The Long @Times Square— so named because it spans the length of the building — had terrific pizza but no A/C. It was not quite a deal-breaker, but close. The thing I asked most on this particular trip, instead of “how much is that in dollars?” was “is there air conditioning?” One just can’t get enough of it …
Anan was the site for an excellent dinner. While just two years old, it is one of the top restaurants in Saigon. Finding it was no easy feat as it’s located in the “wet market” — so called because it has historically been an area to shop for fresh seafood and the sidewalks are constantly being hosed down. We prevailed after a few stops for directions finding a very small street.
The series of dishes were inventive and delicious and we managed to convey our order to the young servers, young ladies who looked about 12 years old. Not only do they all look so young, they are some of the tiniest people ever — they must be shopping in the kid’s section. One feels positively gigantic by comparison.
Before heading off to a bit of R&R at the beach, we toured the city for half a day and enjoyed a fireworks display from our room noting this long holiday “weekend” of five days around May 1. Next up, Hoi An.