Staying Sleek in Saigon

The new InterContinental Asiana Saigon offers Vietnamese charm and modern elegance By: Laurel Delp
<span>Guestrooms are minimalist yet luxurious. // © 2010 InterContinental Hotel Group</span>
Guestrooms are minimalist yet luxurious. // © 2010 InterContinental Hotel Group

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InterContinental Asiana Saigon

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Customized Guest Experiences at InterContinental Asiana Saigon

If your clients are new to Vietnam, they’ll love the hotel’s customized experiences. These offerings include an English-language Vietnamese cooking class followed by lunch held in the garden of the villa where former U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., lived during the Vietnam War; an art-oriented afternoon including a visit to the Fine Arts Museum; a meeting with a local contemporary artist; and a visit to one of the most highly-respected galleries in town (contemporary Vietnamese art is a hot new market). There’s also a wonderful tour of a Vietnamese traditional medicine museum that includes a stroll through herb shops in Cholon, Saigon’s historic Chinese district.
The heat and chaos of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, which is still universally referred to as Saigon, are shed the moment you enter the cool, minimalist lobby of the new InterContinental Asiana Saigon. Although the 305-room hotel occupies a high-rise building that is only steps away from the city’s colonial-era landmarks, it is a celebration of the new Saigon, not the old. Its
elegant, restrained decor perfectly suits this rapidly modernizing city.

The InterContinental is part of the Kumbo Asiana Plaza complex, which includes an office tower as well as a residential tower with its own Italian restaurant, at the intersection of major thoroughfares Hai Ba Trung and Le Duan, a block behind the Notre Dame Cathedral. Hai Ba Trung runs parallel to Dong Khoi, the main shopping street — now lined with European
designer shops as well as high-end Vietnamese boutiques — ending at the Saigon River.

For such a new hotel, having opened in September 2009, the service is already impressive. While all of my requests were promptly fulfilled, it was the initiative taken by the staff that was most memorable and made me sad to leave. A young woman behind the front desk admired my earrings and, when I mentioned I was going shopping, she took the cue from my taste in accessories and wrote down a list of shops she thought I might like. Whenever I set off by taxi, the doormen asked where I was going, gave the driver detailed instructions, explained which taxis to hail on my return and gave me a card with the hotel’s address written in Vietnamese.

My 12th floor corner room had floor-to-ceiling windows and panoramic views across the rooftops stacked toward the river; a comfortable, over-stuffed chair and ottoman for reading; a large flat-screen television with a DVD and CD player; and easy Internet access. The bathroom held a deep, standalone tub, a separate rain shower and generous counter space. If there had been better lighting for makeup, everything would have been perfect. The king-size bed was just soft enough for aching, jet-lagged muscles, with a light, fluffy duvet and a master-switch for turning off the lights. It was the ideal room for a business traveler, but stylish enough for a picky tourist.

The third floor holds the spa, where I had one of the best massages I’ve had in many travels. The spa also has a health club and an outdoor pool. The first two mornings during my stay, I looked down from my window toward the pool and saw a couple, wrapped in robes, having a leisurely breakfast, oblivious to the frenetic traffic below.

Yu Chu, the hotel’s Chinese fine-dining restaurant, was not yet open when I stayed, but Market 39, an all-purpose cafe and restaurant off the lobby, was in full swing. It serves a Sunday brunch that’s very popular with locals. Breakfast was a la carte or buffet; the buffet included Japanese and Vietnamese dishes; an omelet station; excellent coffee; and French pastries. I spent many breakfasts listening to the rapid-fire conversation of three chic Chinese-Americans in the garment business who switched fluidly from English to Cantonese to Vietnamese, often in mid-sentence. To me, they represented the emergence of Vietnam as a regional powerhouse, making its entry into international trade. I felt similarly about the hotel — it is luxurious, modern, clean and efficient, but run with old-school Vietnamese charm.
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