Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion in old Saigon

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - ROB WOOD­BURN Rob Wood­burn was a guest of Viet­nam Air­lines.

Viet­namese dancers wear­ing yel­low and turquoise vari­a­tions of the el­e­gant ao dai na­tional cos­tume are swirling be­neath the statue of Ho Chi Minh. I watch this charm­ing spec­ta­cle from my van­tage point of the ope­nair rooftop bar on the fifth floor of the Rex Ho­tel.

Be­hind Un­cle Ho’s statue stands the Peo­ple’s Com­mit­tee build­ing (City Hall), a flour­ish of French pe­riod ar­chi­tec­ture at the apex of Nguyen Hue Boule­vard, the city’s pop­u­lar pedes­trian prom­e­nade that pro­vides ho­tel guests with pul­sat­ing, neon-lit evening en­ter­tain­ment on their doorstep.

The Rex is within walk­ing dis­tance of al­most ev­ery­where a visi­tor would wish to roam in Ho Chi Minh City’s cen­tral Dis­trict 1.

The Rex has un­der­gone sev­eral rein­car­na­tions since it was built in 1927 as a car show­room and garage. Dur­ing the Viet­nam War it was a bil­let for US army of­fi­cers and be­came no­to­ri­ous for the “five o’clock fol­lies”, the de­risory term for the daily mil­i­tary brief­ings to for­eign jour­nal­ists.

The Rex blos­somed as Viet­nam’s first state-owned five-star ho­tel af­ter ma­jor ren­o­va­tions in 2008 and the west wing was fur­ther re­vamped in 2013. The Chanel dis­play win­dow fac­ing Nguyen Hue Boule­vard in­di­cates a zone of high-end lux­ury yet the ho­tel refrains from boast­ful op­u­lence; its in­te­ri­ors are grand but clas­sic, with clean lines and a sub­dued colour pal­ette. Ex­trav­a­gance is lim­ited to ex­u­ber­ant flo­ral dis­plays in the lobby.

I en­joy trac­ing Saigon’s history through fab­u­lous sepia prints that hang in the public spa­ces and along cor­ri­dors. Another pleas­ing fea­ture is the lush ver­ti­cal gar­den ris­ing from the court­yard be­side the Cung Dinh res­tau­rant. Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude two out­door pools, the La Cochin­chine lux­ury spa and a fit­ness cen­tre. There are 286 gue­strooms and suites, split be­tween east, west and ex­ec­u­tive wings. Some cor­ner suites are ex­tremely spa­cious but are de­nied ac­cess to sur­round­ing bal­conies “for se­cu­rity rea­sons”.

By com­par­a­tive five-star stan­dards, my “stan­dard deluxe” cat­e­gory gue­stroom (28sq m) is small but ad­e­quate for an overnight stay, fur­nished in dark pol­ished woods off­set by lighter par­quet floor­ing. The ad­justable airconditioning is quiet; I have a slim writ­ing ta­ble and small arm­chair, and the free Wi-Fi has a strong sig­nal through­out the ho­tel. There’s a plush king-size bed, oblig­a­tory flat-screen tele­vi­sion, and the bed­side light­ing con­trol panel is a handy touch. But there is no view; my win­dows open on to an in­te­rior well with di­rect sight into rooms op­po­site, so I keep the cur­tains drawn.

The welcome fruit bowl helps off­set the tiny bar fridge, ket­tle, tea bags and in­stant cof­fee sa­chets. The en­suite bath­room is spot­less and the tub has a built-in leather head­rest, but more tempt­ing is the glass-walled shower with its sub­stan­tial “drench-me” show­er­head.

Break­fast, served in the fifth-floor Hoa Mai res­tau­rant, is a boun­teous se­lec­tion of fresh fruit, juice and ce­re­als, cold or hot buf­fet, plus eggs-to-or­der or tra­di­tional steam­ing bowls of Viet­namese pho. A top way to start the day is break­fast­ing at a ta­ble in the ad­ja­cent roof gar­den.

Lush ver­ti­cal gar­dens rise from the atrium, above, of the Rex in Ho Chi Minh City’s cen­tral Dis­trict 1, right

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