Discover French Indochina – Saigon lifestyle update

Where better to relive the French Indochina era than with some nostalgia at a few of Saigon’s (Ho Chi Minh City) most prominent hotels – one of them being a living legend now celebrating 60!

The most striking first impressions for newcomers to Saigon are probably the somewhat frightening hundreds of thousands of motorbikes crowding the streets, as well as its many European-French buildings and boulevards downtown. Other than that Saigon is evidently a city under transformation and expansion, with a lot of new high-rise buildings mushrooming. Lifestyle-wise its hotels, F&B scene and architectural heritage are certainly of interest, where also modernity and history collide.

Caravelle Saigon

While Saigon awaits the arrival of a Mandarin Oriental hotel, Caravelle Saigon across the street is a must pit stop, at the very least for its Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar – a legendary waterhole that played such centre stage during the Vietnam War.

This rooftop bar, which has been there since pre-‘sky bar’ era – the very first day the hotel opened back in 1959 – offers a throwback to yesteryear. Its timeless layout will remain relatively intact also after undergoing some refurbishment during 2019.

For those not in the know, the Caravelle (created by two French monsieurs) and its rooftop terrace was an anchoring presence in the heart of a city, and this was a hotel very important to war correspondents (the e-publication ‘Caravelle Saigon – A History’ is a fascinating account about the city and its legendary hotel). Saigon Saigon’s menu, ‘Caravelle Manifesto’ also shares some of its history in brief.

Relive Caravelle’s past and all the thirsty politicians, journalists and soldiers who took the risk even at the peak of the war to enjoy happy hour beer on the patio and balconies, back then with unobstructed panorama views overlooking the city. Imagine them on the roof of the Caravelle Hotel having drinks and watching the air strikes across the river – as you yourself enjoy any of the draft beers or signature cocktails, paired with the food on offer: an introductory menu to Vietnamese cuisine, while also including classic bar food with a twist.

The Manifesto offers for instance Green lip mussels with a parmesan cheese and bacon crust, Moroccan spiced sea bass goujons with cumin yogurt dip, and Panko herb crumbed mozzarella sticks with tomato relish.

Try the House Specials; for instance Passion Fruit Sour (Grey Goose with passion fruit and lychee puree) or the Saigon Sunshine (Grand Marnier, Bisquit Cognac, orange and lime juice, homemade syrup etc.) For craft beer the Caravelle Terrace Draft bottle links to the hotel’s roots – an own tailored draft similar to what the journalists drank in the 60’s.

Le Méridien Saigon

A much younger hotel (2015) is French-born brand Le Méridien’s Saigon property. Located right by the river and boasting an impressive atrium inside its 22-storey tower this Le Méridien is tailored towards creative guests, with its focus on modernity and art in the design.

Its high-rise lobby boasts design pieces, including a huge, modern chandelier and furniture in various shapes that are scattered throughout, making it resemble a showroom for design. The same goes for very much the rest of the hotel, dominated by chic furniture and intriguing interiors. The rooms are modern with their designer furniture and art, including mixed media paintings decorating the bed panels.

The ground floor also hosts Latitude 10, a cosy coffeehouse by day and cocktail lounge by night, offering Craft Cocktail Series.

The Latest Recipe restaurant serves a sumptuous weekday four-hour dinner buffet, with option for free flow alcohol, or Sunday Discovery Brunch with Free Flow Taittinger Champagne. Stations with an abundance of imported cheese, cold meats and cold cuts, seafood on ice, sushi and sashimi, a carving station, Asian and Western dishes, and not to mention desserts, are spread out on the counters of the open showcase kitchen.

Start with a cheese platter paired with Italian sparkling: Riondo Spumanti! Sumptuous dishes like marinated squid, salmon steak, seabass, and seafood skewer can be paired with a selection of cold whites including Le Petit, Chardonnay (Fr); Osadia, Ch, Chile; or Chateau Verdus Magnum, (Fr). Reds, Saigon Special beer and cocktails are also available in the package and Latest Recipe also serves Vietnamese favourites as a la carte (and so does the Bamboo Chic restaurant).

The hotel also features a well-sized Le Meridien Club Lounge with panorama views of surrounding Saigon.

Hôtel des Arts Saigon

The French Indochina theme and celebrations of art, dining and drinking in style continues at the MGallery selection’s award-winning Hôtel des Arts Saigon (also from 2015), where the bygone ‘Indochine’ era is paired with timeless chic.

This distinctive five-star boutique hotel is an art museum in its own right, with the owner’s personal collection of paintings and antiques throughout, including the Victorian vintage oak wood bar that must weigh tons, and that was brought to Saigon all the way from England!

A fashionable crowd of in-houses guests and other visitors can peruse this collection within some really top-notch F&B attractions that makes also makes Hôtel des Arts Saigon a social, classy and happening place.

In Café des Beaux Arts one can relax in comfort and read books from its library, while enjoying gentle grand piano music, sipping on tea or cocktails, and having light lunches and gourmet delights.

Don’t miss the hotel’s Paris – Saigon Afternoon Tea, which is a journey back to 1930’s Indochina, with vintage music and Vietnamese flavours of emblematic French delicacies.

Then there is the street market-inspired and amazingly designed Saigon Kitchen restaurant, which offers authentic, street food inspired from Indochina and European cuisine.

The vibe increases the higher up you go. Upon floor 23 Social Club Restaurant, and its Rooftop Bar one level above, are undoubtedly venues of choice in Saigon. Social Club offers Sunday Brunch with free flow and live jazz music every Wednesday to Saturday, while DJs entertain on the rooftop, which also hosts the highest rooftop infinity pool in the city. Happy Hour lasts from 5 pm all the way until 8 pm.

Upon the visit Social Club Saigon presented a curious new cocktail collection inspired by the perfume notes of YSL Beauté fragrance. Crafted with a blend of vintage and French chic modernity 8 French Classic fragrances have been reproduced with their tasting notes to seduce ‘Her & Him” – each cocktail with its own character that will suit each guest’s personal choice.

Now, you have three choices with nods to the past in Saigon that surely will offers something to everyone’s discerning taste.

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About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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