Monday, May 25, 2009

The Continental Hotel is still the jewel of Saigon

Sure, there are hotels that are more 'posh' and modern, but if I wanted to have those, the US can drown me in them...actually, now that I think of it, so can Abu Dhabi. However, no matter if you stay at a five star, or a two-star, you need at least a weekend at the Continental. There is an atmosphere in the place that makes you want to talk to the walls, as they'd probably have so much to say.

 The Venezia Restaurant has replaced the old "Cafe de la Musique" in this dated picture

The Continental Hotel earned its place in history, as its former terrace café served diplomats and journalists during the American War. If you saw the movie “The Quiet American,” then you might remember that the Continental Hotel was the locale for part of the story. If you didn't see the movie, go ahead and rent the DVD. It's a great and romantic love narrative and you'll get acquainted with Saigon.

 The hotel tells you its age: since 1880

As you walk in, you can almost feel the history envelop you and beckon you to stay. It didn’t take much convincing actually, as we had established a silent dialogue between us that said we’ve got to experience this.

The hotel itself is situated in the heart of District One in Saigon, where anything worth its weight is located. In fact, most of the hotels I mentioned are within walking distance of each other. The Caravelle sits right across the street, only separated by the majestic Opera House. One of the entrances is on posh Dong Khoi Street, facing an amazing bookstore called Fahasa, which deserves its post. I had gone in there, and was thrilled by the selection of French books, something I had not seen since the Librarie de France shut down in Rockefeller Center.

 inside courtyard where you can dine al fresco

On one of the other corners, construction is going up fast and furious, and we learn a new mall is coming. Shame, since Dong Khoi has a string of fantastic boutiques of silk and mother of pearl crafts, lacquered items that are positively bewitching, embroideries, art and more.

We were shown a room prior to our booking during our first phase of the trip in Saigon , and we were awestruck. The room we finally did get was no less regal. We did not have decent photos of the room, which was humongous, so to get a feel for the interiors, I am giving you a link to the hotel's website. When you begin the see the layout of the rooms, and all the wood carving, you'll understand what I'm trying to convey. It looks exactly as the photos. We had one huge king size bed instead of the twin beds that appear; other than that, everything is identical.

 We were able to share the balcony with large potted palms in the evening, as the air was less humid. As we arrived in the room, the living area, which is larger than my own living room at home, was so very welcoming with an assortment of those gorgeous fruits, from the Mekong Delta undoubtedly. The hot-water container was there, with the magical white coffee that became our addiction. The ceilings were so high and adorned with exquisite woodwork that continued from the entrance hall and turned into wall-length closets with plush, white robes and straw slippers for the bath. A king-size bed anchored the room, separated by a built-in wooden room divider with some lovely, typical Vietnamese sculptures.

Behind that were carved benches and sofa for “entertaining,” and one could conceivably have a party here for six or more people quite comfortably. I later realized this is very typical of luxury rooms, as we had a similar arrangement in a deluxe room in Hanoi, at the Hong Ngoc Hotel. Room rates range from $100 to $170, exclusive of VAT and a 5% service charge. A fabulous breakfast is included in the room rate.

 how's that for a welcome?
 Facilities include a banquet, conference room, bar, and fitness center. On the ground floor, you will find the executive business center and a concierge (they call it public relations). The hotel has its own website , and I encourage you to check it out. The folks at the reception area are very polite and accommodating. There are historical pictures on the walls of the hotel from as far back as the 1880s.

The morning breakfast spread is an eye opener...exotic fruits rule one long buffet style table; pho is de rigueur and then there will be cheese, yoghurts, tea and coffee...just lovely.

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