Vietnam: Luxury on a Budget
|BRIGHT LIGHT, BUSTLING CITY: Ho Chi Minh (Wilfried Krecichwost/Photographer's Choice/Getty)|
For a country's whose modern history has largely been dominated by conflict, today's Vietnam has emerged from the shadows of turmoil to become one of Asia's most fascinating, complex, and alluring locales. Indeed, Vietnam continues to elevate itself among in-the-know travel circles, first with intrepid backpackersoft the pioneers of the next great thingto the haute set. At first blush the luxe travel market might seem to run counter to the country's Communist identity, but that hasn't stopped a rush of five-star resorts, hotels, day spas, and stellar restaurants from springing up across the beaches, mountains, small villages, and urban centers that embody modern-day Vietnam. Better still, these luxuries can be had at a fraction of the price found in the Westfor now.
HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)
Vietnam's commercial capital and largest city boasts a population of eight millionand about five million motor scooters by the looks of a weekday rush hour in the central hub. The city seems poised in a state of dramatic transformation, its skyline dominated by construction cranes building the city's first high-rise buildingsright now, it's the perfect meld of old and new.
The city's central District One now offers an increasing number of internationally known shops, including Gucci and Espritwith western prices to match. Skip these for some more interesting boutiques like Mystère (141 Dong Khoi, District 1), a German-owned boutique with Asian jewelry, kitchen utensils, silk scarves, handbags, and more; and Ipa-Nima (85 Pasteur St., District 1), a renowned Vietnamese line of whimsical, innovative women's accessories by designer Christina Yu.
No trip to Vietnam is complete without getting some custom-made silk clothing. Liberty Silk (85 Dong Khoi, District 1) is one of the more upscale options, with a staff that makes the customer feel like royalty. Bring your favorite shirt or dress to have copied or tear out a photo from a magazine and they will replicate it for a fraction of the cost.
Where to Dine
The Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep, District 1), a brick-walled, trendy spot, boasts some of the city's best Vietnamese cuisine. Or, for a dining establishment with a more unique setting, visit the Refinery (74 Hai Ba Trung). Tucked into a courtyard in District One, this hot spot offers French brasserie fare in a former opium factory.
For an authentic Vietnamese lunch, go to Quan An Ngon (138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, District 1), located opposite the Reunification Palace. The open-air restaurant provides a great way to sample Vietnamese street food from the many stalls that encircle the dining area.
A welcome new addition to Saigon is Dragon's Nest (186 Nguyen Van Huong,Thao Dien Ward, District 2). Part spa, part restaurant, Dragon's Nest is housed in what was formerly a privately owned estate, with an outdoor swimming pool and candlelit dinners on the rooftop patio. Treatment pricing is exceptionally reasonable for top-notch services. A luxurious 60-minute facial is only $25, and a spa pedicure goes for $10. And don't miss the enormous East-meets-West cocktails.
What to See
The War Remnants Museum (28 Vo Van Tan, District 3) chronicles the war years from the Vietnamese perspective. Formerly called the American War Crimes Museum, the name was recently changed to render it more inviting to U.S. visitors. Exhibits include photographs taken by renowned photojournalists killed during the war and pictures devoted to the war's impact on the civilian population, including ghastly photos of landmine and Agent Orange victims.
Where to Stay
Saigon real estate is at a premium, so there is little in the way of new luxe hotels. But you can still hit high-end locales like the centrally-located Caravelle or the Park Hyatt. Regardless of where you stay, be sure to visit Saigon Saigon, Caravelle's historic rooftop bar. Offering panoramic views of downtown, this is where the foreign press congregated during the Vietnam War. Rates at the Caravelle start at $250; $290 at the Park Hyatt.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
Best Hotels in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)