Saigon has a reasonable spread of well-priced accommodation for everyone from backpackers to luxury travellers - but nobody could accuse Vietnam’s biggest city of being at the vanguard of hotel design and innovation.
Last week I checked out three new hotels - all very different - that suggest a little innovation might be finally creeping into the city’s hotel scene. In other cities, these new hotels may not cause a ripple. But in Saigon, where decent but dull is the norm, they stand out.
None of them are in the city’s downtown District 1. So travellers looking for interesting accommodation may need to look beyond Saigon’s traditional tourism heart.
Villa Song’s been open since 2013 and in concept, it’s probably the most conventional of the three hotels we looked at. In Saigon though, it’s a standout for three reasons - at just 23 rooms it’s a small luxury hotel, the only one in town, it isn’t owned by a major hotel chain and it’s away from the chaos of downtown.
Vietnam’s had a two decade infatuation with big international hotels. So just about every foreign invested hotel project in the country is large in scale. Villa Song’s an exception - a foreign invested city hotel that’s put a premium on atmosphere and space over room count.
The location of Villa Song, 20 minutes away by taxi from District 1, is significant too.
As downtown Saigon demolishes more of its heritage and becomes increasingly hostile to those on foot, travellers are seeking refuge away from the city centre. The large number of travellers I meet who’ve been relieved of their phones or their bags in downtown Saigon, doesn’t help either.
This a sad development. I’ve always believed you can’t claim to have visited Saigon unless you stay in its historic heart. But as I sat in Villa Song’s riverside garden, it seemed to be an argument on the wrong side of reality.
Villa Song may mark the beginning of a wider trend. District 2 is attracting more and more of the city’s best restaurants.
Unless some serious work is done to rehabilitate downtown Saigon with public space, walking and cultural life (the new pedestrian promenade is a modest start), its tourism appeal - not to mention its appeal to locals - will continue to decline.
One other interesting point about Villa Song is that it’s been crafted from what was probably an overcooked District 2 mansion - there are many in this enclave of well-healed expats. The new owners have come in and successfully turned it into something tasteful and attractive.
You can read our independent review of Villa Song here.
I Am Vietnam Hotel
Like Villa Song, I Am Vietnam is more significant in Saigon than it might be in other cities. It’s a genuine boutique-style hotel - well designed, with bright welcoming, spacious rooms snd some interesting tile combinations.
I Am Vietnam is located out of District 1 in a residential area.
Downtown Saigon just doesn’t have hotels like this - and the city suffers for that. The planning madness that has allowed hotels to reach up to more than 10 stories from tiny single blocks, means that windows are a premium inclusion in many downtown Saigon accommodations.
Lots of natural light is an upside of staying at I Am Vietnam.
You can read our independent review of I Am Vietnam Hotel here.
The Common Room Project
The Common Room Project is the most ambitious - and least expensive - of the three properties listed here. It offers travellers a mix of private rooms and dorms with designer bunks. Interestingly, it isn’t targeting backpackers.
The owners baulk at words like "hotel" and "guesthouse" too. Which is why they settled for The Common Room Project. They’re targeting a mind-set more than a conventional travel demographic. They’re looking for travellers with a strong sense of independence and an enthusiasm for the communal living concept on offer. They told me that quite a few of their travellers mix up their holidays staying between more expensive hotels and concept hotels like the Common Room Project.
The fact that Airbnb’s community is an important source of business is revealing too.
You can read our independent review of The Common Room Project here.
All of these businesses represent a change in Saigon’s accommodation offerings - and the city will benefit from similar innovation in concept and design. The hotel business is changing fast. Saigon has lots of catching up to do.
Rusty Compass is an independent travel publisher. We have no connection to any of the businesses referenced here. Nor did we receive any inducement financial or otherwise from them. We inspected all of the hotels but did not stay in them.