Saigon's colonial era hotels - review by Rusty Compass
Ho Chi Minh City | hotels guide

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Saigon's colonial era hotels

| 03 Jul 2017
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Saigon's colonial era hotels
Around Dong Khoi St, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City


Price guide: From $100US

03 Jul 2017

A look at Saigon’s French colonial era hotels - The Continental, The Majestic and The Grand. We also check out two post- colonial historic hotels, The Caravelle and The Rex.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

The French built several landmark hotels along Saigon’s downtown Dong Khoi St during the colonial period. In those days, the street was known as the Rue Catinat. It attracted international attention as the setting for Graham Greene's novel about 1950s pre-war Saigon, The Quiet American.

If you’re expecting a Raffles-style colonial luxury experience at one of these hotels, be warned. They’re still government run and have a state-owned look and feel. They're a long way off their potential. But committed history buffs will still find them interesting.

The oldest and best known of Saigon’s colonial hotels is The Continental. It’s probably the best bet for those seeking out some historical ambience - though it’s the most modest in terms of facilities.

Built in 1880, The Continental is also one of the oldest colonial buildings still standing in the city. It’s a handsome feature on Dong Khoi St - right by another colonial era icon, the City Opera House. The interiors are a letdown. This should be one of the grand hotels of South East Asia - but it languishes with a mediocre 1990s interior refurb. Not sure how long we'll be waiting for a proper upgrade, It's been coming for decades.
 Graham Greene lived here in the 1950s.

Overlooking the Saigon River, The Majestic is also a shadow of its former self. And like the Continental, it has a kind of quirky state-run charm. A massive expansion is planned that includes a huge tower that will further erode the original character of the place. The Majestic has been renovated so many times that its current incarnation is barely recognisable from the original.

A little further up the road, The Grand Hotel is, like The Continental, a special piece of architecture. Known as the Saigon Palace hotel when it opened in 1930, it features a distinctive dome. It’s a highlight of the street. But the Grand has also felt the heavy hand of state-owned refurbishment and a major expansion as well. The rooms in the original wing are worth a look.

The Caravelle and the Rex are two post-colonial hotels that carry some serious history.

The Caravelle, located directly opposite the Continental, is the only hotel in this list offering a truly international hotel experience. It was home to many big names of journalism during the Vietnam War, as well as the Australian Embassy.

When it opened in 1959, The Caravelle was a symbol of Saigon’s new modernist architecture and a newly minted state - South Vietnam. It played witness to the demise of that state as the Vietnam War took hold in the 1960s. After the end of the war in 1975, the Caravelle became a state-owned property. In the 1990s foreign investors came aboard, added a new larger wing and significantly changing the character of the building.

The Caravelle remains the only one of the city's historic hotels with foreign investment. 

In 2017 and early 2018, The Caravelle will undergo major interior renovations.

The Rex meanwhile sits on one of the city’s most prized pieces of real estate - right by the People’s Committee Building - the centre of government. It began its days as a garage and auto-dealership. In the 60s it was home to the US government’s Abraham Lincoln Library and regular press briefings known as the “five o’clock follies”, where US officials would recite body counts. In a gesture of questionable taste, the hotel bar has named a cocktail the five o’clock follies.

The Rex is now a rambling structure devouring an entire block. Piecemeal renovations and additions over many years give the place a disjointed feel. Again though, high marks for quirkiness and a perfect location. The suites may be the best bet.


Check out our handpicked list of the best places to stay in Saigon here.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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