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The Caravelle
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
19 Lam Son Square, District One
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Plush in the Heart of Ho
Chi Minh

New Age Style & Comfort on Historic Lam Son Square
By Kim Fay

Stylish Suites over Lam Son

In post-millennial Ho Chi Minh City, new hotels are as ubiquitous as spring rolls. From reliable international favorites like Sheraton to stylish regional brands like Duxton, they vie to win over the new breed of upscale travelers descending on the city. With so much competition, it seems The Caravelle would be as passé as Communism. It wasn't built during the architectural heyday of French colonialism, and debuted in 1959 with bulletproof windows as one of its selling points. But a new twenty-four-story tower, classy interior upgrades, a hot bar and a captivating history make this one of the top places to stay when in town.

During the Vietnam War, The Caravelle was home to the embassies of Australia and New Zealand, as well as the offices of NBC, CBS and The New York Times. At one point it was even owned by the Archbishop of Saigon. It is best known, though, for being a hangout for correspondents who would sit on the roof and observe the war in the distance. Their tenth-floor perch has been replaced by Saigon Saigon Bar, whose terrific views travel up Dong Khoi Street to the Cathedral. While we love the vibe of this open-air nightclub, although we recommend avoiding accommodations too close its nightly action.

Lobby & Lounge

These days, a new breed of clientele includes business travelers, shoppers, war veterans and families. Instead of media headquarters and soused journalists, they will find a shopping arcade that includes Cartier and Bulgari, a pleasantly secluded pool, a health club and a full spa. There is also a nice selection of restaurants. If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City for an extended stay, hit the buffet at the Port Oriental on weekends. Otherwise, if you’re just in town for a few nights, the Caravelle’s location is superb, right in the heart of the city on Lam Son Square, which constitutes one-third of the historical downtown triumvirate and includes the Continental and the Rex hotels.

Contemporary, Asian-influenced guestrooms are well equipped with satellite TV, Internet access, CD players and great water pressure, which isn't always dependable in Vietnam. We recommend staying on the Executive Level, where a substantial breakfast buffet and evening wine and hors d'oeuvres are served in a lounge that enjoys the same view as the bar. As for the suites, they're swanky enough to shelter luminaries as high profile as Bill Clinton and Pierre Cardin, as well as Michael Caine when he was in town to film "The Quiet American." By choosing to stay at The Caravelle rather than in the obvious digs, Graham Greene's beloved Continental Hotel across the street, they proved that style and comfort win out over sentimentality when staying in Ho Chi Minh City.

Going to Vietnam? Check our guide.

(Updated: 06/24/08 HC)

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