Get the most out of Vietnam’s biggest city by choosing a great base: from Graham Greene’s old haunt to a boutique bolthole with views over the Saigon river
A pocket of France in a remote corner of Ho Chi Minh City, Ma Maison is a welcoming place to stay, run by a French-speaking Vietnamese family. The tall, grey-hued guesthouse towers over an alley scattered with banh mi stalls, tailors, food kiosks, and locals crowded around TVs. Behind the guesthouse door, there’s a sense of being transported away from the city, with Provençal furniture, farmhouse tables, vases of blooming flowers, croissants for breakfast, and a soothing, quiet calm. Rooms in muted pastel tones are cosy with super-comfortable beds; the bathrooms, with rain showers, are perfumed by cinnamon sticks, lemongrass and mother of pearl shell. Ma Maison is quite a hike from the centre of town but don’t let that be a deterrent. Just a few minutes’ walk from Ma Maison, and recommended by its staff, is a local bó ba lot restaurant, where the sight of a foreigner is still a rare thing. Feast on a fill of beef wrapped in betel leaf, a stack of rice paper, a huge pile of herbs, noodles and peanuts, and all for just £1. Ma Maison’s filling breakfast pho is also worth the wait.
• 656/52 Cach Mang Thang Tam Street, +84 8 3846 0263, mamaison.vn, doubles from £52 B&B
Thao Dien Village
An alluring tropical retreat, Thao Dien Village is enveloped by frangipani trees, and is a 15-minute drive from downtown Saigon. Saigon is a busy, noisy and congested city but this inviting hotel offers peace, a swimming pool, spa and a Vietnamese restaurant all facing the Saigon river in District 2. Superior rooms are all monochrome sleek with chalk-white walls, grey velvet headboards, crisp white sheets and black lamps dangling with droplets of shells by French designer Valerie Gregori McKenzie, founder of boutique store Song. Begin the day with a breakfast of eggs and strong Vietnamese coffee, seated on a terrace overlooking the river, and end it at the lemongrass-perfumed spa with a relaxing herbal, hot stone, mud or chocolate treatment.
• 189-197, 197/1 Nguyen Van Huong Street, +84 8 3744 6457, thaodienvillage.com, doubles from £103 B&B
The charming Cinnamon offers all the style and comfort of a more expensive Saigon hotel at half the price. It is a short walk from central Bến Thành Market in District 1, its manicured Asian interiors feature dark wooden floors and furniture, desks, coatstands, colourfully tiled bathrooms with tubs and showers, and lamps encased in fishing baskets. You may want to avoid street-facing rooms for the noise, although heavy wooden doors and window shutters muffle sounds. Breakfasts of pho, or banana pancakes laced with Mekong Delta honey, taken in the small breakfast room in the lobby, are delicious. As well as breakfast, one cocktail or mocktail, and one foot massage is included in the stay.
• 74 Le Thi Rieng Street, +84 8 3926 0130, cinnamonhotel.net, doubles from £40 B&B
There’s nothing else quite like it in Ho Chi Minh City. French colonial-style tiling in floral swirls of black, and taupe in the boutique-chic lobby supports impressive floor-to-ceiling library bookcases stacked with an eclectic mix of books. The Alcove is closer to the airport than the city, and you’ll have to factor in travelling times to downtown on busy weekend nights, but it’s quiet and the beds are supremely comfortable, so you may want to indulge in a lie-in, thus missing the 9.30am breakfast cut off. But when you do, wander upstairs to the industrial-chic Roadhouse bar and restaurant, a breakfast of eggs, toast, jams, fruits, fresh coffee and the tastiest yoghurt in Saigon awaits. Fresh coffee and tea served to your door is a thoughtful touch after a full day’s sightseeing.
• 133A Nguyen Dinh Chinh Street, +84 8 6256 9966, alcovehotel.com.vn, doubles from £54 B&B
Little Saigon Boutique Hotel
Hitched to the bottom end of a long alley in a very central downtown location, this tiny hotel offers creature comforts and a central city experience. Outside its front door locals sell banh mi (Vietnamese baguettes), eat, chat and drink coffee in the popular cul-de-sac. A stone’s throw from city hall and other central sights, the lantern-decorated hotel, run by welcoming Vietnamese staff, offers super-soft pillows, silk bathrobes, pouffes and tables for taking coffee, and balconies overlooking the higgledy-piggledy French colonial and glassy, modern city skyline.
• 36 Bis/2 Le Loi Boulevard, +84 8 3521 8464, littlesaigon.com.vn, doubles from £18 B&B
This slick Ho Chi Minh city hotel, just behind popular Bến Thành Market, oozes confidence in its smart, grownup rooms. Think brushed-cotton chairs, plump pillows, firm mattresses and long desks, all in a palette of moleskin and white. Ly Tu Truong Street is packed with hotels all looking much of a muchness. This is the standout on this popular District 1 stretch. It’s also close to one of the city’s best cafes, the boho I.D. Café, with its bare brickwork, 1960’s furniture and tasty milkshakes. If you stay more than three nights at the Sanouva, a complimentary transfer to the airport is included.
• 177 Ly Tu Trong Street, +84 8 3827 5275, sanouvahotel.com, doubles from £43 B&B
Saigon River Boutique Hotel
Ho Chi Minh’s hotel scene lacks innovation but this new Vietnamese-Australian venture is brilliantly located for sights, eating, drinking and shopping, and has been attractively re-fashioned from a 1980s narrow building with a bright-white sculptural facade depicting a multi-branched tree. Rooms are mostly creatively decorated – red, stone and lemon-yellow pouffes, sleek silver-and-white wallpaper, chic chairs, and contemporary photography framed on the walls. Bathrooms feature wonderful hot tub showers, and standard rooms, which do not have windows – not an uncommon feature in the city’s hotels – have been enhanced by mirrored walls. Although a couple of blocks from Saigon river, guests can watch the boats from the top-floor terrace.
• 58 Mac Thi Buoi Street, +84 8 3822 8558, saigonriverhotel.com, doubles from £21 B&B
Ruby River Hotel
The Ruby River, with its upbeat contemporary feel, sits in an ideal location for shopping and the arts. The District 1 hotel is close to the famous Le Cong Kieu aka “antique street”, and the Fine Arts Museum, and a short xe ôm (motorcycle taxi) ride to Bến Thành Market and the backpacker zone of Pham Ngu Lao. As well as their prime location, superior rooms are quiet and modestly decorated in chocolate browns and white. Silver dandelions, or roses in Charles Rennie Macintosh-style, climb the walls; sharp bathrooms are compact with powerful rain showers. Ruby deluxe rooms are a better bet as they feature windows overlooking the street, and the bathrooms come with hot tubs.
• 59-61 Nguyen Thai Binh Street, +84 8 3914 3636, rubyriverhotel.com.vn, doubles from £35 B&B
Graham Greene knew this was a good spot; he took rooms in the 1950s in the smart, snappy white building that is now the modern Hotel Catina. It’s on Dong Khoi (the old Rue Catinat under French rule), the city’s main downtown shopping street. Once you pass the lobby – a glitzy, glassy jewellery shop – the upstairs rooms are quiet, feature discreetly positioned TVs, and have alcoves with desks and coffee-making facilities. Graham Greene was all for people-watching vantage points so he would have approved of the breakfast room with its tall windows overlooking Dong Khoi. The Catina is ideal for the shopaholic, the barfly, and the 21st-century flaneur.
• 109 Dong Khoi, +84 8 3829 6296, hotelcatina.com.vn, doubles from £68 B&B
The Town House
Tucked at the end of a quiet Saigon hem (alley), and with helpful young Vietnamese staff, this new addition to the Ho Chi Minh hotel scene is great value. The Town House combines its small-hotel-meets-hip-hostel ambience with bold, attractive interiors. Architects Huy Than and Le Ha An have fashioned the cul-de-sac building into an inviting place to stay with twin, double, family and dormitory rooms, using French blue interiors, pretty stencilling, bamboo towel ladders and old French colonial tiles. The lobby leads to the breakfast area, decorated with tropical greenery, and illuminated by orange and blue Chinese lanterns, and a mini kitchen where guests can make their own packed lunches. A magazine rack, computers and Wi-Fi, plus a shower room for guests who have already checked out, complete the winning formula.
• 50E Bùi Thị Xuân, +84 8 3925 0210, townhousesaigon.com (website under construction), doubles from £20, dorms from £5.50 B&B