Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Photo: Villa Song Saigon

You really have no idea what time it is. The sun is shining through your suite’s sheer curtains. It feels like it has been for hours. So it’s definitely not the middle of the night. Other than that, you can’t begin to wager a guess. Hopefully, it isn’t too late, though. Your growling stomach won’t let you stay in bed any longer. It’s time to find some breakfast—or at least a strong cup of coffee.

As it turns out, there’s no need to worry about breakfast. Bistro Song Vie, the riverfront restaurant at your hotel, serves it all day. So it doesn’t matter what time zone your body feels like it’s in or what time you finally arrived in Vietnam after a long-delayed flight. Bánh cuốn nhân thịt (a steamed rice roll stuffed with minced pork and black fungus mushrooms) served with fish sauce and a pile of local mixed herbs, will be ready in a few minutes. A Vietnamese iced coffee, currently dripping through its filter on the table, will be ready to drink by the time the food arrives. In the meantime, you can watch water hyacinths and traditional junk boats float down the slow-moving Saigon River.

Regardless of the time, this is the way to begin the day in Ho Chi Minh City. Unlike most of Vietnam’s largest city, which is often confusing and frenetic, Villa Song Saigon is an oasis. The boutique hotel is in an elegant white building that looks like it’s from the French colonial era. It’s actually much younger, but it perfectly captures the old-world charm with its high ceilings, spinning ceiling fans, and polished hardwood floors. The hotel’s entrance is shaded with green vines. A long, saltwater pool is lined with sun-lounger pods, white umbrellas, and tropical trees. More palms dot the restaurant and the bar along the waterfront. That’s where a riverboat idles while it waits to shuttle guests to Bach Dang Wharf in the center of the city.

Photo: Villa Song Saigon

Villa Song Saigon is in District 2. Historically, this was one of Ho Chi Minh City’s poorest areas. It’s undergone quite a transformation. Old villas were restored. Art galleries, cute boutiques, little cafés, refined restaurants, and riverside bars opened along the tree-lined streets. A contemporary arts center, music festivals, and pop-up markets followed. District 2 is now one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city.

The gateway to Vietnam has been called many names throughout its history. The Chams called it Bai Gaur. The Khmer renamed it Prey Nokor. Prey Nokor became Saigon and then Gia Ðịnh. The French retook Saigon, which became the capital of South Vietnam. It wasn’t until the fall of Saigon—or the liberation of Saigon, depending on how you look at it—that the city was declared Ho Chi Minh City to honor the communist leader. HCMC is now home to nearly nine million people (most of whom are under the age of 35), a huge financial center, and the country’s busiest airport.

That’s why it’s essential to find a sanctuary among the chaos. Villa Song Saigon is where you can wake up late as you adjust to the massive time change. You can take in the view of the river from your balcony as your body gets used to the bright sun and the humidity. You can take a long bath in your suite’s freestanding tub to wash off the travel day. You can eat a leisurely breakfast even if everyone around you has moved onto lunch. Then you can finally tackle the city with a clear head. There’s a lot to uncover in the Pearl of the Far East.

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