Sometimes any traveller is simply in the right place at the right time. The gal’s stay at InterContinental Asiana Saigon coincided with TET, Chinese New Year, the start of the Year of the Monkey. Of course the whole of Ho Chi Minh City was in holiday mood, and the hotel celebrated in great style. A troop of lion dancers were booked for nine o’clock, and people began to assemble straight after breakfast. Just after nine, a decorated truck, holding poles and other equipment, pulled into the forecourt, followed quickly by a bus holding about 30 people, all male, nearly all in elaborate yellow, red and decorated uniforms. Poles were knocked in place, 16 in all, bolt upright and different heights. The band got ready. Apparently everyone is from one extended family.
As the videos below show, lions, or two men under a head-plus-back-cloth, jumped and danced, ate a watermelon, walked along the tops of the 16 poles. Nine small-boy drummers did their thing. Confetti showered down. Some lions toured the hotel inside, even visiting GM James Young’s office and the all-day restaurant, Market 39. This, by the way, has one of the best buffets in south Asia, says the boss, and I have to agree. There are stations cooking noodles, omelettes, anything you want, and, a lovely local touch, all the servers wear Vietnamese áo dài tunics: hostesses are in lemon-coloured tunics and matching trousers, while waiters have stunning blue satin tunics, and waitresses wear scarlet satin tunics.
This 305-room hotel, now six and a half years old, is a brilliant example of a development that really caters to today’s busy traveller. The concierge corner, in the main lobby, has comfortable chairs so you can sit while discussing, with one of the two duty concierges, what sight to visit next. Work out in the gym and look out at the heated glass-sided pool. In corner suite 1919, everything was where I expected it to be. Light switches and shower are easy to work, the WiFi was faultless, the people working the 19th floor Club Lounge were charming. I like the fact that the lounge has six seats at a long counter by an all-wall window, to give great views across to the city’s historic Post Office – Garnier-like, it was built 1886 and it is still working – and the brick Cathedral (try to be here for cocktail hour, to watch the sunset).
Obviously during this celebratory time this luxury hotel has to have south Vietnam’s customary mai New Year tree, also known as yellow apricot, hoa mai, hoàng mai, Ochna integerrima or Vietnamese mickey-mouse tree (in north Vietnam they prefer a peach blossom tree). Mr Luu, who knows such details, says some of these mai trees are worth up to $2,000 or more, and at the end of the season specialist gardeners take your tree away to nurture it until next year, for a charge of up to 30 percent of its value – it is, not surprisingly, very bad luck if your tree dies on you. While it is up, it is decorated with some of the red envelopes that everyone gives to everyone else at this time – envelopes contain a new note, worth just a few US cents. And, like Christmas trees elsewhere in the world, these TET New Year trees are magnificent photo fodder.