Simon Stanley gets the executive treatment at Saigon’s immensely stylish Hotel des Arts. Photos by Vinh Dao and Simon Stanley.
Opened in October 2015, the fifth and latest addition to Vietnam’s offerings from the prestigious MGallery collection of unique, inspiring and first-class international hotels, Hotel des Arts, represents the first five-star boutique hotel in Saigon. And it’s not just a name; this unmistakable building on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, close to the junction with Hai Ba Trung, is as much a temple of art, architecture and interior design as it is a destination for world-class hospitality.
“Every MGallery hotel has a different story, and so do we,” says Luu Truong Hoai Nghiem, the hotel’s marketing executive. “When you enter the hotel, we would like to take you on a journey, back to 1930s Indochina.” It’s this merging of the old and the new that makes the Hotel des Arts far more than just another brown and beige link in a corporate chain of bedrooms. Visit the 23rd-floor bar and restaurant, the Social Club, for one of the finest examples of interior design the building has to offer. Created by famous Japanese design-house, Super Potato Co, and backed by panoramic views of the shimmering skyline, the rich wood-clad space takes inspiration from some of the finest European saloons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Like a fine artist, MGallery do not simply throw money at their hotels and expect a hit. With internationally acclaimed designers and architects contributing to their ever expanding portfolio, each MGallery property is a modern or historic example of exquisite design and first-class craftsmanship. It’s an approach that slowly reveals itself throughout one’s stay as the intricacies, the minute details and the interwoven, quirky yet understated design features gradually become apparent. It’s the subtle non-uniformity of the chairs in the restaurant; it’s the panelled ceiling details that change throughout the hotel’s various rooms, corridors, restaurants and bars, yet somehow retain a consistency; it’s the MGallery logo carved into the marble floor of the shower-room and accurately positioned directly below the monsoon showerhead.
It’s not just an ethos embedded in the decor, but in the hotel’s staff too, their eyes clearly attuned to the same standards as the designers. Not a leaf is left out of place. The rogue drips of condensation from an icy jug of water, for example, are swiftly yet discreetly dealt with, ensuring the elegant lines and gleaming surfaces are not disturbed in any way. Like the architects before them, it’s a subtle approach that still leaves guests able to relax without feeling overly coddled.
A recent addition to the hotel’s offerings is the 22nd floor Sky Lounge, an exclusive area reserved for Le Club AccorHotels Platinum members and all guests staying on their Executive Sky floors (from floors 18 to 22), or in any of the executive studio suites. With a private check-in desk, complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks and newspapers all day, plus breakfast, afternoon tea and complimentary evening drinks and canapés, all, of course, of the finest quality, it’s an upgrade that’s certainly worth taking.
For our 24-hour ‘staycation’ of luxury, my partner and I are shown to a breathtaking corner studio on the 15th floor. The views are the first thing you’ll notice, here seen through the hotel’s futuristic curved windows. With such a unique frame, it’s as if we’re somehow seeing the sprawl of the city through a fresh set of eyes. It’s only a small detail, but it all adds add up. Classical elements are added through the rich oak parquet flooring, the decorative white wood-panelled walls, and the clawfoot tub sat decadently in the near floor to ceiling bathroom window. Even the enormous plasma television is set inside an opulent gilt picture frame, allowing it to blend in with the rest of the decor rather than hanging like the incongruous slab of black plastic it really is. A two-hour YouTube slideshow of fine art is quickly found and the remote tossed aside.
After a superb buffet lunch of Asian, Japanese and Western cuisine in the hotel’s second-floor restaurant, Saigon Kitchen, complimentary afternoon high tea can be taken in the calm surroundings of the Sky Lounge from 3pm onwards. Small bites, cakes, cookies and an array of fruits, nuts and snacks are at your disposal, and while the teas and soft drinks are offered for you to help yourself, the friendly staff are more than happy to fetch everything while you browse the newspapers or flick through the coffee-table photo-books.
Before the complimentary wines, cocktails, beers, spirits and canapés are wheeled out at 5.30pm, a dip in the rooftop infinity pool (with poolside bar) is a must. Offering 270-degree views of Districts 1 and 3 and beyond, way up where the sound of scooters is but a distant melody, it’s as far from the city as you can get without actually leaving it. Come nightfall, Saigon Kitchen offers another splendid buffet while the Social Club opens its doors to anyone looking for a taste of the finest food and cocktails in town. For those with a head for heights, head over the glass rooftop sky-bridge for direct access to the hotel’s neighbour, the renowned Shri Restaurant and Lounge.
The next morning, as we watch the sunrise ignite the Saigon skyline through each of the three enormous windows visible from the equally enormous bed, we realise the one major downside of hotels as luxurious and as relaxing as this one: at some point you have to leave them. While late checkout is offered to all executive guests (until 4pm subject to availability), it’s difficult not to count down the hours to departure as we enjoy a private breakfast buffet in the Sky Lounge. A nearby TV is showing the latest news headlines; Zika, North Korea, Trump; it’s all still out there, but for now we’re in here. The world can wait.
Published March 2016 – AsiaLIFE Magazine