A Brief History of the Caravelle Hotel

By: Robert Fouldes

For the longest time, the Caravelle was "the place to stay in Vietnam", this fame largely realised through its predicament in time, perhaps best portrayed by its "perch and proximity to war" between 1960 to 1975.

caravelle HotelImage source: Caravelle Hotel

The Caravelle Hotel grew from an idea in 1954 to create the premier hotel in the city of Saigon (now officially Ho Chi Minh City). On Christmas Eve of 1959, it opened its doors presenting air-conditioned splendour and an unmatched view over the city, also with an air-conditioned elevator, the zenith of luxury in Saigon at the time.

Conflict and Independent Reporting in the Vietnam War

During the years of the Vietnam War, the Caravelle was well known as the base for independent reporting, where new standards were set during a period of time that attracted the attention of the world media. The hotel itself was the backdrop to significant events of the conflict with America. An explosion outside the building blew out many of the hotel’s windows, and as the conflict grew, a nightly show of distant explosions lighting up the sky beyond the fringes of Saigon was clearly visible from the hotel's rooftop bar.

caravelle HotelImage source: Caravelle Hotel

Its 10th storey rooftop bar witnessed the birth of many famous dispatches from the conflict zone, penned by the best and brightest journalists of the time, including David Halberstam, Walter Cronkite, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett, Malcolm Browne, Morley Safer, Ward Just and Michel Herr. All have stayed at the Caravelle, drunk at the Caravelle, formed opinions at the Caravelle and often dispatched their news from the Caravelle itself. The famous image of the last helicopter departing Saigon from the American Airlines airlift by Hubert-Van-Es [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Saigon & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubert_van_Es & https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/tag/hubert-van-es/] was captured from the Caravelle’s rooftop bar. That same vantage point still looks over to the former CIA office’s rooftop (the Pittman Apartment building), substantially unchanged from that time.

Beginnings of the Caravelle Hotel, Saigon

Historically, the first hotels in Saigon were built along distinctly French Colonial designs, principally serving the French colonial business and administration needs. The very first of Saigon's hotels being the Continental (planned and constructed from 1880) with its street side cafes and presenting a distinct home away from home the the French men and women passing through Saigon.

caravelle HotelImage source: agoda.net

Saigon was not a tourist destination in the early 20th Century and the lone Continental Hotel served the needs of those seeking to stay in Saigon. As demand for hotel accommodation increased, the Majestic Hotel was proposed and began construction in 1925, located at the far end of Rue Catinat (today's Dong Khoi). In 1928, not far along Rue Catinat away from the river, permission was granted for the conversion of a coffee shop to open The Grand Hotel in 1937.

Following World War II and with the convenience of air travel, Saigon's foreign population grew to around 20,000, predominantly French. In the early 1950's, Saigon was still very much a French concern, and Indochina was booming with a growing demand for upscale accommodation. Two entrepreneurs, Monsieurs Antonin Emery and Marius Mallein, set out to build the tallest, most luxurious and modern hotel the city had ever seen.

Development and Construction of the Caravelle Hotel

The architect commissioned to design the Caravelle Hotel project was Nguyen Van Hoa (born in Can Tho), an architectural studies graduate from the Ecole Superieure Des Beaux-Arts in Hanoi. The land and permissions were secured to begin construction in what was (and remains) a site that commanded excellent views of Saigon’s Opera House and the city’s most cosmopolitan thoroughfares. Primarily planned as a high end hotel, the plans included premium office and business spaces, and the entrepreneurs also brokered deals for co-ownership with several high-profile parties.

These co-ownership deals resulted in the Australian Legation occupying the 7th floor, the Catholic Church generating income from the hotel exclusively to fund the University in Dalat, and Air France as a major ground floor occupant. The project went through an extended planning & construction period, encountering significant delays throughout, but the architects (Hong Kong based firm Andrew Lee King Fun) and interior designers (California’s Hirsch Bedner Associates) maintained their design standards to realise the deluxe hotel that stood proudly as the premier deluxe accommodation in Saigon for many years.

caravelle HotelImage source: instagram.com

The name of the hotel itself owes much to the growth of air travel to the region, and in particular to Air France's testing of a new airplane, the Caravelle, in the same year that the hotel opened. The name Caravelle was inspired by the fast, light ships of the 15th century that evoked thoughts of foreign trade, adventure, and new horizons.

Reunification and a new era of trade and development for Saigon

Following the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the ownership of the Caravelle Hotel transferred to the Government of what became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City and the Caravelle Hotel became Hotel Doc Lap (Hotel Independence. It continued to operate through difficult times with a debilitating trade embargo until 1990, when government reforms began to improve trade and economic growth in the country. In 1992, the Saigon Tourist and Glynhill Investment Vietnam organisations (an investment group from Hong Kong and Singapore) came together in a new partnership, the Chains Caravelle Hotel Joint Venture Company, with an investment plan to renovate the "Doc Lap" to become an international 5-star hotel.

Thus, the Caravelle Hotel was reborn as an icon of luxurious accommodation to the highest international standards, with a new 24-storey wing constructed adjacent to the original historic building, complete with swimming pool and all other 5-star amenities. The new tower construction was completed in 1997, before renovations began on the original building. At this time, the hotel closed for one year while the old and new structures were united and finished to the same standards.

caravelle HotelImage source: netdna-cdn.com

Since the Re-opening of Saigon’s Caravelle Hotel

The new Caravelle Hotel opened its doors once again to guests in May 1998, having weathered the Asian economic crisis that began in 1997. After re-opening, the Caravelle found itself in the fortunate position of being the only new hotel in the centre of town, at which seemingly everyone wanted to stay. A New York Times article, written in July 1998 about the city's hotel scene during the economic crisis, commented on the Caravelle's new look: "The fabled Caravelle hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, a haunt of foreign correspondents during the war, has undergone a multi million-dollar renovation that has turned it into a marble-draped palace".

Maintaining their ranking as a highly regarded hotel in Saigon, the Caravelle is currently upgrading its Tower wing, which it expects to reopen early in 2019, before proceeding with renovations of the "Heritage" wing planned for completion in 2020. The Caravelle Hotel’s rooftop bar remains one of Saigon’s most well-known, commanding excellent views across the city and serving as a popular destination for visitors with a keen sense of history.

caravelle HotelImage source:cloudfront.net

Banner Image source: lightwave.vn


The Best Pool in Ho Chi Minh City?

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Hotel Equatorial’s Pool is one of the Best in the Ho Chi Minh City.

What many consider the best pool in Ho Chi Minh City is not by an ocean-side resort, on the roof of an affluent condo building, or even in an indoor gymnasium. It’s on the fourth floor of the 5-star Equatorial Hotel.

Twenty-five meters of minimal-chlorine, salt-filtered ocean-blue water stretch across the mid-roof of the hotel. Potted flora line the pool, soaking in the Saigon sun. A poolside bar awaits those who want a drink with their tan, and a delectable food menu offers guests a luxurious outdoor dining experience.

Below, the bustling streets of Vietnam fill with chaotic traffic. The Equatorial pool is a slice of paradise amidst the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle four stories down.

Two sides of the pool are flanked by floors 3 to 11 of Hotel Equatorial. The other two are open to the trees and colorful buildings that surround District 5. It’s almost surreal how close this slice of tranquility is to the urban rawness of the Ho Chi Minh City streets.

In the mornings you can spot early risers lapping the pool, with families enjoying a swim by midday and stressed-out businessmen vegetating chin-deep by nightfall. The Equatorial pool draws a diverse crowd.

What’s the magic ingredient that makes this the best pool in HCMC?

“My friends love the pool,” says Jessie, the Guest Services Officer at the Equatorial. Guests occasionally express how much they prefer the pool to any other in the city. Jessie says some believe it to be “by far” the best pool in Ho Chi Minh.

It could be that the pool looks like it was taken straight out of a music video, with its planted trees, poolside bar, clean, blue water and its location in the middle of a bustling metropolis.

Well, that’s because it was. In 2011 pop sensation Minh Hằng filmed her “Beautiful Girl” music video by the pool. You can see the clip below:

The typical scene at the Equatorial’s pool may be a little less sensational and colorful, and a bit more quiet and peaceful, as lounge music plays softly by the bar and swimmers immerse themselves in the clean, cool water, or sit sipping drinks.

The pool actually uses a salt-based filtration system, which reduces irritation and makes for a more pleasant swim. The guests sometimes have a hard time getting out of the water.

It’s not difficult to see why guests prefer the Equatorial pool over any other in Ho Chi Minh City. Its proximity to the overwhelming cityscape, its slice-of-heaven location and its features all make it the perfect getaway that’s meters away from all the action.

Hotel guests also have access to poolside events, including parties, French nights and other exciting gatherings.

The Equatorial has even come up with non-guest service packages, where those not staying at the hotel can purchase a membership to Equatorial’s Equinox spa and fitness center starting at yearly fees of VND24 million++ per person and VND51.5 million++ for families of four with two children. This includes access to the gym, sauna, Jacuzzi and pool, as well as member discounts for most hotel services.

If a non-guest is content with just the pool, sauna and Jacuzzi, prices are VND19 million++ per year for adults and VND16 million++ for children under 18. A daily fee of VND300,000++ for adults and VND200,000++ for children also gives non-guests full access to the pool.


5 Things to Do With Your Partner at Sanouva Hotel

By: Phuong Tran

We’ve all had type of days while traveling with significant others when you can’t quite get the gumption to leave your cozy bed and explore the greater world outside. Some of our readers recently had one of those days while staying at Sanouva Hotel, located right in the heart of Saigon and have packed a list of things to do for a light-up couple schedule in one of the busiest cities in Asia.

1) Food Street Food, Lots of them, Yummy!

Perfectly located right in the heart of the busiest area of the city, Sanouva Hotel is just a few steps away from heaven of street food venues. Day time or evening, Ben Thanh market is where you can always discover new dish everyday.

2) A Short Stroll Shopping

Ly Tu Trong Street is famous for its variety of fashion stores. And do not miss the best shopping mall of the city: Vincom Center on the same street.

3) Museums Everywhere.

Just a few minutes walking from the hotel and you can visit a number of the best museums in the city, including Ho Chi Minh museum, History museum and War Remnants Museum. It is also worth your time to visit Notre Dame Cathedral, Opera House, Independent Palace and take the chance to watch a show of water puppet at Rong Vang Water Puppet Theatre.

4) A Different Nightlife

Though Ho Chi Minh City is still not a city for round-the-clock entertainment – most places close soon after midnight. But if you are seeking for a bit fun before relaxing for the next busy day, check out Lush and Apolycapse, two of the most crowded nightclubs in town.

5) Pamper yourself at the hotel

Too tired from all the above activities? Take a rest at this lovely hotel and enjoy local/international cuisine at your door with Sanouva restaurant.


5 Things the Best Boutique Hotels in the World Have in Common

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Ever wanted to stay in an extravagant palace literally fit for a king? What about running into a 100-year old tribal woman while exploring sand dunes outside a world-class luxury accommodation in the middle of nowhere? Perhaps enjoy some wild elephant gazing while you lounge in your private jacuzzi amidst an African national park?

Some of the best boutique hotels in the world aim to embark guests on unforgettable experiences, unreplicatable anywhere else. There is, however, a common thread among the cream of the crop in the boutique hotel world.

Pondoro Game Lodge

There are five essential values common in all of this year’s winners of the World Boutique Hotel Awards.


The hotel seamlessly integrates with its environment

This is so vital that it always seems understated. Rather than drone on about the importance of creating a space that compliments an excellent environment and vice versa, here are some great examples:

Set in the Thar Desert, Suryagarh is built with Jaisalmer sandstone, situated in the middle of nowhere, with stretching dunes and arid land creating a strangely beautiful backdrop. 

Suryagarh

Embodying Paris’s inimitable combination of class, history, architecture, cuisine and art, the Grand Hotel is located in the middle of the city’s biggest attractions, including the Louvre and Opera house. With a story stretching back to the 18th century, it’s no surprise that this hotel naturally takes in the culture and feeling of the historic city surrounding it.

Grand Hotel Du Palais Royal


The service is beyond expectation

This not only means taking guest from the airport and back, or even anticipating needs. The best boutique hotels in the world have staff that are interesting personalities in themselves, making them just as memorable as the hotel itself.

For example, Pondoro Game Lodge in Africa has Robbie, the owner of the resort and your personal ranger, guiding you around the African bush in his jeep. One of the staff in Suryagarh is an expert on the theory of relativity. The owners at Awarta Nusa Dua Luxury Villas & Spa in Bali tend to their garden themselves, including four bonsai trees over a hundred years old, and two merged frangipani trees, meant to symbolize unity.

Owners, managers and service staff at the best boutique hotels in the world are your friends and family. They genuinely care about their property and are glad to relay this appreciation to their guests - they feel like they’re at home, and make you feel the same way.

Pondoro Game Lodge


The hotel is beautiful, inside and out

This seems obvious, and, well… it is. Words don’t help as much as pictures do in this situation. The hotel must be beautiful, architecturally unique, reflective of the environment and the culture, and spotless. Here are some of our favorite examples:

Saffire reflects the natural environment it is built in: The Hazards mountains’ pink granite, the white beaches and sapphire waters, and the grey-green native bush land.

Saffire

The Royal Mansour in Morocco was commissioned by King Hassan the 6th for his most honored guests. The palatial riads all reflect a kingly aesthetic - in fact, over 1,500 artisans were employed to work on the facility.

The Royal Mansour

Venetian luxury is intertwined with a relaxed atmosphere at Ca Maria Adele in Italy, where guests are meant to forget what century they are in.

Ca Maria Adele


The focus is on creating new, unique experiences

A genuinely unforgettable experience goes beyond a comfortable stay and great F&B outlets. The best hotels in the world aim to have their guests fully experiencing the environment in and around the facility.

Besides a rounded experience that includes likeable staff, great food and drinks, a beautiful environment in and out of the hotel, and so on, the key element in creating a unique experience for guests is a series of small touches and moments that make the experience unforgettable.

Some examples include:

Swimming in your private infinity spa pool while watching the sky redden and the sun set across the horizon at Spicers Peak Lodge in Australia.

Spicers Peak Lodge

Reading your favorite novel with a glass of excellent wine by the magnificent grand piano at The Library Hotel in the United States.

The Library Hotel


F&B is on par with the best restaurants in the country

For many, the food and drinks at a hotel make or break the experience. Those who can afford the luxury are more often than not serious foodies with an appreciation for fine cuisine. It’s no surprise that the best hotels in the world also have some of the best dining outlets available in the region, and even the country.

The Royal Mansour in Morocco employs three-Michelin-star chef Yannick Alléno for both of their restaurants. Chefs at the Pondoro Game Lodge in South Africa serve local cuts of ostrich and buffalo steak in generous portions. Awarta Nusa Dua in Bali has some of the best Chinese food in the country.

Awarta Nusa Dua


Wrapping it all up

All these five points are intimately wrapped up and interconnected with one another. Take one out, and you very likely have no chance at achieving a World’s Best title. And while there’s definitely something to be said about the boutique hotels mentioned, this doesn’t stop operators of smaller hotels, or even corporate entities, from learning from this year’s winners and employing the very same elements to make the best experience possible for their guests.


Tet Celebration at New World Saigon Hotel

By: City Pass Guide

Vietnam’s biggest holiday is approaching, marking the arrival of spring and the new lunar year. At this time, the entire country goes into a fervor, visiting family members, eating traditional meals, drinking, giving gifts and practicing ancient traditions. Special Tet foods are cooked, lucky money is given out, and the past year’s troubles are forgotten in hopes of a better and brighter new year.

Taking hold of the spring spirit at the center of Saigon, New World Saigon Hotel joins the festivities, celebrating with stunning decorations and special menus for guests.

Mai Vang and the Kitchen Gods

In a Southern Vietnamese home, an apricot flower tree (Mai Vàng) helps ward off evil spirits in the South, and a pink peach flower tree wards off bad luck in the North (Đào). The bright flowers blossom only once a year around January and early February. The tree marks a new, prosperous beginning, while also being a beautiful set piece. One central element on display in New World Saigon Hotel’s lobby this Tet is the apricot flower tree.

Colors are very important elements in Vietnamese culture. Red (including the pink peach flowers) and Gold (the yellow apricot flowers) are lucky colors in Asian culture. The trees ward off evil spirits during the absence of the Kitchen Gods (Táo Quân) who leave the family to visit the palace of the Jade Emperor, where they will report back what the humans have been up to in the past year. They travel on the backs of giant carp to heaven and back, making the fish another important symbol.

The Spirit of Spring

Bursting with flowers, beautiful decorations, tradition - Tet is in a word, vibrant. To showcase this vibrancy to New World Saigon Hotel’s guests, Citypassguide.com has for the third time collaborated with the hallmark hotel to produce a stunning representation capturing the modernity and tradition of Tet in Vietnam.

Guests will be arriving at New World Saigon Hotel during Tet to find a mosaic of lively, colorful paintings and photographs displayed over wall-to-ceiling windows, as well as areas of Parkview Restaurant. The result is a showcase of what Tet is now and what it was in the past, using gorgeous imagery and the colors of Tet to surround guests in the Vietnamese Lunar New Year spirit.

Old Acquaintances

Citypassguide.com and New World Saigon Hotel have collaborated together twice in the past, installing beautiful displays to mark special times of the year. For New World Saigon Hotel’s 20th anniversary in 2015, Citypassguide.com collected its most stunning portraits, landscape photography and paintings of Vietnam and its people, as well as art from contributing artists.

Last Christmas, Citypassguide.com took its role a step further, conceptualizing a tree composed entirely of conical hats (nón lá). The nón lá is the unofficial symbol of Vietnam, used to shade the hardworking men and women who toil in the rice fields and farms of the countryside. A hardworking face, a sweet smile and a gentle glimmer in the eyes - the spirit of the people was captured with carefully selected professional black and white photography and allegorical set pieces.

Parkview’s windows were covered in transparent images of Vietnamese scenery and life, creating an immersive and cultural experience for guests entering the lobby and restaurant.

Tet Festivities at New World Saigon Hotel

Celebrate Tet at New World Saigon Hotel this year.The hotel will be serving lunches and dinners in line with the traditions of the lunar new year. See their featured promotions below:

From 7 to 11 February 2016, Parkview is serving up fabulous lunch and dinner buffets that boast the best of traditional Vietnamese Tet dishes as well as seafood specialties to satiate the biggest appetites. Lunch buffet is priced at VND680,000 per person and dinner buffet priced at VND980,000 per person.

Meanwhile Dynasty kicks off the first day of Tet (8 February) with a lion dance and an exquisite Tet Brunch Buffet priced at VND1,088,000 per person, including house wine, beer, soft drinks, and tea, (Club Epicure priced at VND888,000 per person). Tet Dim Sum Buffet is priced at VND450,000 per person from 9 to 21 February; and the Tet Holiday Reunion set menu is priced from VND6,800,000 for a table of 10 people including a bottle of house wine, available from 1 to 21 February.

Nian Gao, or New Year Cake, has a history of at least a thousand years. In Chinese, the pronunciation of word “Nian Gao” means “year high” and implies prosperity year after year – making Nian Gao a popular gift item during the New Year period.

Nian Gao at Saigon Bakery:
– Daily, 1 to 22 February 2016, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
– Medium box: VND 288,000*
– Large box: VND 588,000*

*Prices exclude 6% service charge and 10% VAT.


5 Ways to Increase your Hotel’s Revenue Per Room

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Revenue Per Available Room, or RevPar for short, is a crucial metric for any hotel. It’s a simple formula...

RevPar = total rooms revenue / total rooms available

… but the number you get is a good indicator of how well you are utilizing the value of your rooms. Let’s add to this another very important term: RevPor, which is money spent per occupied room. This is necessary when tracking how much people are spending on amenities - are they raiding their minibar and indulging in room service? RevPor is a useful indicator, especially in Vietnam where there are many niche hotels who need to watch their numbers closer than most mass market hotels.

Photo by: Intercontinental Asiana Saigon

If you’re paying close attention to your hotel’s booking patterns, RevPar and RevPor can determine what move you should make next to maximize revenue with your rooms. There is no concrete RevPar or RevPor that you can really aim for year round - the bigger the better of course, but this really depends on room demand during the season and other external factors.

Citypassguide.com consulted several industry professionals to finalize a list of five great methods to maximize both RevPar and RevPor. Get the most from your rooms this season:

1. Ramp up room benefits

Executive Lounge – Photo by: Hilton Hanoi Opera

Perception is reality, and if people perceive that a room is worth more than what you’re charging then it becomes an easier buying choice. This can done by adding exclusive benefits to certain rooms. For example, get the Executive Standard and get access to a private lounge with free refreshments and free flow drinks during fixed hours; free late checkouts; complimentary in-room breakfast; discounts on services like the spa or at certain F&B venues; or anything else that you can offer. While none of these are large investments, the person perceives these benefits as special treatment and values the room more than something similar but without the benefits. Ramping up room benefits is an excellent way to increase your RevPar.

2. Jacuzzi bonus

Jacuzzi – Photo by: Six Senses Con Dao

How many movies and shows have you seen where the characters enter a hotel room they can’t afford and get excited over the jacuzzi in the bathroom? No matter how overhyped, jacuzzis are what people think of when they imagine a luxury suite, a special treat they can only afford during special occasions. A jacuzzi room can be a lot more appealing to travellers than a “shower” room. Especially during colder or rainy months. This simple addition can change a regular room to a room with a taste of luxury.

3. Give them options - but limit their choices

Room with Welcom Fruit – Photo by: Eastin Grand Hotel

People like options, but they also like being told what to get. Using other items mentioned on this list (jacuzzi rooms and rooms with added benefits, for example) you can create more room options for guests. The next step would be to direct these rooms at certain demographics - if the Standard Room is now the Executive Standard, and couples have been flooding into the Standard Room this season, paint the Executive Standard as a honeymooner favorite, or something similar. This way, you get the added benefit of giving more budget options for travellers while promoting your “enhanced” rooms.

4. Stop sucking up to OTAs

Yes, there are plenty of travelers that head over to Agoda or TripAvisor or Booking.com without even looking at a hotel’s website. This can lead fearful managers to abuse their reliance on OTAs and neglect the fact that in the long-run, a balance between OTAs and direct bookings via website and phone is more profitable. This is because people on OTAs are looking for the cheapest option - meaning they are less likely to get room service, buy a bottle of wine, or even dine in the hotel. Many rooms on Agoda don’t even include breakfast - guests will be going to town to eat, not opting to laundry their clothes in the hotel, and avoiding the minibar like the plague. This is a big hit to RevPor.

5. Play with the length of stay

Photo by: Hotel Equatorial

If people are staying for a minimum of five to seven days in your hotel, give ‘em extra. Not only are they more likely to increase your RevPor by getting in-room dining and scouring your F&B outlets and spa facilities, but you will decrease maintenance costs as linens and disposable toiletries will have to be changed less. In-room breakfast, turndown amenities, better bathroom soaps and shampoos, gift baskets, welcome fruits and chocolates - these small investments make longer stays more attractive. And longer stays guarantee filled rooms, reduce costs and up both RevPar and RevPor. What’s not to like?

IS THERE A STORY OR TIP

YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US?

GET IN TOUCH