An Lam Saigon River
The one thing I kept coming back to in my room at An Lam Saigon River was that in place of the usual Lipton and Nestlé offerings by the water boiler, there was a wooden box with six varieties of coffees and five types of teas. The coffee packets had an accompanying coffee machine, and the teas were partnered with a beautiful ceramic set.
The coffee was nothing too upmarket (it was still leagues above the instant coffee sparsely distributed in 5-star city hotels), and the fresh tea leaves an uncommon commodity. But this wasn't the point.
The point was that An Lam understood what guests wanted. The little details that other hoteliers always seemed to turn a blind eye to were An Lam’s gunpowder. Whereas some establishments reserved policy welcome fruit for VIP patrons or suite dwellers, An Lam’s fruit bowl was available to all guests, the fruits fresh and succulent. Like most aspects of the resort, it wasn’t an afterthought but part of the integral experience. This, of course, comes with a hefty price tag – but worth it for a few nights.
Granted, I’m contrasting big-city chains and a boutique jungle haven 20 minutes by boat from Saigon. Nevertheless, An Lam understands customer needs.
Rooms & Amenities
Nineteen rooms span the small area of lush trees and dense foliage that sit quietly beside the Saigon River, where verdant water hyacinth float by like silent islands. This is no environment for instant coffee packets.
All quips about standard hotel amenities aside, it is commendable how many 5-star establishments in the city maintain consistency for hundreds of guests at a time. Through a bureaucratic process, efficiency is maximized and errors minimized.
There’s a staff structure at An Lam, but it’s not as intense as those back in the city. All staff gets a say, and resort-wide decisions are often made on the spot. It’s this level of transparency that allows the hotel to mold each guest’s time at An Lam into an inimitable experience. And it all starts with the room.
Once the speedboat arrives at the dock and the smiling service staff hand you your welcome drink, you’re led to your room, the heart of An Lam.
Besides some broad distinctions such as suites, pool suites and villas, room hierarchy lives by a thin thread here. Unless you specifically want a pool or a spot right up by the river, anything will do. During my time at An Lam, I toured a few rooms and easily found the less expensive ones just as suitable to my preferences as the cream of the crop river villas.
You can thank the polymathic owner – who from time to time enjoys dabbling in the 40 year old whiskey from the resort’s Luc Binh Restaurant – for the creative room design. The man designed each of the 19 rooms himself. He’s not an architect, engineer or interior decorator. But he knows what makes a hotel room a home. He even designed the TV-mount swivel boards that let you watch your Smart TV from any angle.
How would I describe a room at An Lam? It’s one of the most practical, sleek and seductive rooms I’ve seen in Vietnam. The owner took the best aspects of beachside super resorts, removed any standardization, smirked at any mention of compromise, and let his imagination dictate the balance between practicality and luxury.
Oriental curlicued partitions mesh with pine-forest cabin aesthetics like wooden floors, walls and ceilings, and quixotic elements such as the canopied bed, standalone tub and rain shower make for a dreamy scene, especially with the jungle flora peacefully swaying outside.
The four personal butlers assigned to the 19 villas all speak respectable English, as do management. You won’t have much problems being understood.
In such a small resort, you expect service staff to be more expedient, more attentive and more friendly. They are. The service is prompt, flexible and accommodating. At one point, my contacts were getting dry and I asked my butler if anyone on the resort had eye drops, since mine had run out. He briskly brought over three small bottles from a colleague.
The open air, all-wood Luc Binh Restaurant and Bar sits by the riverside. A choice selection of Vietnamese and Western fare is available. Menu choices have been deftly prepared by celebrity chef David Thai, who has consulted the An Lam team on technique and preparation this year.
You’ll mostly be dining al fresco, although a private room upstairs is available upon request.
The food is cooked with some of the highest quality European gas cookers and equipment available in the country, and all vegetables and herbs are sourced from Dalat in the Central Highlands. Do let the cooking team know if you have allergies or vegetarian requests – they will accommodate appropriately.
You can order breakfast, lunch or dinner at any time, have it in the al fresco environment or in your room. An Lam is careful to ensure that you are never limited in your options.
Do try the hot bakery rolls or buttery croissants – they’re fresh and quite addictive. French toast and a big bowl of appetizing pho are also available. Breakfast is served from 6:30 a.m. and is inclusive in the room rate. You can also have your breakfast in your room.
A medley of well prepared a la carte Vietnamese and Western dishes are available for lunch, including soups, salads, spring rolls, burgers, pizza and pasta. The Green Mango Salad is highly recommended. You are free to eat your lunch poolside, which is quite an indulgent experience.
Dinner is served a la carte until 10:30 p.m. The master chef prepares an assortment of Vietnamese and Western dishes that can be pared with a drink from the comprehensive wine list and cocktail menu. Save room for the desert – the Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Pistachio, or the Lemon Sorbet are superb finishers.
There’s a single pool at An Lam. It’s a great reading spot and a nice place to lounge around even if you have a pool suite. Luc Binh Restaurant is right by the river: the passing boats and water hyacinths are meditative sights while you’re eating or sipping coffee.
An Lam is more of an extension of its garden than the other way around. There isn’t much maintenance required – the flora remains from the era when the owner was a permanent resident here, before the resort came about several years ago.
The spa is scheduled to receive products and training from Thann later this year, and the room coordinator hasn’t seen many guests working the compact gym yet (which is Smart TV equipped), but these are hardly the focal points of An Lam.
There’s also a Jacques Blanchard gift shop on premises, with eccentric knick-knacks and household items.
What People Say
Over 300 reviews average a 4.5 bubble rating on TripAdvisor. Near unanimous praise is given to the rooms, atmosphere, friendly staff and great food. Some comments mention the high price of the resort but affirm that it’s well worth it. Some even remark An Lam is one of the best hotels they’ve ever been at.