Friday, November 13, 2009
Hoedown at the Hyatt: Last Tango in Saigon
All of Gaul may be divided into three parts, but hoteliers will tell you that Viet Nam is divided into three great hotels: The Metropole in Hanoi, The Park Hyatt in Saigon and then that fancy resort place-- I swear I will look up its name for you-- outside of Hoi-An. Oh yes, the Nam Hai.
We came to Saigon to try the new InterContinental Asiana Hotel which we did and very much enjoyed. But for our last night in Nam, no place else would do except the drop dead contempo but swank Park Hyatt Hotel located in the heart of downtown across the street from Opera Square.
Before I actually tell you what we did and saw (and bought) on our last day and night, I want to explain how it is that our trip worked out the way it did with three nights on arrival in Saigon and then three nights in Hanoi and one final night in Saigon. There's a lesson to be had, I'm not just foaming at the mouth (or keyboard).
This trip began as a mileage run so that Sarah and I could keep our Untied Airlines Premium status, we had 19,000 miles and needed 25,000 before the end of the year. A promotional deal offered roundtrip airfare from SFO (San Francisco) to Saigon for $628 per person, so we grabbed it, knowing it was also time to get in some final checks before Born to Shop Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing & Viet Nam is printed (contact amazon.com for the January publication) and that we could work out the program for our next InterConti Born to Shop & Spa tour (March 2010, see www.suzygershman.com for details), well, it took about three seconds to click on 'buy these tickets now'.
Looking at a map makes it seem that Phnom Penh is just a sneeze from Saigon; research said there was luxury bus service as well as an InterContinental Hotel. What more could a traveling woman want? We also decided to take the boat to Angor Wat and thought this would be a fabulous adventure for our tour group.
To make a long story short, life is too short for anyone to do that trip (7 hours bus; 7 hours boat) and so we ended up booking into Hanoi for more Born to Shop research and a return to one of our favorite hotels in the world, The Metropole. This turned out to be a brilliant idea since there were many changes needed in the manuscript and research is my middle name.
But let me get to the point (enfin). As it happens, Saigon is closer to Bangkok and many other cities than Hanoi. In fact, Hanoi is rather far away-- it's a very long country. Some of us even remember there are distinct north and south parts, but that's another war. The subject is airfare war. Seems that Air Asia and Viet Nam Airlines are having one of those battles and offering really inexpensive fares everywhere. The only thing is, Air Asia can only be booked online and you have to know to go to their site, www.airasia.com.
When I priced Saigon (SGN) to BKK on the usual airfare sites, I got $525 USD which was not acceptable. (Bus fare + boat fare to PP and Angor Wat is $40 USD per person) Had I known to go to the Air Asia site, we could have been in BKK for fifty bucks each way. Not that Hanoi wasn't fabulous. But that's just a little shopper's tip for you. Air Asia serves Saigon and Hanoi with a variety of flights. Promotional flights to launch the new gates in Phuket (HKT) cost $40 each way from Saigon (and back).
Not to be outdone, Vietnam Airlines has offers called 'Big Deal' that include r/t airfare plus two nights hotel as well as airport transfers. From Saigon you can go to BKK, KL, HKG, Beijing, Singapore, Siem Reap (Angor Wat) and other fine destinations. These rates are valid until the end of this year, 2009;www.vietnamairlines.com.
And yes, I have flown Air Asia and I have written about it. This is the Southwest of Asia and is very much worth knowing about.
So there we were in Hanoi when we get word that our noon day flight to Saigon has been changed and we will not arrive at the Park Hyatt much before 4PM and I have a 7PM public appearance. We do not like this at all and change our flight, so we arrive in Saigon at 9AM (see previous blog) and can fully enjoy our last tango in town...and the fewer than 24 hours we will be at the Park Hyatt Saigon.
One of the reasons we needed to get to town was to pick up our clothes from the tailors we had tested. We tried two different tailors: one suggested by a woman we were dumb enough to trust and one suggested by our spiritual leader Hong E.
Tailor #1 is in the heart of downtown and I will only mention their name so that you can avoid them: T&V. They are across from the Sheraton Hotel near Opera Square; to say the things they made were a total disappointment is being polite.
My Vera Wang (from Kohl's) cami came out looking like a 1950's maternity top-- and I spent $19.99 per yard on the silk in New York! Although I brought the trim with me, and included it in the bundle with my silk, the trim was not added on as promised. I was given a $2 refund for that error.
The Eileen Fisher top that was copied at Tailor #2, Lan Vy, and was a total triumph. The original was over $200; this venture turned out to be so successful that the cost has been successfully amortized. We also bought the silk in Saigon, so the cost was $5 per two meter swath. Lan Vy is your basic hole in the wall tailor shop not far from the Ben Thanh Market, 217 Le Thanh Ton, District 1; [tel]0902-843-779. Needless to say, they don't speak English. But who cares???
Sarah had two shirts (identical, different fabric) copied from a Ralph Lauren original that were well done, but not a 100% triumph and we each had a man's shirt made from a sample brought from Tom Lahey's closet.
Of the two man's shirts, one was perfect and the other had ink marks all over it that will surely come out in the laundry, but are annoying to see. And I will have to use the professional laundry, not the Westinghouse in the garage. Cost per man's shirt, fabric plus labor was $35 USD. The Eileen Fisher wannabe's were $5 each in fabric and $12 each for the tailoring. Sarah's blouses were $20 each for the fabric and $15 each to make.
About two doors away from the tailor shop (#2) is another shop, let's call it #3, a tailor who makes men's clothing and who sells only shirtings and suit fabrics: Quang Minh Chau, 223 Le Thanh Ton; firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a great source for fabric and the linen selection alone is worth the price of the air tix to Nam.
Before our day was finished, we stopped back at all our favorite stores and went to what's called The Tax Free, a building called Tax Free Something or Another, right there also at Opera Square.
This seems like a very boring duty free store on the ground level and you may be discouraged from spending time here based on your first impression. This impression is wrong. In the back of the street level portion there are DVD's to be had-- less than $1 per movie. Upstairs, there's three levels of the same stuff you find at Ben Thranh Market. But here's the deal-- the Tax Free is clean, air conditioned and only a few cents more expensive than the market.
We ate all our meals at the Park Hyatt ( a must do meal spot) in their open Italian kitchen, had no time for swim or spa as we had to lay out our treasures on the bed and admire them (pictured). We then quickly dashed out to the InterConti for a press event. We'd have danced all night, except we had to be at the airport at 4AM the next day to fly home.