Hotel Review: The Caravelle Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

The Caravelle in Ho Chi Minh City has a long history. A base for many international reporters during the Vietnam War, it has a lot of history within its walls. It’s full of charm and exudes a wonderful, sedate, opulence as soon as you enter the lobby, which itself is beautifully presented in its compact form, as you can see from the image below.

We arrived in the early evening and had checked in and were on our way to our room within a few minutes. The check in was efficient and to the point, but lacked any real personal touch. We had booked interconnecting rooms: one double and one twin. The rooms were quite small and faced out over the pool area, but they were functional and served our purposes. I suppose for the rate of €140 per night per room including breakfast, this was reasonable enough, but we had been staying in some really amazing places before we arrived here, so perhaps my expectations were a little too high.

That said, our overall experience in the hotel was excellent. The staff were in general very helpful with directions and guidance. In particular, the staff at the main restaurant went out of their way to be helpful during breakfast. Nothing was too much trouble and they were very attentive. The breakfast offering itself was outstanding. There was no shortage of anything! There was plenty of sushi and Japanese offerings, some excellent pho, the typical European pastries you might expect, cereals, and a generous selection of American style cooked dishes which changed daily, along with omelettes made to order. All in all, wonderful!

One place that is well worth a visit here is the Saigon Saigon rooftop bar on the tenth floor. We frequented here most evenings during our short stay and were happy to take advantage of the half price cocktail hour! It’s a great location and has a very pleasant, although small, balcony area, with great views around the city. We spent time here rather than in the Executive Lounge when we had drinks in the hotel. The Lounge, even with some free drinks in the evening, was pretty stuffy and lacked atmosphere. It was a world away from the fun in Saigon Saigon.

A friend of mine was staying in an Executive Room here, and although the rooms are a little bigger, I really wouldn’t pay the extra for an executive room. Better views and a bit more space, but the lounge is so lacklustre it’s really not worth it.

I would easily stay in this hotel again. It’s in a central and convenient location with plenty of restaurants close by offering a variety of different eating options. A great choice in Ho Chi Minh City!


Hotel Review: Angsana Lang Co, Central Vietnam

After a busy few days in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city, there’s no better place to relax and chill out for a while than the Angsana Lang Co, near Da Nang. It’s a sister hotel to the Banyan Tree, but to be honest, I prefer it to the Banyan Tree: it’s more sociable, relaxed, and a little cheaper, which is nice.

The service here is excellent. The Angsana is about one hour’s drive from the airport in Da Nang but the hotel provides a free shuttle service. We landed a little late and were promptly met and helped with our bags to the bus. Cool towels and fresh water followed. A delight after the hassle of travelling down from Hanoi.

The hotel itself is a little out of the way, but its location is beautiful. We opted for the two bedroom beach-side villa with private pool. It was fantastic. Beautifully decorated in modern and local styles with a huge living and dining space, a bedroom with two single beds for the kids with ensuite bathroom, and a huge bedroom with massive ensuite for the grown ups! We loved it! Oh, and the bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced!

I don’t normally post photos of bathrooms, but these deserve special recognition! Bath in the foreground, sinks in the back, and shower area on the right. Stunning!

At the private pool area, there was plenty of space, a table and chairs, and two comfy sun loungers. You could walk directly out onto the beach from here, where there was another small cabana-style sun lounger specifically for our villa.

Although this is a relatively large hotel, it never seemed too busy and crowded, mind you, at breakfast it could get a bit hectic. The villas are well spaced out so it seems very private. The communal pool area is excellent. There’s plenty of space to relax and splash about in, and it was a pleasant contrast to enjoy some quiet private time in our own small pool and complement that with more active time in the communal pool. I’ve included just a small slice of the look and feel of the central area in the picture below: this is the view from the bottom of the steps at the back of the hotel looking out towards the gardens. It’s really beautiful.

You won’t be short of choice for places to dine here. There are excellent, more casual style places on the complex, and then some more upmarket choices, such as the Japanese, and notably the Thai restaurant up at the Banyan Tree, which is a must if you are here–it is simply incredible! My mouth is watering just as I post this picture from our exquisite dinner there…

Speaking of food, this hotel had one of the most extensive breakfast buffets that we came across when in Vietnam. There was a mix of everything, from local Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, and European, so it was impossible to go hungry. The sparkling wine available at breakfast was a nice touch as well, especially if served up with some of the wonderful fruit juices.

There was another thing I really liked about staying here. They had free bikes that you could take out for as long as you liked to ride around the area. Now there is quite a hump in the road just outside the hotel complex, but if you’re even only a little bit fit, it should be no problem on the heavily geared mountain bikes they provided. I went out every day. I did this for two reasons. First, it was pleasant to get out and cycle for an hour or so in the early morning before it got too hot for some exercise. Second, and this wouldn’t be too well known, but there is a little village close by that is worth visiting. There are some beach shacks where it’s a pleasure to get a wonderful and cheap lunch and, just as important, there are plenty of small stores in the village that sell beer. I generally picked up 6 cans of the local brew for about the equivalent of $6 or so. This is about one quarter of the price of the minbar beers. Now, I’m not totally cheap, but it was nice to support the small local traders and save some money at the same time!

This was probably the best and most enjoyable hotel we stayed in on our Vietnamese trip. And they made a special effort on my birthday, with a cake and lovely turn down service! Not the cheapest ever hotel we’ve stayed in, but in value for money terms, it’s possibly the best! Give it a try: you’ll love it!

Hotel Review: La Siesta Trendy, Hanoi

If you are looking for a hotel right smack in the middle of Hanoi and close to the action, La Siesta Trendy is the place for you!

There are of course many hotels in Hanoi. Some big, some small, but I think it would be hard to get the kind of balance that this place achieves. It is a small, boutique hotel, but its service quality is really outstanding! The lobby area and the mezzanine area is shown below.

When we arrived, relatively late in the evening, we were treated like royalty, but not in an uncomfortable or stunted formal way. It was classy, effective, and friendly. A refreshing drink in the lobby, a wipe down with a hot towel, a few registration details and off to our room we went.

There are no rooms in this hotel that accommodate four people so we booked adjoining rooms, a double for us and a two single beds for our kids next door. The rooms were small but not basic! They had everything that you might need: a great bed, plenty of storage space, a desk, mini-bar setup, bottled water replaced daily, and a toilet/shower area that was well finished. In fact, all of the finishing and furnishing in the hotel was to a high standard. Some pics of the rooms below…

Now, or thing I would mention about the rooms is that it is very easy to book a room that has no natural light. This may or may not be a problem for you. The room shown above has a ‘real’ window with the real world outside it, but there is not much of a view to speak of for any of the rooms really. One of the other rooms had no windows, but if you are planning to use the room to just bed down for the night and sleep, it’s probably OK. The price difference was minimal anyhow, about $50 per night or thereabouts… it’s great value!

Although the rooms are great, the breakfast area and indeed the food there is really outstanding! They had a great selection of fruits, salads, European, and oriental dishes, as well as egg dishes cooked to order. The staff were very friendly and quite frankly couldn’t have done more for us. The actual breakfast area is upstairs and there are some nice, if realistic, views out over the city.

While you might want to start your day at the top of the hotel at breakfast, there’s a downstairs bar area in which you can finish it with a cocktail or two. It’s a classy and quiet little retreat after a busy day in the city. The drinks are a little more expensive here than in many other establishments in the area, but by Western standards they are very reasonable. The staff are super friendly here too!

Of all the places we stayed while in Vietnam, this was the most down to earth, lowest cost, and I think, the one I enjoyed the most. Visiting Hanoi? Stay here!!

Hotel Review: The Fairmont, Singapore

Having stayed at The Fairmont before, it was a safe bet for me to stay in this hotel a second time when passing through Singapore for just a few days. The Fairmont has a lot going for it. It is centrally located, it’s connected to the City Hall MRT station on the East-West line which is a direct service from Changi airport, and it offers a competitive rate.

It is also one of the few hotels in Singapore that offer rooms with two double beds: a gem if you are traveling with family and don’t want to book two rooms.

We arrived into Changi at 8.00pm and took the MRT into the city centre. Two years ago the MRT ticket machines would only take cash but they now accept credit cards so this can make things simpler if you arrive without Singapore dollars. It’s about 40 mins on the MRT from Changi, probably about the same duration as a much more expensive cab ride. Arriving in City Hall station take the escalator up to the shopping zone and follow the signs for The Fairmont.

We arrived a little tired and the staff were quick to notice and offer some cool water. Check in was quick and we were offered the chance to upgrade our room to a large penthouse suite for a modest amount. We declined. (More on this later!) Although many of the rooms seem to now be renovated there may still be some non-refurbished rooms around, so make sure you ask for what you want. We had booked an executive room in advance. The price uplift was modest for the access to the lounge and the free breakfast for for people so it seemed like a good deal at the time.
As the helpful agent handed over our keys, she let us know that she had upgraded us to a suite in any event, free of charge. That was a nice touch. I am an Accor Platinum member and although the Fairmont group was recently acquired by Accor, there is no integration of their loyalty schemes so my high status officially counted for nothing!
Now to the room. This wasn’t a contemporarily decorated room, in fact it seems to have been one of the non-refurbished rooms, but what it lacked in modernity it made up for in space and comfort, as you can see from the pictures below. 

The views were excellent too and the complimentary  water and fruit were welcome alternative snacks for a late night bite, rather than dinner anywhere. (These were updated daily.) Now, I should point out that there was a welcome note in the room for me with my name on it: so paid upgrade or not, we were always likely to get this room!
Although we could have breakfast in the Lounge, on the first morning we went poolside for breakfast. 

This was probably the best location for breakfast. It wasn’t too busy and there was a selection that was on par with the main restaurant. We went there for breakfast the next morning and it was chaotic: slightly greater choice, but the wait for a table and crowds weren’t worth it.
One benefit of the Executive room is the access to the Lounge. We only had one evening when we arrived early enough to visit it. It’s a pleasant enough space. A little formal and stuffy though. There was a pleasing selection of drinks: beers, wines, and a few spirits, although the Moët et Chandon was the most popular tipple. This is not a ‘pour-your-own’ environment: the staff were very attentive though and I don’t think my glass was ever empty. The canapés were quite good too. I think I tried everything to make sure they were fit for purpose!

So I guess I could summarise this hotel as follows: excellent property, great location, outstanding staff and customer service, great value. I don’t know what more anyone could ask for!

Hotel Review: Hotel am Steinplatz, Berlin

The Steinplatz, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection is simply a wonderful boutique hotel. Like the Marriott Frankfurt which I reviewed here, I stayed here on a Visa pre-paid rate which offered free breakfast. This is not a particularly cheap hotel, but it is a high quality establishment, small, and discreet. I loved it. Its individual, slightly funky, Gaudi-esque  entrance gives you a clue about what to expect, the lobby area is compact and trendy enough to let you know you are in for a treat.

At checkin my Marriott Gold status was noted, but that was about it. There was no upgrade offered nor amenity provided. I was told that I would have been offered free breakfast for myself and a guest, but since that was included in my rate it was a rather moot point. There is no lounge here, so no access there, but even though I had expected a drinks coupon or two for the bar, none of this was forthcoming.

From there it all got better though. The room, though small, was very classy.

There was very much a modern luxury elegance to the hotel: the rooms finished to the highest standard. We stayed here on a B&B rate and if you have the opportunity I would suggest you do too. The breakfast area was lovely: you could sit indoors or in a summer garden area, as shown. The menu choices were excellent. A supreme buffet of typical cold cuts and continental selections and some hot foods to order: sausages, bacon, eggs, etc. You can also order one item off the menu: the eggs with Hollandaise sauces and spinach is not to be missed!

Even the corridors in this hotel had a certain charm about them. 

Not only are they very calming, but the framed pictures on the walls were, for the most part, framed video screens, and they had some really cool, and somewhat ghostly, old German imagery.

​ Overall, this is a great and very classy hotel in the Charlottenberg area of Berlin. It’s convenient to and a short walk from the S-Bahn Zoologischer Garten stop and there are several reasonably priced and relaxed eateries and bars close by. At about €172 per night including breakfast for two, I felt it to be great value for the quality of the establishment.

Hotel Review: Frankfurt Marriott Hotel

The Frankfurt Marriott on Hamburger Allee is huge but it’s also a bit of a gem. It’s popular with airline crews and multi-national travellers and of course many of those redeeming frequent traveller points. If you are looking for a small, intimate getaway this is not for you!

I stayed here on a pre-paid rate. Pay with Visa and get free breakfast. For around €100 for the room and two people this was a pretty good deal. With Marriott Gold status I was given access to the Executive Lounge upon checking in, but there was no room upgrade or other amenities offered, which was a little disappointing. I wasn’t too bothered though, the room was excellent and I got good use of the Lounge.

The room seemed recently refurbished and well presented. The bed was extremely comfortable. I was surprised that there was no free in-room water offered, but the lounge access made up for this slight inconvenience. However, the in-room tea selection was one of the best I’ve ever encountered: quite a selection!

The Executive Lounge was open all day and there were snacks, fresh fruit, and a fine selection of hot and cold drinks. The evening service kicked off from 5.30pm and ran on until 11.00pm with a good selection of wines and beers available. There was also a generous hors d’oeuvres selection: plentiful supplies of meats, salads, breads, and a hot dish. The cakes were outstanding too!

There was a breakfast service in the Lounge but we ate in the main restaurant: Brasserie Ici. This was a bit mad with a lot of food offerings, a lot of people, and not so much space!

The spread was impressive though and so was the price: €30 each if you chose the full buffet, so having it included in our rate was a good bonus.

Immediately outside the hotel was a tram stop with direct service to the main station just a few stops away, so from a transport perspective this Marriott was amazingly easy to get to, even from the airport.

Overall, I liked this hotel very much. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Like I said, the only slight drawback is its size, making it very busy and causing rather long waits for the elevators. However, if you can get a good deal and are patient, this place is a winner.

Hotel Review: Hilton Dublin Kilmainham

The Hilton Kilmainham is a little bit out of the city, over towards the west and in a quiet area. It’s convenient to Heuston Station though, if you are coming or going by train, being just a 15 minute or so walk away.

It’s a modern construction with a small lobby area. When I arrived to check in, it wasn’t busy and the staff quickly got my details and I had my room key within about three minutes.

As a Hilton Honors Diamond member I was thanked for my loyalty, but that was about it: no room upgrade, no lounge access (there isn’t one at this hotel), and no fancy amenities or gifts in the room. I did get two small bottles of water, a voucher for a single drink in the bar, and a small chocolate gift. The days of half bottles of wine and fruit basket are well gone from this hotel.

The room was small and basic, but clean and modern, and although I wasn’t upgraded to the next category, it served its purpose, although this hotel really does need to work on its Hilton Honors Diamond member recognition. The standard toiletries were on offer, but only one of each—is money that tight? I should also not that while the bed was comfortable the room was far too warm and the air conditioning didn’t work. The staff seemed nonplussed when I mentioned this at checkout the next morning.

I had a pint in the bar area later that night. The service was quick and friendly and the area was comfortable and relaxing. To be honest there isn’t a lot going on in the area so it was not surprising to see many business types having lonely dinners by themselves in the bar.

Because it’s in a quiet area, there was a calmness and serenity in the hotel that I really enjoyed. This is probably because it’s mostly a few travellers and business people staying at the hotel rather than fully fledged tourists and families. Nevertheless, I would consider staying here if I was visiting the city for pleasure: it’s convenient to bus stop that gets you into the city center within 15 minutes and the rooms rates are very good value for Dublin. Another plus is the excellent leisure facility at the hotel: a pleasant pool area, steam rooms, and sauna, all in tiptop condition. Oh, and I should mention that the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Kilmainham Gaol Museum are a stone’s throw away.

Leaving early the next morning I scarcely had time for breakfast, but the staff did let me into the dining room a few minutes early and I really enjoyed the excellent selection and quality of food that they had on offer. The breakfast area was nicely furnished and very roomy. All in all, this was a pleasant enough hotel offering great value, even if a little of the beaten track.