Step through the doors of this hotel with a difference in downtown HCMC.
WORDS & PICTURES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Saigon has no shortage of high-rise hotels – many of them as chic as one could possibly want.
In fact, with the likes of Liberty and Silverland proliferating in the downtown area, alongside old favourites – such as the Caravelle, the Continental and company – those looking for a slice of the expected shouldn’t be troubled for choice.
Where does one go, though, for something a little bit more unique? We’re not talking the sort of unique one might find in the backpacker district – rather, the kind of boutique luxury afforded by somewhere slightly smaller and altogether more special.
Well, Alagon d’Antique is just such a place: sister to Alagon (just four doors down and connected at roof-level), this recently opened city-centre bolt hole balances class with character to great effect.
With 10 floors – not all of which were completely finished at the time of writing – this isn’t a small, secret affair, but it’s hardly a skyscraper, either.
Indeed, when one rides the lift – for which there can often be quite a wait – to the 10th floor’s rooftop pool and bar area, the neighbouring AB Tower out-climbs Alagon d’Antique by several stories.
Quality, though, apes quantity – and, whilst it’s not perfect, this white building’s business is most certainly inclined towards the former. Themed somewhere between a classy cruise liner and a 1920s correspondents club, d’Antique’s level of calibre goes beyond the crimson tones, lavish leather and polished panels of the decor.
From impeccably smart staff – in both manner and dress – to the open-air jacuzzi; daily complimentary “hi-tea” (cakes, croissants and coffee) to the basement bar: top to bottom, there’s an inescapable effusion of luxury.
Not the sort of luxury where you’re scared to squeak a sandal on the lobby floor, mind: whilst there’s certainly an air of opulence, Alagon remains the right side of palatial.
What’s more, there’s a warmth in the friendliness of d’Antique, that feels perennially genuine. Ever-attentive door staff and almost-too-enthusiastic waiters are equalled by effortlessly welcoming receptionists and meticulously polite maintenance staff, all of whom are happy to share a smile.
Sure, the 9am DIY above our abode was a little unfortunate, but such is the cost of staying so soon after launch – as was the confusion over coupons (for breakfast, tea and spa treatments): these were, in a fair light, merely niggles in a service offering that is overwhelmingly, consistently pleasing.
Stepping into a deluxe room, one is greeted by light, wooden surfaces painted an immaculate cream, whilst a single vintage print advertises an age-old cruise line to Indochine. There’s a desk, a fridge and a spacious cupboard, all stylishly wrapped in that same subtle wood, to great effect.
Our bathroom was similarly appealing: fashionably patterned tiles adorn the far wall, whilst a large mirror creates the feeling of a space much bigger. Admittedly, the lack of a shower panel for the bath-mounted head did require greater accuracy than MT possesses to avoid a soggy floor – but that’s something easily, and hopefully to be, fixed.
As for the bed, it was a dream to doze in, replete with mattress topper and enough cushions to carry a king. In fact, the room as a whole – ours was in the “window” category; some aren’t – was a refreshing, relaxing place to recline and rest after a day’s traipsing around the city just outside.
For those in need of something more than just a sweet place to sleep, Alagon d’Antique also carries – quite literally: it’s on the roof – a gym, spa, sauna and jacuzzi complex, which it shares with its sister hotel. These are all well-maintained, well-equipped and well-attended.
In fact, it’s a little too easy to take the weight off after a gym session, sipping a slightly pricey banana smoothie whilst overlooking the world outside from one of four vantage points on floor 10. Recline at the very top, a cool breeze blowing in over the surrounding buildings, and you might just refuse to go back down.
For those not fond of heights, there’s always the basement bar. Opened the day we arrived, this is a brass-and-bricks urban retreat where drinks aren’t the cheapest but the ambience is all about the night ahead.
That is, of course, until the live band strikes up: the acoustic coordinator was still musing on whether a drum kit is simply too much noise for the relatively small space. The answer? Yes.
All the same, whilst it was quiet for our visit, it’s no stretch to imagine Saigon’s discerning workers and stylish visitors filling the bar with a below-ground buzz. This is cocktails and beer in fixed-price fashion: there are no buckets or bargains to be seen, as the smart-shirted staff serve with smiles (and a little confusion, courtesy of a newly learnt cocktail).
Back in the quietly chic reception, where golden bell trolleys sit adjacent to the leather-fronted bar, there’s a real sense that Alagon d’Antique is home to staff who care about service, where a good impression is intended to flourish throughout one’s stay, and where extra touches – such as late check-outs and left luggage – are no matter.
This carries over into the restaurant – styled to match the up-market mood – where the breakfast buffet is meticulously managed yet warmly welcoming. Unlike many a Southeast Asian hotel, the number of staff is generally appropriate here for the number of diners, avoiding the awkwardness of hovering and shuffling so prevalent elsewhere.
Once you’ve consumed a croissant too many, paddled in the pool (with its propensity to splash onto the deck beside it, much to the chagrin of the mop-wielding attendant), kicked back in the jacuzzi, scoffed the cakes and creamy confectionary at hi-tea, tanned on the roof and swayed in the bar, you’re left wondering why not more places opt for smaller and swisher, over taller and grander.
Is it faultless? No, but it’s got enough style, charm and character within its retro-decorated walls to reduce the flaws to minor frustrations – and, if staff attitude is anything to go by, things are only going to get better.