It seems counterintuitive to check into a hotel you strongly suspect you’ll dislike, but before my recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City I was told that overnighting in the Reverie Saigon was “a must”. Vaunted as Vietnam’s most lavish hotel before its late-2015 debut, after opening it was described more disquietingly by guests as Versace and Liberace’s love child.
Lurid colours, gargantuan furniture and assorted faux-European flourishes – all have been churned in a gold-plated tombola to construe some of the most unfettered interiors you’ll find east of Dubai and west of Vegas. Morbid it may have been, but of course I had a sense of curiosity.
With the hotel occupying the uppermost levels of the 39-storey Times Square Building, the seventh-floor lobby sets the tone nicely. There, a £350,000 custom-made clock by Florentine brand Baldi stands three metres tall, weighs 1,000 kilos and is embellished with emerald-coloured malachite, hand-chiselled lead crystal and 24-carat gold accents. Nearby, a five-metre-long sofa by Colombostile is finished in a baroque-meets-rococo style and studded with amethyst. Michael Jackson purchased a similar sofa from the Italian interiors brand, although his was covered in red velvet rather than purple ostrich leather.
The Reverie’s lobby, with clock by Bardi and sofa by Colombostile
I meet Christina von Wrede, the charming hotel manager, for a tour. We scuttle across floors depicting pink cherry blossom; elsewhere, a golden peacock rendered as a mosaic saunters across a living room wall; in the Romance Suite the 15ft-wide headboard that dwarfs the king-size bed is sheathed in handwoven fabric by Venetian weavers Rubelli. We sidestep maids smoothing silk curtains in the two-storey Reverie Suite – guests are soon due at the $15,000-a-night (£10,500) penthouse. When I comment on the abundance of marble Christine tells me: “There’s none left in Italy now; it’s all in The Reverie.”
The interiors are divisive, certainly, but also remarkable and memorable, and the property’s significance to the country can’t be overstated. Seven years in the making and constructed without any expense being spared – “at no point did we stop and say ‘We’ve spent enough money’,” Christine comments – the Vietnamese-owned hotel was conceived as “a gift to the city. This country has more to give than the history surrounding the war, and The Reverie proves Vietnam is able to produce world-class luxury.”
Accommodation at the Reverie Saigon
With a staff of some 700 Vietnamese and an occupancy level of 80 per cent on the day of my arrival, the property clearly makes a hefty economic contribution to the city alongside that symbolic import. While I’m not convinced by The Reverie’s ostentation, other guests revel in it. I decide it’s churlish to fixate on peculiar decorative elements when The Reverie has never claimed anything other than an outlandish style; as time goes by, I find I become habituated.
That approach helps, and I find it’s a pleasure to watch the Saigon River flow as I sip gin in the 39th-floor executive lounge. I make time, too, for an excellent dim sum lunch at Chinese fine-dining restaurant The Royal Pavilion. Later I have an unexpected opportunity to test Christine’s claim that her team go the extra mile when it comes to providing exemplary service.
The property’s seventh-floor pool
En route to the airport on a national holiday, my driver takes a wrong turn and we find ourselves wedged into the most Saigonese of street scenes: we are entirely subsumed by festivities-bound mopeds abruptly impeded from moving further due to a road blockage. We’re trapped. I’ll miss my flight. I don’t speak Vietnamese, can’t escape and don’t know what to do.
A panicked call to The Reverie’s concierge desk ensues – and then, by my door, two bellboys materialise. My luggage plucked from the boot, we speed-walk a zigzag path through the many thousands of stagnant bikes now bumper to bumper on the main roads. Eventually a footpath emerges and, somehow, my heroes – still immaculate in their suits, though I am covered in sweat – flag a taxi. I give thanks and a richly deserved tip and am on my way. It’s best not, I’m reminded, to judge a hotel’s merit solely on appearances.
The Reverie Saigon (0084 28 3823 6688): rooms (b&b) from $350 (£249) per night; suites from $800.