Built in 1880 and named after the Hotel Continental in Paris, the Hotel Continental Saigon is considered one of the city's finest architectural monuments, designed in the French style of the era, with thick walls, a tile roof, and spacious public areas for the French elite of the day to gather and relax after a long cruise to the new continent. The thick walls and high ceilings served to relieve the heat of the tropics by making use of the natural elements of wind and light. The exterior of this three-story building has always been painted white, lending an air of stately elegance, placing it in good company and perfect harmony with the nearby Opera House built in 1898. Refurbishments have been made over the years, but the essential architectural elements have been preserved. In the central courtyard, a large garden was planted with frangipani trees that still blossom today. Here one discovers a true refuge for the soul and a perfect place to have an afternoon tea and late evening aperitif.
During both the Indochina War and the Vietnam War, Hotel Continental became the meeting point for news correspondents, politicians, and businessmen. During the Vietnam War, Time and Newsweek Magazines each used the second floor of the hotel as their Saigon news bureau. Hotel Continental has always attracted writers, artists, and the social elite as a place to stay or simply meet for cocktails. The hotel plays a prominent part in Graham Greene's novel, The Quiet American and was used in the two film adaptations.
The rich history of this hotel and its unfailing beauty keep me company as I sit with my husband in this romantic garden all these years after it was first conceived and built. Indeed, as we sip our coffees flavored with sweetened condensed milk, the staff is busily preparing for a wedding reception that will take place this evening. What a magical setting it will be for the 200 or so guests who will attend. We, however, feel fortunate enough to have this quiet moment to daydream before we head out on foot, to admire several of Ho Chi Minh's renowned sights of the same period – Notre Dame Cathedral built in 1880 and the City Post Office built in 1891 and still in use today.
As we sit down to an enormously inviting breakfast buffet the following morning, we are amazed that the staff has not left a trace of last night's wedding reception. The only thing that lingers is the memory of how beautiful the setting was as viewed from our bedroom above the courtyard.
All images and reviews copyright 2015 by Ginda Simpson
Hotel Continental Saigon
132 Dong Khoi, Ben Nghé, Quan 1, Ho Chí Minh, Vietnam
Hotel Continental Saigon ~ Original watercolor painting by Ginda Simpson