SAIGON FOR MEN
The discerning gentleman’s guide to Ho Chi Minh City, as laid out by our correspondent
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS RECENTLY RATED Vietnam as the fastest growing economy among emerging markets. And as the number of affluent Vietnamese has increased, so has demand for luxury goods and services.
While Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is steeped in tradition and history, its southern sister Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC – formerly and still affectionately known as Saigon – is the country’s commercial hub and most happening place, a dynamic metropolis that’s evolving with an energy and spirit rarely found elsewhere in Asia.
Along with the slick skyscrapers mushrooming up throughout this sprawling city, home to some eight million inhabitants, the country’s new-found prosperity is also manifested in new high-end restaurants and elegant cafes, indulgent spas, chic designer boutiques and trendsetting concept stores that embody Vietnam’s distinctive premium aesthetic and love affair with all things luxe. Here’s a sampling of the best:
BEST WATERING HOLES
2 Lam Son
This stylish bar is one of the latest additions to the city’s after-dark scene. Colourful garments from Vietnam’s ethnic minorities – the inspiration for the palette and patterns of the soft upholstery in the more private semi-enclosed booths and upstairs mezzanine lounge – are displayed in glass cases. Modern interpretations of the traditional Vietnamese ao dai dress hang from the lissome figures of staff as they glide about serving premium liquors and martinis with a premium price tag. One big draw is the floor-to-ceiling, fishbowl-like window that overlooks Hai Ba Trung street, which ensures that the well-heeled Vietnamese night owls leaning nonchalantly over illuminated stainless-steel and glass tables can both see and be seen.
Unifying a high-end eatery with a unique wine, martini, cigar and cognac concept, this sleek, chic lounge bar-cum-restaurant is one of the most exclusive establishments in town. Cépage’s walk-in, glass-encased wine cellar forms the backdrop for plush red armchairs, low tables and a long wooden bar that hugs the left length of the room. A stylised golden world map gleams above the shelves of fine liquors and celebrated resident mixologist Markus Bernthaler, who is on hand to shake cayenne pepper martinis, meld mojitos or concoct unique drinks to your personal taste. Atop the large, sweeping staircase is a spacious dining area and a handful of private rooms, but the city’s more refined connoisseurs and old Saigon hands can be found propping up the bar downstairs most evenings, when the semi-opaque curtains are discreetly drawn to envelop the bar in cloistered privacy until the wee hours.
Lancaster Building, 22 Le Thanh Ton; tel: (84 8) 3823 8733
With its blend of contemporary style and retro lounge chic, Xu Cafe Bar is one of the city’s more refined watering holes. The concept is simple – to attract sophisticates in the early evening and keep them there, with all the elements of an indulgent night out in one space. Xu’s honey-toned wooden flooring, bar and furniture; undulating, deep-red walls; creamy dome-shaped light features and metal art installations, uniquely designed for Xu by local fashion designer Mai Lam, provide the setting for both international and Vietnamese movers and shakers. A global wine list of more than 100 labels and Asian-inspired cocktails are shaken and stirred alongside all the usual suspects, and every evening business professionals, movie producers and up-and-coming Vietnamese artists come to unwind over coconut martinis, cranelo (cranberry and pomelo) sparkles and passion fruit caprioskas served by smartly turned-out bartenders who know them all by name.
BEST CIGAR LOUNGE
Formerly known as QD Lounge, then House of Whiskey, or HOW, Blue Lounge pours only the highest-end premium whiskies – including Johnnie Walker Blue Label – and cognacs alongside a limited selection of fine wines. Designed with the discerning businessman in mind, its chocolate-brown, Italian leather-upholstered easy chairs, blue leather paneling and lacquer pillars are complemented by light wooden flooring and tables softly bathed in a warm, welcoming aura courtesy of lamplight reflected from the gold-leaf-effect ceiling. To the right of the backlit blue bar is a wall adorned with engraved members’ plaques alongside storage for their personal bottles, while Blue Lounge’s extensive humidor is stocked only with the finest Cuban cigars. With an emphasis on highly personalised service and relaxed intimacy for HCMC’s growing community of luxury seekers, the lounge’s two VIP areas have deep-blue velour drapes that can be drawn to afford guests with complete privacy, or opened so that when the nightly act takes centre stage, Blue Lounge’s VIPs have the best view in the house.
3rd floor, 138 Ton That Dam; tel: (84 8) 3821 5338
BEST LOCAL TAILORING EXPERIENCE
Vietnam has a longstanding tailoring tradition, and while shops specialising in bespoke suits can be found along almost every street, Cao Minh has cornered the market on quality custom-made and made-to-measure business and formal attire. Cao Minh’s consultation area is reminiscent of a gentleman’s lounge, with luxuriously upholstered armchairs and standing lamps framed by neatly pressed ranks of wool and cashmere jackets and blazers standing to attention. Every season, Cao Minh’s factory team of 500 tailors offers the latest European styles supplied by fabric manufacturers such as Thomas Fisher, Huberross and Lanificio di Marzoni. Simply choose your look and fabric from the bookcase of catalogues, or the long shop shelves stacked with bolts of folded cloth. Perfectly finished pockets and monogrammed silk lining are standard, and the wall of cubbyholes packed with brightly coloured coils of Vietnamese silk makes choosing matching elegant neckwear a breeze. Allow a week to 10 days from fitting to finish, with prices for a shirt starting at around US$50, a suit at $300 and a tuxedo at $350.
BEST LUXURY OUTFITTERS
If you’re looking for Vietnam’s first indigenous top-to-toe luxury design house, Massimo Ferrari is it. After heading up marketing for Giorgio Armani menswear in Beverly Hills and studying Neapolitan tailoring while working for Gucci during the Tom Ford era, Massimo Ferrari’s creative visionary and designer Antonio Torres opened his first concept store in Vietnam two years ago to spice up top-quality hand-made garments with Italian-style cut, style, form and technique for today’s generation. Torres creates and archives an individual pattern for each customer instead of tweaking cuts on the block, and Vietnam’s low production costs mean that Massimo Ferrari made-to-measure suits start from just US$585 – a third of the price of Savile Row, yet hand-crafted with the same fabrics to the same quality.
His Distretto Tre line – named for the shop’s location in HCMC’s District 3 – fuses Massimo Ferrari bespoke garments with ready-to-wear, engineered to accentuate the body with an emphasis on detail. Shirts with a 1920s rounded collar and contrast collar and cuffs can be paired with a contemporary suit for that Wall Street look. Polo shirts emblazoned with the crest of Florence just beg to be worn with upturned collars in true Italian style. Patchwork-style shirts with alternating blue and white striped and check panels feature Massimo Ferrari’s signature hand-stitched armholes, button holes and collar bands – hand stitching that’s also keenly evident on the made-to-order cruise-line blazers that Torres suggests pairing with tartan plaid trousers, a pastel polo shirt and light velvet slippers with gold bullion stitching for that preppy look. Torres no longer makes bags in-house, instead carrying Italian bag manufacturer Orobianco exclusively, but Massimo Ferrari’s latest collection of driving shoes and moccasins has proved extremely popular, particularly those sporting a golf-inspired fringe tongue. Lace-ups are also available in a kaleidoscope of colours, with a “brushed” or “smoked” hand finish, and all shoes are hand-signed with their birth date by a Vietnamese calligrapher.
42A1 Tran Quoc Thao; tel: (84 8) 3930 6212
BEST CASUAL APPAREL AND QUIRKY LIFESTYLE OUTLET
Leafy, colonial Dong Khoi street has always been one of Saigon’s most desirable post codes, and it’s here among some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most upscale drinking, dining and shopping outlets that you’ll find urban lifestyle concept store L’Usine – a cafe, fashion boutique and art space that evokes the nostalgia and enterprise characteristic of old Indochine. Heavy metal roller doors open to reveal a factory-inspired fashion space, where Tinwell & Bismark cords and weathered cardigans, quirky Rittenhouse denims, Marshall Artist hoodies and Penfield T-shirts hang from racks made from reclaimed metal and wood secured with oversized industrial bolts. Stands of vintage Vivalo and 3Rensho racing bikes appear poised for the starter’s gun, and an antique dentist’s chair heads a long, low display table peppered with Lomography cameras, coffee-table books on art and design and scented candles for the home. L’Usine is Vietnam’s very own urban outfitter, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of goodies, many Vietnamese-made, with everything plus the kitsch’n’sync for the ultimate cool hunter.
BEST MASSAGE, FACIAL AND GROOMING ON THE RUN
Ideally we would all spend hours luxuriating in our daily wellness and personal grooming regimen, but the hectic pace of Saigon life usually dictates otherwise. For grooming and personal pampering on the run, Just Men is the city’s best option to fill that gap between appointments. Styled in slate and rich woods with traditional barber’s chairs upholstered in British racing-green leather, the front-of-house salon is an elegant place to enjoy a wet shave, manicure, pedicure and head, shoulder and neck massage or hair wash by stylists impeccably turned out in assassin black. Meanwhile, the treatment rooms in the rear are cosy cocoons for indulging in an array of face and body therapies developed specifically for men. Popular options include the muscle-melting deep tissue and warm stone massages and stress-busting Ingrid Millet facials tailored to combat everything from oily T-zones to problem blackheads. If the two treatment rooms are booked, simply stroll across the street to Just Men’s twin unisex spa, Jasmine.
40 Ton That Thiep; tel: (84 8) 3914 1407
Designed to evoke a Vietnamese marketplace, Square One is the Park Hyatt’s flagship restaurant. Chefs chop, flip and flame in five sleek, open-view kitchen stations, dishing up premium imported Western steaks alongside authentic local and imported seafood – and all against a backdrop of exposed brickwork fronted by elaborate black metal lattice and stalls of colourful fresh produce. Square One’s business set lunch is renowned for helping CEOs seal the deal, while the extensive à la carte menu has been devised for the most refined palate, from succulent towering platters of seafood on ice to mouth-watering slabs of Wagyu rib-eye steaks served with pan-fried foie gras and truffle sauce. Steaks are accompanied by chimichurri, Béarnaise, mushroom and black pepper sauces served in petit pans with equally delicate tin ladles. Side dishes include garlic and herb roasted Portobello mushrooms, steamed asparagus and earthenware ovals of potato gratin baked with lavish helpings of cream and cheese. And for those watching their waistline, Square One also has a delectable choice of fresh salads and light Western and Asian cuisine prepared exactly as you like it.
BEST CITY RESORT
Thao Dien Village
Situated outside the city in the buzzing An Phu neighbourhood, Thao Dien Village is a real urban oasis. Lodgings within the airy, French colonial-inspired hotel villa are popular with business travellers keen to escape the inner city traffic and street-level hustle. Accommodations range from single attic-style rooms to lounge suites, while the village’s stand-alone restaurants – enveloped in lush foliage and manicured lawns – spoil hungry patrons for choice. Explore Vietnamese cuisine beneath red silk birdcage lanterns, ornate wooden panels and chiffon drapes at Ngon or savour authentic Japanese sushi and sashimi at Tama- Gawa. Villa Romaine’s outdoor tables overlooking the slow-moving waters of the Saigon River are extremely popular come dinnertime, when delectable wood-fired Italian pizzas, homemade pastas and dishes such as pan-fried salmon fillet over lemon rice with thick dill yogurt sauce are upstaged only by the romantic setting and whisper of intimate conversation. One of Thao Dien Village’s key selling points is the superlative Authentic spa: the Scandinavian neck and back relief, traditional Thai massage and foot reflexology are ideal to alleviate tension, while the Integra Thalasso Gentleman’s Facial will leave your skin baby-bottom smooth. Aromatherapy massages with Authentic’s fresh, crisp citrus or invigorating ginger oils are a distinctly masculine olfactory experience, while the signature four hands treatment may be the ultimate indulgence. Herbal massage compresses are available on request, and if you’re killing time before that late connection, opt for the “last flight” package: a massage, facial and swim at the resort’s 21-metre pool, plus freshly squeezed fruit juice. The drive to Thao Dien Village from the city centre takes 20 minutes plus, depending on traffic, but a more serene way to make the trip across the river is by boat. Saigon River Express (saigonriverexpress.com) offers direct 10-minute VIP speedboat transfers from the centre of Saigon.
+ The Siam
+ Abu Ahabi
+ The Sarojin
+ 137 Pillars
+ Conrad Koh Samui
+ The Kensington Hotel
+ The Pavilions
+ Renaissance Bangkok
+ Mandarin Oriental Paris
+ Waiheke Island
+ Hotel Icon
+ Phnom Penh
+ Buenos Aires
+ Shangri-La Paris
+ Passage to Hong Kong
+ Diving the Sweet Spot
+ The Far Pavilions
+ Hansar Thailand
+ Samui Wind
+ HOTEL DAS CATARATAS
+ The Ritz-Carlton
+ WALDORF ASTORIA SHANGHAI
+ Wolgan Valley
+ LA ISLA BONITA
+ ART OF THE CITY
+ Soneva Kiri
+ Langham Hotel
+ The Best of Boston
+ SULTANATE SUBLIME
+ SKYLIGHT VISTA – SEVEN STARS GALLERIA
+ MONGOLIA LUXE
+ The Plaza
+ INSTANT KARMA
+ HEAVEN SCENT, Phuket Pavilions
+ VINO, VIDI, VICI
+ ARABESQUE: A TASTE OF MOROCCO