Except for our first night in Saigon, we stayed at the Green View Serviced Apartments. Delightful place.
We were comfortable at Green View. Although located on a busy street, the windows leading to the balcony had three layers of glass panes that shut out all the noise outside. Restaurants and convenience stores were within a few minutes’ walk. If you’re in the mood for strolling to see more, you can even walk all the way to Notre Dame Cathedral.
So why didn’t we stay at Green View on our first night?
Because we were originally booked somewhere else. It’s quite a story and it’s a miracle I never lost my temper. In the end, things turned out okay but, believe me, there were too many tense and stressful hours. Not to mention wasted time.
We were originally booked at HoLo Fairy Houses
When I was organizing the trip to Saigon, I studied the neighborhoods and chose an accommodation in a neighborhood in District 1 where there was a good mixture of food establishments. Holes-in-the-wall, fancy cafes and regular restaurants all in the same neighborhood.
I chose HoLo Fairy Houses which I found via Booking.com. The room looked nice, it had a private bathroom, a refrigerator, an electric kettle… it even included an electric iron and ironing board. Best of all, it was one street away from Mason Marou which I was dying to visit.
Check-in time was 2.00 p.m. Pretty standard. Early check-in was not possible because the room was still occupied when our flight landed at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 8.30 a.m. After immigration checks, claiming our luggage and a drive through morning rush hour traffic, we arrived at HoLo just before 10.00 a.m. The housekeeper, busy preparing the room for us, advised us to have a meal first and come back in two hours. Meanwhile, we could leave our luggage in the room.
And so our food adventure began. We bought banh mi, discovered bun ca ri then turned around to retrace our steps back to HoLo. But there was a cafe that we had passed earlier, the cakes and pastries looked good so we agreed to check it out first. We ordered coffee, cakes and a box of crispy fish skin that was displayed on the counter.
The coffee was okay, Alex’s tiramisu was passable but my strawberry cake was nothing memorable. But, never mind. There was plenty of time to discover better cakes and pastries.
We finally got to our room at HoLo. Per the establishment’s rules, we paid in full, in cash, for six nights’ accommodation shortly after checking in. Time for a nap. We had a street food walking tour scheduled that night and our tour guide would pick us up at 6.00 p.m. We had a few hours to rest.
The walking tour was a blast but I’ll write about that later. This post is about our accommodation and why we moved to another location after one night at HoLo. And I’ll get to the part about the lunch with Elvis in time.
The horror began
The street food tour ended at around 10.00 p.m. and our tour guide dropped us off at HoLo. To our horror, power was out. While I was wondering what to do, the occupants of the adjacent room, a Korean couple, stepped out into the corridor and the young woman was apparently on the phone with the owner of the establishment. A moment later, the occupants of the room on the upper floor came down and we were all there wondering what the hell had happened.
About 10 minutes later, power was restored. After about five minutes, it was out again. I can’t remember anymore how long it took before the power went back on. But, by that time, the wifi was no longer working. I KNEW because I was on my Mac looking for another place. Alex and I kept trying for about half an hour. Exhausted, we finally gave up. Power was back on anyway. We could look for another place in the morning.
The horror went on and on
Alex took her shower and then it was my turn. For some reason, I couldn’t turn the shower off. The water just kept pouring. The pressure was strong and the shower made so much noise that it would have been impossible to sleep.
Yes, it was a long night. I managed to get in touch with the owner and, at around 2.00, he personally arrived to fix the shower and restore the internet service. He pointed out that HoLo was run as a “homestay” to explain the lack of staff after regular work hours. That’s really not what “homestay” means but I didn’t argue. What’s the point? All I wanted was sleep, internet connection and a chance to book another accommodation.
We finally packed up and moved
Yes, everything got fixed eventually and we did manage to sleep. Still, waking up the following morning, I didn’t feel at ease. I especially felt sorry for Alex. She assured me though that she had stayed at worse accommodations on tour when she was still doing theater work. But this trip was meant as a belated birthday gift to her and surely she deserved something better.
I advised the owner of HoLo Fairy Houses that we were leaving before 2.00 p.m. Alex booked a Grab ride, we drove to another part of District 1 and checked in at Green View Serviced Apartments.
We were starving by the time we got to Green View. Still, we hovered to savor our new surroundings. A small but nice living room. A kitchenette. A balcony where I could smoke. The bathroom was spotless and the bedroom was spacious. Laundry and ironing were included in the price too. Not easy scoring a deal as good as this for such a reasonable price. Tourist season had began to peak and vacancies were rare except in five-star hotels that would have ruined my travel funds for the rest of the year.
What happened to the full payment for six nights’ accommodation at HoLo Fairy Houses?
I did get a refund for the days we didn’t stay there. I was in communication with the owner after we checked out and he later sent someone from his staff to bring the money to Green View. It was all done very civilly.
Lunch with Elvis at Desalita
Despite an entire morning and part of the afternoon going to waste, we still managed to have a good time with what was left of our day. We settled down then walked the few meters to the street corner where there was a large open restaurant. A restobar, actually, called Desalita.
I would learn later that Alex was quite apprehensive about eating there. The clientele of the place appeared to be white people and Alex had been quite adamant that we should choose to eat where the locals ate. The more gross looking the place, the better the food, according to her.
I agree. The food in places with white clientele was often “watered down” versions of Vietnamese food — modified to appeal to the Western palate in ways that were both sad and alarming. Meanwhile, the “gross” looking ones served the most delicious food. And I say that not based on any theory but from what we have experienced. Street stalls that we wouldn’t dream of buying food from back home were the ones we sought in Saigon because, quite simply, they served the best food.
But whatever fears Alex may have had about the food at the corner restaurant dissipated with the first mouthful of the grilled chicken that she ordered. The dish might “look” American but the flavors were decidedly Vietnamese. I watched her wolf down her food while I waited for my beef and pork hock noodle soup.
When my food finally arrived, I realized that I was looking at a scene that I had studied before. While watching Origin of Flavors on Netflix, I told Speedy I was paying special attention to the cinematography and noting the food shots. There was this shot of a bowl of steaming noodle soup in Chaozhou against a backdrop of a never ending stream of restaurant customers that came and went.
Well, our table was right on the edge of the restaurant and, just a few feet away, the sidewalk was lined by motorbikes that have come to symbolize a new generation of Saigonese that is re-shaping the city. Beyond the parked motorbikes, more whizzed by. Noodle soup. Motorbikes. I don’t think there can be another photo to capture the essence of Saigon better.
I ate my bowl noodle soup while, in the background, Elvis Presley sang “It’s Now or Never” and “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” It felt strange. The familiarity was comforting yet vaguely disconcerting too. Elvis recorded those songs in 1960 and 1969, respectively, at the height of American intervention in the Vietnam war.
But, whatever. After our meal, we felt ready to spend the rest of our day walking around, taking in the scenes and shopping. And go shopping we did.
Info about Green View
There are five Green View Serviced Apartments in Saigon. We stayed at Green View 1 at 27-29 Le Thanh Ton St., Ben Nghe Ward, District 1 just across the British Council. You can book a room at Green View via Booking.com.
Yep, that link to Booking.com is an affiliate link. I may earn a commission if you book via the link but there’s no added cost to you.