Ho Chi Minh City might be described as an assault on the senses, a characteristic I do not mean as a negative judgement, because the city’s pervasive wafting smell of street pho and banh mi and its palpable energy is an incredible thrill. The constant honking of horns feels more januty lifestyle than indication of danger. And it’s relentless. And so alive.
To cross the street in Ho Chi Minh involves a leap of faith that flies in the face of that oft-repeated childhood teaching squarely built into the American lexicon, and also to the American understanding of personal welfare: “Look both ways before you cross.” Instead, you mustn’t look at all, but simply muster your confidence, from a deeply counterintuitive place, and step out into the undulating sea of motorbikes and cars as if in a high-stakes, real-world game of Frogger, without hesitation or show of fear. On our first night in town, each successful crossing felt like a triumph worthy of quiet celebration.
All of this is to say that the new An Lam Saigon River, a private residence turned lodging property comprised of 15 private villas, feels like the best kind of study in contrast just outside the madness.
Located just a 20-minute speedboat ride away from the well-traveled tourist sights of HCMC’s District 1, the property feels all retreat and serenity.
In the absence of a reception desk, each guest is assigned a personal on-call butler. Ours, Annie, was utterly gracious and perfectly attentive and present without a hint of overbearing. Sounds fancy, and totally was, but we did score a deal on the flash-sale site Vacationist.com that made it doable.
Our well-appointed and spacious villa had a private pool, but we preferred the common pool for its exposure to more sun. And indeed, “common” felt like a misnomer, given that we didn’t see more than four other guests anywhere on property during our two-day stay.
Vegetation hangs and vines daintily with impossible lushness throughout. We enjoyed a superlatively serene sunset from the alfresco lounge overlooking the flowing Saigon River, with its occasional lazy barge or boat floating past, and its steady stream of lush, unanchored greenery that meanders along with the current.
And so, it was when our speedboat whisked us so pleasantly along the water into the center of things that we truly appreciated the extent of the contrast. And of the value, and the privilege, of perspective for a life richly lived.