I'm rather surprised when my tour bus is prevented from pulling up just outside the five-star Park Hyatt by a doorman waving his arms to redirect the driver to park on busy Lam Son Square. I'm even less impressed to have to walk back up the drive to the lobby pulling my suitcase. There isn't a crush of cars at the top so I'm at a loss as to why I am not greeted properly. Thankfully my mood improves with the welcome at check-in, which is efficient and faultlessly polite.
The hotel sits on Lam Son Square in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. There are local shops and expensive boutiques such as Louis Vuitton on its doorstep, as well as a clutch of historic landmarks including the Caravelle Hotel, famous for housing journalists during the Vietnam War, and the late 19th-century, colonial style Opera House and Hôtel de Ville, with its huge statue of the leader Ho Chi Minh. The war museum, Dong Khoi (a main shopping street) and Ben Tranh market are all within walking distance. There are also a number of interesting local restaurants nearby.
My room has a comfy king-sized bed, scattered with tangerine-coloured silk cushions, shuttered windows to mask a rather industrial view, an old-fashioned ceiling fan - a decorative touch as the A/C works just fine - and a marble bathroom with a separate rainfall shower and bath. It's perfectly comfortable but there's nothing to wax lyrical about. I do like the ceramic drip filter to make local coffee, though.
The waiting staff during breakfast at Opera and in the evening at Square One, which serves a western and Vietnamese menu, are attentive without being intrusive. There is no attempt to hustle me to any particular table at breakfast even though it's busy; usually solo diners are parked in the worst spots - a pet hate. A waitor responds to my request to pour my coffee into a takeaway cup without hesitation when I am late one morning.
The Park Hyatt Saigon is a social hub drawing wealthy locals dressed to impress in showy designer labels and international businessmen hoping to tap into the booming economy. The glass-fronted bar, 2 Lam Son, looks the part and is very busy with a slightly older, well-heeled clientele in the evenings. Don't expect a trendy, dress-down sort of crowd.
The breakfast buffet at Opera serves an appetising mix of western and local dishes including pho, as well as an à la carte menu. The French pastries are particularly good (and bad for you). Upstairs in Square One, I try two starters: soft shell crabs flash-fried with tamarind, coconut and ginger (US$17; Dh61) and a green papaya salad ($11; Dh41). Both have the right balance of spice, heat and more subtle flavours.
Sitting in the grand hotel lounge as afternoon tea is served, watching tourists and locals browse tiered stands of scones and pastries, washed down with imported teas. The dark wooden shutters, grand piano, polished mahogany and Chesterfield wing chairs are all rather theatrically colonial. Afternoon tea for two costs $50 (Dh183).
Months later, I still can't fathom the please-don't-stop-here "welcome". And not once, but twice. The second time in the rain.
A very smart hotel in a great location from which to explore Ho Chi Minh City. It won't knock your socks off but, then again, it won't disappoint either.
The bottom line
A double room costs from $263 (Dh966) per night, including taxes. Park Hyatt Saigon, 2 Lam Son Square, Ho Chi Minh City (www.parkhyattsaigon.com; 00 84 83824 1234).