Duong Chau Nhat Dang, the Assistant Marketing and Communications Manager for Pullman Saigon Centre, meets me in the hotel lobby, under black chandeliers. His first act of hospitality is to get me checked in. I take out the passport I’m so unused to carrying and get a room card, plus some buffet vouchers.
Dang is proud of the new construction, and through the 30-level tour I can see it’s not just bluster. The Pullman has embraced a new trend in the classy hotel world — ‘placefulness’. The very concept of a luxury hotel relies on cutting connection with the outside world, establishing a distance from street level, letting guests enjoy it through sound-proofed glass to the soundtrack of smooth jazz. They put you in an in-between space, not far enough out of your locale so that you can’t walk off-track for a proper experience, but just far enough so that you can get a breather — the way the thriftier among us do with out-of-the-way cafés.
The Pullman, while still a world apart from the rest of the Pham Ngu Lao area, where it resides, aims for a more immersive experience. Here, Bonobo plays in the elevators (on repeat), delivering a reliable undercurrent of energy. Natural light is worked in wherever possible — in our 22nd floor deluxe room, a wall of glass gives way to sunset. The inspiration comes from the luxurious Pullman rail cars of the 19th century, which definitely had a sense of place, although one disconnected from any outside logic. The funky orange-and-purple highlighted contemporary environment creates its own sense of place, one in which violet mannequin legs stabbing out from a section of wall isn’t at all unrelated.
The weekend starts with some visiting coworkers, who stop by after check-in to see the 22nd floor view. We spread out on twin beds, chaise lounge and wall-hugging shelves, listening to pilfered office speakers and drinking some non-room service Maker’s Mark. In the world of Word Magazine, this is what passes for teambuilding.
We play around with the wired setup, trying to sync our electronic devices to the flatscreen, where they can act as controllers. We jam up the pod coffee machine and call room service. Every time a new person walks in, I lower and raise the curtain wall that secludes the sexy unwalled bath from the rest of the room.
It’s Friday night, so we all leave — including me, as I’ve got an outside-world date. But I come back the next day, instruments of relaxation in hand. I cue up Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark and sit down with a finally-figured-out espresso and a yellowing Russian paperback I’d been meaning to read forever. It finally seems like the right time.
On this clean, bare surface — surrounded by tree cross sections and ceramic water lilies, glazed and scattered over streaked, earthtone walls — none of the predictable distractions crop up. I lose myself for a few moments, as the sun drops below my feet, over a half-modern city whose other half resembles the uneven tenement mountains of South American city aerial views. It’s a striking view, one that gives me a new sense of the city, now that I’ve come up for air.
Meanwhile in Hanoi…
Only recently converted from the aging Horison Hotel into the contemporary Pullman Hanoi, traces of the past are still evident here. A tall smokestack sits in front of the property, the only trace of the brick factory that once occupied this spot before the Horison got in its way.
Swimming in the refurbished and rebuilt infinity pool on the second floor terrace, you can gaze out at the smokestack, framed by palm fronds and blue sky. The busy traffic at the intersection of Cat Linh and Giang Vo is in the background, forever present. The design philosophy here seems to be that you can’t escape gritty reality — after all, we’re close to the centre of Hanoi — but you can certainly transcend it.
The same view resurfaces at the hotel restaurant La Cheminee — a reference to the former brick factory — where we enjoy our breakfast buffet. This was certainly one of the best parts of this staycation: the food was diverse as you could imagine for a breakfast feast, with the Chinese dim sum emerging as the overall winner. If you come for lunch, check out the bread pudding and the quirky array of meats, from ostrich to quail.
The room, too, was a pretty sweet escape from reality. Tearing ourselves free from the soft and comfortable quilts to return to our regular jobs was more difficult than we’d imagined it would be.
Maybe there is something to this staycation thing, after all.