Saigon Redux

Aries Entry 3This is the approach to the Aries Hotel, our *** accommodations in Saigon. And this, believe it or not, is the buffed out end of the alley. The entrance, behind the photographer, is a little sketchier – motorbike parking, a woman on her haunches making Pho, low plastic tables where the men of the “hood” are drinking beer, and three scrawny cats keeping the other critters away. Marilynn has lived in Saigon off and on for the last three years, but it was difficult for her to even look at the hotel when we started into the alley. I think of it as part of our ongoing adventure. She thinks of it as part of my effort to put her in risky settings and make her into a Third World woman. In any event, I persuaded her to keep walking and at least look at the hotel.

Fortunately, this was NOT a hair-brained internet booking like the one I subjected her to in Seoul. The Aries is less than a year old, owned and built by our friend, Bobby Nguyen, a successful Vietnamese-American developer from Norfolk, VA. We knew Bobby casually from conversations on the terrace at Coffee Bean near Notre Dame in the heart of Saigon. When we couldn’t get our old apartment back for this stay, I asked Bobby about staying at the Aries. Now, it’s fair to say that Bobby is about as cool and stylish and anyone I’ve met in a long time, so I was pretty sure his hotel would be a quality place, even though we hadn’t seen it. What we didn’t know was that it was down a dark alley, and that when we arrived after midnight on a long flight from Seoul our emotional fragility would test the friendship and maybe even our own relationship.

We made it through that first night without speaking to each other, but in the morning things started to look up.
AriesThe hotel entrance looked pretty good, but the alley was still the alley and the Pho lady and cats were still there. Daylight does magic for alleys in Saigon. It was actually pretty clean and well swept – for an alley in Saigon. And the room was very nice and comfortable.

Our RoomThe relationship issue was still lurking and I asked Marilynn to withhold judgment for a couple of days to see how it would feel as our home for the next month. God bless her. She did and we are settled in the alley now. Not bad digs for an alley entrance, eh?

We’re now in our old routine – 6am to the gym, lattes at Coffee Bean at 7:30, back to the hotel for a light breakfast at 9, work until noon then visit friends and meet others for alfresco dinners in the soft warm tropical evenings. Not a bad life, eh?

Now that we’re settled and Marilynn’s head is screwed on straight, we have time to look around a little. This morning we were riding down in the elevator with a couple of Vietnamese guys. Marilynn noticed that one of them was wearing a Nike T-shirt with Cougars on the chest. Never shy, she said Cougars? WSU Cougars? Damn straight. You guessed it – the two guys in the elevator, in the hotel, in the alley, in Saigon, were from Seattle. Not only were they from Seattle, they are Boeing engineers, live in Kirkland, and one of them raised his kids in Kenmore about a mile from our condo. We were even at the same event last year supporting PeaceTrees Vietnam, a great organization that is involved in de-mining operations in Quang Tri Province. Over breakfast we chatted about the chances of this happening and decided that the universe was messing with our heads and that we better get together for coffee when we get home. What are the chances?

I get in trouble sometimes, but I truly believe in adventure travel. You don’t have to ski steep faces in the Chugach Range or dive with the Great Whites in South Africa to have an adventure. Adventure travel is anything that stretches the boundaries of your personal comfort whether it’s hanging off a cliff or staying in an alley in Saigon. Good things happen when you let yourself have new experiences.

From an alley in Saigon.


  1. Congratulations to you Alley Cats on escaping unscathed from Seoul and finding some great digs in Saigon. But early morning in the gym followed by lattes at a coffee joint? Hell, you can do that in rain city! Come home!

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