Taboo Travel: Saigon in a More Dangerous Era

John Gardner, GM of the Caravelle Hotel, reflects on the allure of Saigon in the 1960s and the price of a luxury escape…

Think of the great places that are verboten when it comes to travel these days: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, all lands of great, exotic appeal, and all off-limits to people who put a premium on safety.

I was thinking of this when I happened upon a tourist brochure from 1961 touting the allure of Saigon, Nha Trang, Dalat and the “ultimate in Saigon Viet – Nam,” the Hotel Caravelle. There we were on the back page of the Visit Fascinating Vietnam brochure, “fully air conditioned” and “centrally located on fashionable Lam-Son Square”.

TexasTech8Back then, you could rent a room in the city’s top luxury hotel for US$12.20 per night, or $15.40 for double occupancy. Credit cards didn’t come into widespread use until much later, so our front desk must have stocked lots of American nickels and dimes to make change for those price points.

My predecessor back then was, presumably, a Frenchman by the name of J. Ch. Mornand. Where are you today M. Mornand, and what stories I bet you have to tell?

This glimpse of Vietnam in 1961 featured so many aspects of travel back then, not the least of which was big game hunting. “Vietnam is a hunter’s paradise,” the brochure says over a picture of a young elephant. If not elephants, you could bag yourself a tiger, leopard, gaur, wild ox, wild buffalo, bear, deer or pheasant.

This hunting was not all that far form Saigon. The best grounds were but 50 – 250 “miles” away near Dalat and Buon Me Thuot and Di Linh. If you took an elephant, you’d have to pay about $140. A gaur cost almost half as much, and a buffalo or ox only one third as much. You could, with “license A,” kill one male elephant, two male gaurs, two male oxen, two male buffalos, four bears, six deers and as many tigers and leopards as you like and for no fee. “The number of wild and harmful beasts killed is not limited,” reads the brochure.

What a place.

Back then, you could go dancing at the Arc-En-Ciel at 52-66 Tan Da St in Cho Lon, where Graham Greene had his characters dancing in The Quiet American.
* You could get 73 Vietnamese piastres for $1.
* Americans didn’t need a visa if they stayed in the country less than seven days.
* Air Vietnam, not Vietnam Air, was your in-country carrier.
* Two million people lived in Saigon.
* Tourists routinely drove their own vehicles
* And “a visit to the Caravelle Skyroom Restaurant and Roof Garden is a ‘must’ for all tourists.” Well then, some things haven’t changed about Saigon!


Beyond Saigon, the brochure was steering travellers toward the usual suspects — Bien Hoa, Tay Ninh and Thu Dau Mot, then renowned for its lacquer craftsmen, now a part of Ho Chi MInh City. Further afield, they wanted us in Dalat (55 minutes by DC3 from Saigon), Nha Trang (where you could even then take a glass-bottomed boat out onto the bay) and Hue (where Ngu Binh Mountain was then called the King’s Screen).

After whiling some time away from this brochure, I looked up from my armchair here on Lam Son Square, wondering how much promise this country had in 1961, how alluring it all was, and just how much suffering the Vietnamese would have to go through before the days would be as bright again.

Share this story, choose your platform!

About the author:

1 thought on “Taboo Travel: Saigon in a More Dangerous Era”

  1. One of my favorite places in 66 – 67 Saigon was Continental Plaza hotel’s ground floor open air cafe, aka The Continental Shelf. Went there every time I got into Saigon. If you sat in the cafe for any amount of time, your path would cross with everyone, every role.


Leave a Comment

A Guide to the Factors Influencing the Perspective of NBA Teams in 2024

Just like the basketball players themselves, NBA teams need to remain focused on their performance in the future. To accomplish this, essential responsibilities include managing the competition, the professional league, player recruitment and development, media and broadcasting, revenue generation, and worldwide expansion. Importantly, a few factors affect how they view a wide range of topics.

Read More »

Essential Guide to Visiting Macao

Nestled on the southern coast of China, Macao is a unique and utterly fascinating destination. A rare jewel, with its fusion of Eastern and Western cultures and traditions, this former Portuguese colony has become known as “the Las Vegas of the East”. It’s much more than just an entertainment paradise, though.  A trip to Macao is

Read More »

Vietnamese athletes in the Olympics 2024

As 2023 came to an end, Vietnamese sports fans celebrated three remarkable athletes who clinched the official berth for the Paris Olympics 2024 in France. The Vietnam sports authority is hoping to take 12-15 athletes to represent their nation at the Olympic Games in France, but only five have qualified so far. That puts them

Read More »

Momentous Sporting Events in Vietnam

Vietnam has always been known for its resiliency, history, and culture. These qualities are only further exemplified in the sporting events that they hold in the country. This Southeast Asian has been the stage for many milestone moments for the country and the region as a whole. It doesn’t look like Vietnam is about to

Read More »


Shaping the Future of HoReCa Bangkok, Thailand – The Department of International Trade Promotion, the Thai Chamber of Commerce, and Koelnmesse are thrilled to announce the upcoming THAIFEX – HOREC ASIA 2024. Scheduled from March 6th to 8th at IMPACT, Muang Thong Thani, this premier event is poised to redefine the HoReCa (hotel, restaurant, and

Read More »

Adventure Travel in Uganda: Rafting, Hiking, and Wildlife Safaris

Uganda, often called the Pearl of Africa, is a hidden gem for adventure seekers. With its diverse landscapes, ranging from dense forests and snow-capped mountains to vast savannas and majestic rivers, Uganda offers a wide array of thrilling activities for those looking to explore the wild side of Africa. From adrenaline-pumping white-water rafting on the

Read More »