Zip Code Envy

Inside one of Saigon’s most coveted addresses

I’ve often thought that Saigon reminds me of a miniature New York City, probably the greatest city in the world. Within its boroughs resides a cross section of humanity – the rich, the poor, the downtrodden and the enlightened – all looking to achieve the American dream, or at the very least be a spectator to its pursuit. While Saigon isn’t quite as diverse, and the cabs may be green and white instead of yellow and banh mi carts replace hot dogs stands, there’s still so much that is the same: the frenetic pace, the obsession with coffee, the colorful street “characters,” a soon-to-be-subway and the river that runs through it all.

building11 old DSC_1042-2 River view

Saigon even has its NYC-like boroughs: the Brooklyn Heights of District 2 with its leafy suburbs and easy commute, the trendy SoHo- esque after work bars of Dong Du Street, the Chinatown/Cho Lon neighborhoods with their own shops, restaurants and culture. Dam Sen could even double as Coney Island and the green island of Thanh Da seems like a world away, much like a day trip to Staten Island. We even have our own Jersey in the form of family-friendly District 7 where everything is more spread out and you really don’t go unless you live there. But the most coveted residence in Saigon is still the Golden Rectangle that is Dong Khoi – Le Loi – Nguyen Hue – Nguyen Thiep, the Park Avenue of addresses. Where Park Avenue residents have the greenery of Central Park, the Bohemian vibe of SoHo and the luxury shopping of legendary Fifth Avenue all within a two mile radius, residents of The Landmark (5B Ton Duc Thang, D1) are equally spoiled for choice.

Landmark-HCMC-Apartment-Dec2012-002 - Copy

The first international serviced apartment and office complex in Ho Chi Minh City, The Landmark is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this month. Managed by the luxury Peninsula Properties, the 16-storey complex set on prime waterfront real estate features 65 elegantly furnished and fully- equipped apartments and 10,000 sqm of high- end office space, making its residents some of the city’s luckiest.



If I lived at The Landmark… I’d have more music in my life. I’d make the five minute walk to the steps of the Opera House every Saturday and Sunday mornings at 8 for the free concert series, one of the city’s hidden gems. Ostensibly for tourists, the 45-minute concerts draw an even larger share of Saigonese. Musical acts change regularly and today’s performance is by a group of talented students from the local music university and spans a few centuries of jazz, rock and classical. A couple of dozen plastic chairs have been set out, but most of the audience are happy simply perched on their motorbikes. Any day that starts out with a saxophone promises to be a good one. Other musical venues within walking distance are The Cavern Pub (19 Dong Du, live music most nights starting at 9:30pm) and MonPere (5H Ton Duc Thang, piano every Saturday from 7:30pm-10:00pm).

Kujuz 3Son - James Pham

If I lived at The Landmark… I’d be fitter thanks to their exclusive Health Club that boasts a rooftop pool, saunas, a fitness center cum yoga studio overlooking the river and the crown jewel – the city’s only regulation-sized squash court. “I really like the atmosphere: a quiet gym, nice, clean facilities, and being able to enjoy the sauna and swimming pool after exercising,” says avid health club member Zacharie Blondeau. “I enjoy coming to The Landmark before heading home [after work]. I also like being able to grab dinner after late exercise, and  also going early before work from time to time.” Nguyen Huong, a marketing manager in the entertainment industry agrees. “I also find the staff friendly and helpful,” she says. “Plus, I can park my motorbike for free. It’s a small thing but it’s good customer service.”

The Landmark pool

However, it’s The Landmark’s squash court that keeps these two loyal members coming back for more. It’s surprising that the city doesn’t have more of these considering that minimal space is required and they’re totally protected from the unpredictable weather.

Today, I find myself taking a lesson with the club pro, Viet, who’s been at the Landmark since it opened in 1994, one of 20/20 Club, 20 employees with 20 years of service. “Stay low and move diagonally. Focus!” he says as I struggle to translate my tennis skills into squash, trying to reconcile the low bounce with the added split second I have to return the ball as it careens off the wall. Despite being years my senior, Viet somehow manages to stay in one place, “occupying the T,” as he calls it, while I bounce back and forth like a pinball on speed. “Squash is a great cardio workout. You really burn the calories!” he enthuses while I sweat. With a bit more guidance, I begin to get the hang of the angles and manage to kiss a drop shot off the corner. I think the score is now one to about a bazillion, but who’s counting? A look at the reservation board is an indication of how popular The Landmark’s squash court is, as is the tournament held at the end of November. “This year, we had four divisions,” says Health Club Manager Pamela Haake, “including a women’s division. Two women are really good, though, so they played with the boys.” Lesson over, I refuel with one of the club’s bananas as I’m handed a cold towel that feels like bliss.

The Landmark squash court

If I lived at The Landmark… I’d be better at gift-giving. Luxury shops line Dong Khoi just a five-minute walk away, but instead, I turn left and walk two minutes to the converted warehouses at 3A Ton Duc Thang which are now hipster central with street art, art galleries and unique gifts, anchored by the design collective that is 3A Station. In the space of 20 minutes, I pick up a hand-embroidered linen dress for a friend at Nau Corner, a few hand-drawn matchboxes with hidden messages inside for VND25,000 at WoodIsChic and a gorgeous plank cutting board as a housewarming gift at Sadec District. Done with shopping, I settle for an iced coffee at Kujuz 3Son, a photogenic cafe made up entirely of windows and doors, and a mint chocolate cupcake from Pacey’s, served out of an unbearably cute Volkswagon van.

Match boxes at WoodIsChic - James Pham

If I lived at The Landmark… I’d be better fed. From comfort food from Vesper’s right downstairs to the upscale vegetarian of Hum (2 Thi Sach) to the expert wine pairings of Wine Embassy (13 Ngo Duc Ke), I’d probably rarely use my fully-equipped yet compact kitchen, except for perhaps a healthy meal whipped up from groceries at Annam Gourmet (16 Hai Ba Trung). “I love going to Vietnamese cafes after work,” says Japanese teacher and Landmark resident Atsuki Yoshida. “I’m single so I always eat out. It’s exciting to discover unknown local restaurants all within a 10 minute walk of here. The location is great.”

I agree. In fact, if I lived at The Landmark… I’d be home now, too.

Images provided by The Landmark

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