By Matthew Cowan
Jan 7, 2022
I’M CHECKING IN FOR a staycation at an urban hotel with no pool, spa or room service. It’s not just because pandemic times call for ever-more creative ways to amuse ourselves. It’s because the new Wink Hotel Saigon Centre in Ho Chi Minh City is on the vanguard of a new generation of accommodations in Asia, using smart tech, design and location to maximize the guest experience while dunking you directly into your destination.
The 237-room Wink Hotel Saigon Centre opened in March 2020 in the central Dakao neighborhood – one of the city’s oldest enclaves in District 1, known for its eclectic mix of the old and the new. Until recently, the hotel had only been able to welcome guests from industries permitted to operate during Ho Chi Minh City’s lockdown. But with restrictions easing, Wink has flung open its doors again to local travelers like me.
Keeping it local
In the area, things to see and do are abundant. A short stroll away, find a buzzing beer bar packed of an evening with raucous young 20-somethings slugging down towers of local lager. While just a few blocks from there, worshippers at one of the city’s most peaceful and atmospheric pagodas kneel before the Jade Emperor clasping offerings deep in prayer.
At the nearby local market, Cho Da Kao, one of the city’s oldest, there are tasty opportunities to sample street food, including dishes like bun bo Hue, a beefy bowl of noodle soup ubiquitous across the city. For something less hectic, slide into an egg coffee at one of the many quaint cafes lining the famous Thi Nghe Canal just minutes away from the hotel lobby on foot.
Wink seems to get me
Wink Hotel Saigon Centre is the first in a series of properties set to open throughout Vietnam in the coming years and promises guests “the perfect launchpad for exploring” and “the perfect crash pad for recharging.”
While this promise may have you thinking this hip new post-Covid hotel experience isn’t for anyone who can remember booking recorded wake-up calls with a dial-up phone, you’d be wrong. For this Gen-Xer, time is of the essence.
Wink gets that I would rather spend more of my time on exploring the local area or preparing in the hotel’s co-working space for an important pitch than wasting it on perennial bugbears like drawn-out check-ins or waiting for housekeeping totally up my mini-bar bill on checkout.
“The modern traveler, that is, people of any age who travel often and like to explore cities, want to check in quickly,” says Wink Hotels brand director David Kaye, totally feeling my vibe. “They don’t want all the stuff that slows them down.”
He explains that once Wink’s system is fully operational, guests will be able to reserve and pay for rooms via Wink’s mobile app and use their phones as the room keys, eliminating the need for close contact with hotel staff and other guests – as well as the obvious benefits of streamlining your life and minimizing waste. All important considerations given the times we live in.
Payments for things in the lobby “convenience store” are 24/7 pay-as-you-go as well, including breakfast and lunch from early till 1 p.m., which is ordered and paid for at kiosk machines that accept debit and credit cards or your room card that’s been charged up with funds in advance – a throwback to your multifunctional university IDs perhaps. The same goes for the use of the laundromat and the vending machines on each floor selling items from condoms to bottled Korean concoctions that miraculously cure hangovers.
With all that in mind, it’s clear that Wink is for guests with places to go and people to meet. “A lot of hotels will try to keep guests inside spending on their F&B outlets,” Kaye says. “Whereas, we’re interested in giving our guests local insights and sending them out to spots we like.”
My light-filled spacepod
Although not fully automated, my check-in is seamless, thanks to my effervescent “Wink Guide” ensuring I keep on track until she’s certain my lift is destined for the 12th floor where my room awaits.
The family room (27 square meters) has a king-size bed, a sofa that could be used to sleep on, and a second bed accessed by a small set of steps. It’s like a snug up here, although I fit comfortably. Good to know should I be banished from the marital bed.
A family of four could get away with staying here, but bring your headphones because there’s nowhere for the kids when they suddenly decide it’s time to create that urgent TikTok video just before bed. And T+L tip for parents of babies: Note that there’s no mini-fridge in the room.
There are magnificent floor-to-ceiling vertigo-inducing windows across the entire city-facing wall, which provide amazing light during the day and offer stunning views of an evening.
The thing that strikes me most about the room is that it looks basic, however, on close inspection, it’s evident the quality of materials and workmanship are of exceptional quality. The shower is an example: simple but spacious and does the job spectacularly. I feel guilty for letting the water run so long.
I also love how the bathroom door swings to become the shower door allowing multiple people to use the bathroom at the same time. It doesn’t feel cramped nor does it leave you waltzing the two-step with a door on each arm moving from toilet to shower to vanity.
As the hotel professes, it is a crash pad of sorts, but a classy one. Believe me, it’s good to know that at the end of a long day exploring the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood, there’s this cleverly conceived cocoon waiting for me when I return.
wink-hotels.com; doubles from VND1,600,000
All photos courtesy of Wink Hotel Saigon Centre.