Saigon and the Rex Hotel

After my lucky escape in Vung Tau we rode the hydrofoil to Saigon and booked at the Oscar Hotel for the night before going on to Nha Trang the next day. That night I figured we should go and have a beer at the Rex Hotel. Famous during the war as a residence for Generals and journalists, it is a part of the folk-law of the Vietnam war. Being Infantry I never got there but had heard how the assembled multitude would admire the infantry’s ongoing pyrotechnic side show as we swapped red for green tracer and added in the odd napalm ‘appocalypse’ mixed with the Puff the Magic Dragon ‘spiralling red light show’ as millions of rounds sought out enemy troops. Ah. The vision splendid of pyrotechnics in war I hope the bastards appreciated all the effort we went to to liven up their Happy Hours after a hard week in their airconditioned offices. Suzan Weber in Demillle’s Up Country talks on some of the history of the hotel.
She smiled then said, “About the hotel – it was once owned by a wealthy Vietnamese couple who bought it from a French company. During the American involvement here, it housed mostly American military” “So I’ve heard” “Yes. Then when the Communists came to power in 1975, it was taken over by the government. It remained a hotel, but it mostly housed North Vietnamese party officials, Russian, and Communists from other countries” “Nothing but the best for the winners” “Well, I understand it became a pigsty. But sometime in the mid-1980s the government sold an interest in it to an international company, who managed to get rid of the communist guests. It was completely renovated and became an international hotel” From Up Country by Nelson Demille pp98-99
rex1.jpg A couple of Tiger beers followed by a couple of Black Label scotches soothed the soul as Stu and I sat and talked about things in general. The Rex was as far removed from my war as Brisbane is and thus didn’t conjure up many recollections, but alcohol loosens the mind and some surprising events resurfaced from repressed memories. Over by the crown and elephants a Philipino Quartet played and I was reminded of a time when I was last in Vietnam and suffering from malaria and a kind nurse offered to push me down in my wheelchair to a visiting Philipino show near the hospital at Vung Tau. There were lightly clad, pretty Philipino girls doing a song and dance routine that quickly degenerated into a ‘simulated sex with the microphone stand’ routine and then went straight on to a ‘real and naked sex with passing soldiers’ routine. Military Policemen found God and converted from being athiest bastards to followers of religion of the type quoted by Protestants and Methodists and stopped the show, while my chaperone giggled, squealed and quickly wheeled me out of the theatre. “Your’e not well enough for anything like that yet Kevin, your’e not even strong enough to walk” All my protestations about it being a horizontal sport made no impact on the determination of the Lieutenant to deliver me safe and sound back to my hospital bed. I lived to fight another day but I always felt the last chapter of that story never got written.


  • Why are nurses always so flirty, yet never seem to cooperate!?

  • Let’s get this straight — once and for all — about the Rex Hotel during the Vietnam War. (Note to Lonely Planet, Vietnamese tour guides, etc etc.) It was a BOQ, or Billetted Officers Quarters, strictly for US military officers. No journalists stayed there, or even visited that rooftop bar all that much. (We journos preferred the roof of the Caravelle or, better, the Majestic down on the Saigon River.) The ground floor of the Rex, however, is where the US had its public information office (JUSPAO) and held daily war briefings dubbed the 5 O’Clock Follies. The rooftop was tacky then — and remains so today.

    Carl Robinson.

  • OK Carl,

    I stand corrected but prior to your input, relying on Google as I have no personal experiences there, I accepted what I had read.

    Mea Culpa.

    I didn’t think the roof top was that tacky. It beat the Company boozers we had (ours was called The Seldom Inn for obvious reasons) but maybe I was taken by the experience of being in a place I had only heard of.

    My Saigon history is very limited but we did go to the top floor of the Caravelle and had a night of beer and black label. It was classier by far as was the tab. The Caravelle has been renovated (as you most probably know) but the view was better than that at the Rex. It was higher.

    As I had no great interest in Saigon I just did the pub thing but missed the Majestic.

    Oh well, there is always the chance of a third tour.