The Laban Hotel Review: Where the Compass Beats the Clock

The photo of rustical details in The Laban hotel mezzanine, bottles, clock, wood, plants, keyboard, photo by Ivan Kralj
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The photo of rustical details in The Laban hotel mezzanine, bottles, clock, wood, plants, keyboard, photo by Ivan Kralj
The photo of a bed in the room of The Laban hotel, with "Live your Life by a Compass, not a Clock" message on the wall
The photo of a white couch in The Laban hotel room, with vividly coloured pillows and big windows, photo by Ivan Kralj
The photo of decoration details in the room of The Laban hotel, flowers, wood etc., photo by Ivan Kralj
The photo of a mezzanine in The Laban hotel, lounge place with tables and chairs and couch with several people sitting and using their mobile phones, photo by Ivan Kralj
Photo of the lightbulbs in the mezzanine of The Laban hotel, one of them "dressed" in a cotton wool resembling a cloud, photo by Ivan Kralj
Photo of the bed in the dormitory of The Laban hotel, white bedsheets in front of the blue-grey planks covering the wall, photo by Ivan Kralj
Photo of a dormitory in The Laban hotel, two rows of curtained bunk beds separated by the corridor between them, big lightbulbs, photo by Ivan Kralj
Photo of the bathroom in The Laban hotel, with shower, sink, wooden box, painting of the window on the wall, photo by Ivan Kralj

In The Laban hotel everything still smells of new. It is not odd! The establishment opened in late October 2016! Even if every such property shooting high (and Laban certainly does want to offer a vision of a different Saigon) needs the time to harmonize its business to start running entirely smooth, this place seems to know its way, and that, in these crazy running-for-quick-profit times, is already a hint of sanity.

Laban’s philosophy is that we should not race with time

Laban teaches us that time is relative anyway! The hotel’s philosophy is that we should not race with the clock, but focus on the direction we are taking, and on the question of why do we need to get there. Hence the name of this property is the Vietnamese word for ‘compass.’ Paintings of the world map cover its walls, with a simple, yet thought-provoking message “Live your Life by a Compass, not a Clock”.

Simply decorated double room in hotel The Laban in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. Blue wood on the walls and spacious windows, photo by Ivan Kralj
A typical room in The Laban hotel – wood and bright colors

The material used for these paintings are planks, which are applied throughout the artsy building, becoming Laban’s signature “wallpaper”. The wood provides the feeling of a warm and cozy environment, with bright rooms (‘laban’ also means ‘white’ in Hebrew), and tastefully incorporated vivid colors. Stylish interior design and pure lines of the furniture and decoration, such as pillows or paintings, are introduced by Lê Giang Nam, The Laban hotel’s owner.

If you are looking for an interesting day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, consider discovering the Vietnamese Jesus in Vung Tau!

Location, location, location

The Laban’s location is in the lively area of Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. It almost cannot get more central than this! The financial axis of Vietnam is situated here, and the focal point for anyone inclined to the shopping frenzy. Major historical and touristic sights, such as Reunification Palace or War Remnants Museum, but also Ben Thanh Market, the place to try the local street food, or entertainment/nightlife facilities are within your walking distance.

The facade of hotel Laban in Saigon, covered by the greenery
The green exterior of the Laban hotel building

Besides the proximity to the main city attractions, the hotel is also at a convenient distance from Tan Son Nhat international airport. Seven kilometers away, the taxi ride will cost you a bit more than 120.000 Vietnamese Dong (5 Euros). However, if you wish to save money as soon as you arrive, I strongly suggest buying the Vietnamese SIM card (3 GB of internet traffic are available at a ridiculously low price of 290.000 Dong – 12 Euros), and then installing Grab, the Asian version of Uber. From the airport to Laban, the Grab ride with a motorbike will cost you only 33.000 Dong (a bit more than 1 Euro!), while GrabCar will take you there for 75.000 Dong (3 Euros).

Balcony at The Laban hotel in Saigon, with green plants, light bulbs and rustical wooden details
Every floor at The Laban hotel has a small rustical balcony for some chill-out time

The Laban hotel – an oasis in the orgy of noise

Staying in central Saigon has its downsides. The constant honking of cars and motorbikes turns its streets into a nightmarish noise-scape that you will hardly escape anywhere in Vietnam, to be honest. Your ride from the airport might provide you with your first cultural shock, but get used to it! Honking is a way of communicating here and, simply put, the Vietnamese love to communicate. A lot! As if vaccinated for stress caused by the sirens orgy, Vietnamese are adapted quite well, and arguing between the drivers is really not prevalent. To be fair, Laban is not completely soundproof. But the location in the Bui Thi Xuan, which is essentially a side street to Cach Mang Thang Tam, a much livelier city artery, means that your primary sound disturbance might not be constant honking, but the street vendors who are using loudspeakers to sell their goods, even until midnight.

If we put this unavoidable price on the side, The Laban hotel does offer some peace in the middle of the traffic jungle. The vegetation covering its facade, fresh flowers distributed daily on the tables of The Laban Cafe, discrete lighting bulbs floating in cotton clouds, and the plan to open a garden on the hotel’s roof, show the attention to details in designing this urban oasis for travelers.

The Laban does not treat the dormitory room guests like a lower class

Hotel feeling for everyone

Whether you stay in the penthouse, quadruple en-suite room or the dormitory (floors are elevator-served), beds are comfortable and good-sized. In the dorm, bunk beds come with the curtain providing privacy, while each guest also gets a locker under his/her bed. This most economical version also includes sockets for charging your electronic devices and a night lamp, while two shared and spacy bathrooms are at disposal for 16 dorm guests. The Laban does not treat them like a lower class – free towels, toothbrushes, combs and cotton buds are included in the offer, providing that basic hotel feeling, which many soapless hostels and guesthouses in Vietnam lack. All rooms come with charming balconies or terraces, but also they are air-conditioned, which is a true benefit after exploring the city under the tropical sun.

Free and satisfactorily strong wifi is available throughout the hotel, which gives you the freedom to access it from your bed, but also the opportunity to engage in working on your laptop in a pleasant lounge/café area at the mezzanine floor, with a fair distribution of electrical sockets. This floor also offers musical instruments such as keyboards and a guitar, some basic games and books, for your entertainment purposes.

Rice-Field smoothie made of blended yogurt, brown rice and fermented rice, at The Laban hotel bar, in a cup with the printed words "Live your life by a compass, not a clock", photo by Ivan Kralj
“Live your life by a compass, not a clock,” says this cup of Rice-Field, Laban’s original blend of yogurt, brown rice, and fermented rice

Mouthwatering blends

Besides the egg coffee (essentially, black Vietnamese coffee with egg cream and cacao powder), the coffee shop of The Laban hotel also offers delicious homemade smoothies and healthy drinks with the original signature. Personally, I have tried and highly recommend the Rice-Field (blended yogurt, brown rice, and fermented rice), Yofu Pandan (a smoothie made of yogurt, tofu, and homemade pandan syrup), Coko Tiki (coconut ice-cream, coconut cream, homemade corn syrup, and lime) and guava & raspberry sparkling tea. To be fair, if I had stayed longer, I would have probably also tried (and have a hard time not recommending) the other smoothies, juices, and teas in the offer, coming in the range between 29.000 and 45.000 Dongs (1-2 Euros). The bar also makes cocktails if you want more “juice” in your sip.

Laban’s young staff made their best efforts to communicate with me in English, even if this is not a standard provision at accommodation receptions in Vietnam. Although their fluency was not perfect, I was positively surprised when I witnessed one member of the staff receiving private English lessons in the café area two times during my 4-day stay. That is truly commendable!

With the friendly approach to guests, its urban interior, and laid-back vibe, this boutique hotel in central Saigon provides an exceptionally pleasant stay to its visitors. The rumor has it that more Labans will be opening in the near future, which means that you will have the opportunity to explore even other Vietnamese towns with this compass-hotel providing you the opportunity to leave your clock at home.

Disclosure: My stay at The Laban was complimentary, but all opinions are my own. 
Ivan Kralj


Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

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