A coun­try of au­then­tic de­lights.

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The wheels of the taxi gripped the hot pave­ment as we raced along the wind­ing coastal road, climb­ing ever higher into the hills. Out­side, the sear­ing rays of the mid­day sun re­flected off the sea and fish­ing vil­lages ap­peared and dis­ap­peared in a flash. In­side, the scene was far from idyl­lic and likely to blame for our driver’s haste. Af­ter nearly seven hours of travel, our nine-mon­thold daugh­ter was mere mo­ments away from a melt­down. Se­same Street songs, snacks and chewy toys had lost their sooth­ing power.

Then in the dis­tance, we spot­ted a col­lec­tion of blue-green rooftops float­ing among the trees, high above shim­mer­ing Vinh Hy Bay. Our spir­its lifted. Vis­it­ing an Aman re­sort is an ex­cit­ing event at the best of times. Af­ter the morn­ing we’d had, our ar­rival bor­dered on the mirac­u­lous.

“Wel­come to Amanoi,” the staff said in near uni­son.

Never one to make a scene in pub­lic, Ivy stopped cry­ing and smiled. Our mood changed for the bet­ter with ev­ery step we took up the wide stair­case lead­ing to the breezy, open-air din­ing area of the main pav­il­ion. We walked to the ter­race and mar­velled at the view, scan­ning the scrubby green hill­sides that spill down to­ward the craggy coast­line and star­ing out at the lim­it­less wa­ters of the South China Sea (or East Sea, as the Vietnamese call it).

“At night it looks like a city be­cause of all the lights from the boats,” the restau­rant man­ager, Sarah, told us.

When ev­ery­thing is just right But Amanoi feels any­thing but ur­ban and is a world away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of Viet­nam’s main cities. The re­sort, a 90-minute drive from the near­est air­port, sits next to the Nui Chua Na­tional Park, and is just down the road from a small fish­ing vil­lage, where tra­di­tional round, blue fish­ing boats bob in the nearby har­bour.

The 31 chic guest pavil­ions and five vil­las (four to five bed­rooms each) are spread out over a 40-hectare prop­erty, mak­ing lit­tle white bug­gies the in­dis­pens­able mode of trans­porta­tion. Our spa­cious and ul­tra-pri­vate pool pav­il­ion pro­vided strik­ing views of the

bay, which we took in at dawn as the boats chugged back ashore and the birds chat­tered in the trees. The in­te­rior was a wel­come es­cape from the blaz­ing heat, the poured con­crete floor cool on our feet and the wo­ven grass ceil­ing high above our heads.

“My god, if I had a room like that I’d never leave,” I heard my mother-in-law tell my wife over FaceTime.

It’s not just the rooms, though; it’s ev­ery­thing. The cliff pool is one of the most stun­ning set­tings I’ve ever en­coun­tered, perched on a hill­side and bor­dered by invit­ing loungers. The spa fit­ness area is a sanc­tu­ary unto it­self, com­pris­ing a group of build­ings clus­tered around a lake, at the heart of which stands the cov­ered but wall-less yoga pav­il­ion. The gym and Pi­lates stu­dio are filled with top-notch train­ing toys.

Just a buggy ride away is the beach club, a con­tem­po­rary struc­ture with a large, table­top roof, long pool and ope­nair din­ing area that over­looks a tran­quil bay, where we ate Vietnamese noo­dle soup, rice pa­per rolls, and even fish and chips. In the af­ter­noons we sipped sug­ary but strong Vietnamese cof­fee as we de­voured desserts at the main pav­il­ion.

Once or twice I ducked down to the li­brary to try to get Ivy to sleep. I gazed long­ingly at the glossy books I wouldn’t get time to flip through (ah, par­ent­hood) and no­ticed that even the board games were sim­ply styled, their gar­ish boxes re­placed by sim­ple black ver­sions with sten­cilled names. Walk­ing back in time The temp­ta­tion to re­main in the Amanoi bub­ble was strong, but we yearned for a dose of cul­ture and even­tu­ally hopped a plane, fly­ing to the coun­try’s cen­tre. Af­ter drop­ping our bags off at the gor­geous Nam Hai re­sort, we took a short drive to Hoi An, a 15th-cen­tury

town on the banks of the Thu Bon River. The former trad­ing post and UNESCO World Her­itage site, which sur­vived the Viet­nam War largely in­tact, is made up of build­ings that fuse lo­cal de­signs with those from China and Ja­pan.

We strolled the nar­row streets, past the yel­low façades of the build­ings, at times find­ing respite from the heat and hu­mid­ity in­side the many tailors and cob­blers for which Hoi An is fa­mous. We also ducked into stores that sell lac­quer­ware, silk and art, and en­joyed restau­rants that cook up the renowned

cao lau noo­dle dish. Ev­ery­where we went al­most ev­ery­one smiled at us, cooed at the baby or vol­un­teered for group pho­tos.

Peace­ful home base We would go back to Hoi An many more times, but thank­fully we had a home base at The Nam Hai, which of­fers tours to a num­ber of sites, in­clud­ing the Mar­ble Moun­tains, the ru­ins of Hue and My Son, and the Cham is­lands.

In the morn­ings, we’d throw open the cur­tains of our villa to spy only sand and sea be­fore head­ing off to dive into the boun­ti­ful break­fast buf­fet. Af­ter­noons were spent soak­ing in one of the re­sort’s three pools, swing­ing in the beach­side ham­mock, or cool­ing off in the games room. At night, we dined al­fresco, sam­pling var­i­ous Vietnamese dishes and tak­ing turns hold­ing Ivy in front of the mu­si­cians who played tra­di­tional mu­sic on a harp and gui­tar.

“It’s peace­ful and re­lax­ing here,” con­fided Tommy from Long Beach, Aus­tralia. He and his wife fell in love with the re­sort and the re­gion nearly a decade ago, and they’ve been com­ing with their chil­dren to The Nam Hai once or twice a year ever since. Now they also run a spon­sor­ship pro­gramme giv­ing lo­cal kids a chance to go to univer­sity.

“The peo­ple here are so mod­est,” he said. “They have good hearts.”

Full moon party They also know how to throw a great party. For­tu­nately, our time in Hoi An co­in­cided with the monthly Full Moon Fes­ti­val. As the sun went down, lo­cals shrugged off the heat of the day and pre­pared to wel­come the night.

“All the restau­rants and shops turn off their lights – just lanterns and the moon,” ex­plained our driver, Vu. “It feels like Hoi An 300 years ago.”

Fam­i­lies and friends crowded the banks of the muddy river and boats floated in the wa­ter. The air filled with the smell of grilled veg­eta­bles and meat, as food sell­ers called out what was on of­fer. Tourists in the Old Town posed for pho­tos in front of the grace­fully curved, wooden Ja­panese cov­ered bridge, one of the most fa­mous land­marks in Viet­nam.

Then there were the lanterns, ac­tu­ally tiny can­dles shielded by thin pa­per. I pulled out some crum­pled cur­rency and bought a cou­ple. A woman handed us long sticks with bas­kets at the end so we could care­fully lower our glow­ing pur­chases into the slow-mov­ing Thu Bon. We closed our eyes, made our re­spec­tive wishes, and then let the cur­rent catch our lanterns, send­ing them down river to join thou­sands of oth­ers as the moon shone high over­head and life in this an­cient town con­tin­ued along, as it has for cen­turies.





01 View from Amanoi ter­race 02 Seren­ity at The Nam Hai 03 Ar­rival at Amanoi 04 Hid­den beaches dot the coast­line 05 Tra­di­tion alive in The Nam Hai’s or­ganic gar­den 04

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