SECLUDED ELEGANCE AND CULTURE IN VIETNAM
A country of authentic delights.
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