You know what to expect at an Amanresorts property and rarely, if ever, do they disappoint. Aside from the group’s urban and heritage locales (Venice comes to mind, as does Montenegro, Bhutan and Galle Fort in Sri Lanka), the template is of a meandering village-like enclave with destination-specific architecture and a firm sense of privacy. If there were a volume control, the mood would be forever set to low and hushed.
The clifftop Amanoi, 55km south of Cam Ranh Airport, in Ninh Thuan Province on Vietnam’s central coast, fulfils the brief with great style and a real sense of oasis. Occupying a 42.2ha expanse, it is the only accommodation within the 24,000ha Nui Chua National Park, covering marine and coastal habitats, hidden coves (and caves) and studded with boulders and rocky pinnacles so sculptural they look manmade. It is a dry and scrubby landscape reminiscent of Sardinia; the resort can arrange guides for hikes or bird-watching expeditions.
The 31 free-standing guest pavilions (many with private pools) have pitched grey-tiled roofs and low eaves that mimic Vietnamese temple architecture, are superspacious and arranged in squiggly rows. The property is perched like a belvedere and the terrace off its Central Pavilion, set with cushioned seating, could well be on the Amalfi Coast or high atop the isle of Capri. The boats that dot Vinh Hy Bay and the East Sea are fishing trawlers, not billionaires’ yachts, but it is a magical, vertical view replicated at varying angles from the decks of front-row accommodation.
Designed by Asia-based Jean-Michel Gathy, a favourite of Amanresorts, all is airy and serene, with an almost Japanese aesthetic of sliding doors, shrinelike colonnades and uncluttered spaces. The palette is uniformly of plain, pale oak and dark cement; Vietnamese antiques and apposite artworks are discreetly displayed, there are bowls of tuberose and creamy orchids, and hangings of gem-coloured raw silk. Guests (couples, mostly) do not gather in gregarious groups although the bar is convivial each evening, especially at the long counter where set in a row are leather tub chairs, each with its own table-lamp. Irresistible concoctions include the likes of a mango bellini or mango and cinnamon mojito.
There are five accommodation categories, including private pool pavilions. If mindful of budget, the accommodation without pools has an identical layout and the big cliff and beach pools are ideal for dipping; ask for a pavilion next to the main facilities (Ocean Pavilions 1 or 2 would be ideal) from where it’s a short walk to the higher pool. If mobility is an issue, avoid the lower pavilions, such as mine (No 15; no pool), where the considerable flights of steps are inadequately lit after dark. Susan Kurosawa is The Australian’s travel editor.
Meals are served in the Main Pavilion, indoors or out, and that al fresco terrace is the place to be for breakfast omelets thick with crabmeat and topped with a garden’s worth of greenery, or British-born executive chef Daniel Woodbridge’s degustation dinners of Vietnamese delicacies, including fragrant claypot dishes, banana blossom salad and sea bass wrapped in turmeric leaves. Gulp young coconut juice fresh from the fruit or gorge on passionfruit souffle with white chocolate sorbet.
Amanoi can arrange its minibus to take you to nearby Binh Hung where boats putter out to floating restaurants. The resort’s Australian general manager, Sean Flakelar, suggests Madam Hong’s where a seafood feast will cost about $20, including charcoal-grilled lobster with dipping bowls of lime and white pepper. Choose your catch from tanks under the pontoon and dine at rickety tables; it is all enormous fun. The locals string up hammocks and take naps after lunch.
EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
This area is ripe for discovery, especially as the nearby sprawling coastal city of Nha Trang is increasingly overtaken by charter flights from Vladivostok and packaged holiday-makers. In a country that is in danger of being overwhelmed with tourism, Amanoi feels all the more like a treasured sanctuary. The word is spreading about the party potential of a clutch of privately owned Aman Villas, each with four or five bedrooms, big pools and live-in cook and housekeeper.
Complimentary afternoon tea is served on the terrace from 3.30pm to 5pm, with savoury little rice cakes cooked on the spot over a charcoal burner. They slide down well between sips of iced Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk.
The spa sits beside a lotus-filled lake, with pavilions linked by paths and a pair of hamam-style hydrotherapy suites that can be booked for steams, hot and cold plunges, and Turkish-inspired treatments. The staff know little English but “spa speak” is universal and they are expert and attentive. Go for a 90-minute Vietnamese massage performed by the energetic Mrs Chi, and wind up with a coconut hair bath.
Ask for a buggy to take you to the resort’s beach club where there’s a 50m-long pool, late breakfast and lunch menu (try the chunky fisherman’s soup) and a cove set with loungers and equipment such as kayaks and snorkelling gear. The reefs brim with coral, the sand is soft, the pale turquoise water is delightfully clear — call for a picnic.
Amanoi, Vinh Hy Village, Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam; + 84 68 377 0777; amanresorts.com. Abercrombie & Kent has a Hideaway: Amanoi package of four nights in an Ocean Pavilion, return airport transfers from Nha Trang, daily breakfasts and a private Binh Hung island tour and lunch. From $US2240 a person; abercrombiekent.com.au.
04 01 The Amanoi beach club 02 Turquoise views over Vinh Hy Bay 03 The al fresco dining terrace 04 A pool pavilion bathroom 05 Pool pavilion bedroom and lounge