HIGHER LEARN­ING

DestinAsian - - GOOD GO TO - —Natasha Dra­gun

He’s behind some of the re­gion’s most ap­plauded ho­tels and re­sorts, yet ar­chi­tect Bill Bens­ley claims his stu­dio’s new­est project in Viet­nam is the “best big ho­tel we have ever de­signed.” It’s cer­tainly the most dis­tinc­tive. Set on Khem Beach on the south­ern coast of Phu Quoc Is­land, the JW Mar­riott Phu Quoc Emer­ald Bay ( 84-77/377-9999; mar­riott.com; dou­bles from US$400) takes its in­spi­ra­tion from a myth­i­cal academy of learn­ing, La­marck Univer­sity. The story goes that the school was built in the 1800s as a base for French colonists and their chil­dren, be­gin­ning small and then ex­pand­ing as the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion grew. The new JW chan­nels this theme through a de­sign that es­chews large com­mu­nal build­ings in fa­vor of in­ti­mate, in­di­vid­u­ally crafted ac­com­mo­da­tions lin­ing a long main street known as Rue de La­marck. Here, low-slung Chi­nese-style shop­houses are back­dropped by more elab­o­rate build­ings where 243 rooms, suites, apart­ments, and vil­las are done up in sig­na­ture Bens­ley whimsy. The restau­rants con­tinue the premise: there are no cock­tails or mixol­o­gists in the bar, named the De­part­ment of Chem­istry, but in­stead “chemists” cre­ate “elixirs” in a dreamy space over­look­ing Emer­ald Bay. “We wanted to break down the scale so peo­ple feel like they’re in their own bou­tique de­part­ment of the ho­tel,” Bens­ley says. “It’s not your average beach re­sort.”

A Turquoise Suite at the JW Mar­riott in Phu Quoc, Viet­nam’s largest is­land.

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