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.