In the Land of the Lo­tus Eaters

Find­ing par­adise at An Lam Re treats NinhV an Bay

Oi Vietnam - - Money Talks - Text by James Pham Im­ages Pro­vided by An Lam Re­treats Ninh Van Bay

IN HOMER’S ODYSSEY, the Greek hero Odysseus stum­bles across the land of the Lo­tus Eaters, a place so com­pletely bliss­ful that every­one who sets foot there never wants to leave.

For cen­turies, peo­ple have tried to find this myth­i­cal is­land with­out suc­cess. Per­haps un­til now.

Ahead of An Lam Re­treats Ninh Van Bay’s grand open­ing at the end of June, we set out to see if this land of leg­end re­ally ex­ists. Our own odyssey be­gins with a seam­less air­port pick-up, driv­ing along Nha Trang’s beau­ti­ful coast­line 15km north of town to An Lam’s pri­vate jetty. A com­pletely en­closed ten­der boat takes us on a smooth 15-minute ride over glassy seas, a flock of swifts flit­ting in the spray of our wake, to­wards the penin­sula on stun­ning Ninh Van

Bay. As we draw closer, the only sign of the 34-villa re­treat is a gi­ant wooden sphere, a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a lo­tus flower, a sign that we’ve ar­rived to the mod­ern Land of the Lo­tus Eaters.

Staff are lined up at the jetty to wel­come us to par­adise, a place so idyl­lic, it makes ev­ery slick marketing slo­gan ever writ­ten sound in­sin­cere. I’ve of­ten won­dered how Adam and

Eve might have lived in the Gar­den of Eden, an­other earthly par­adise. Might they have lived in a tree house, Tarzan and Jane-style? Or sim­ply slept un­der the stars, cud­dled by Mother Na­ture on a dense car­pet of grass? Walk­ing along the woody path up to our Tree­top Pool Villa, past brightly col­ored lizards and but­ter­flies, I think I have the an­swer to my ques­tion.

Set 12m above the ground, up three flights of stairs, our 75sqm tree­house is jaw-drop­pingly stun­ning, as if

Adam had a de­gree in En­vi­ron­men­tal Ar­chi­tec­ture and Eve ma­jored in In­te­rior De­sign. The largest of five villa types, the Tree­top Pool Villa fea­tures two out­door seat­ing ar­eas, a spa­cious bed­room with in­cred­i­ble, sweep­ing views over the bay, and an equally large bath­room with wooden bath­tub, hisand-her sinks and a glazed turquoisetiled rain shower with a slid­ing door open­ing di­rectly onto a pri­vate plunge pool, all ac­cented with New Zealand pine, ap­pro­pri­ately distressed for a beach chic vibe. Nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als give the vil­las an aura of light­ness and bright­ness with stone and wood floors, pol­ished bam­boo ac­ces­sories and gauzy cur­tains nat­u­rally dyed and hand-wo­ven in north­ern Viet­nam.

While the uber lux­u­ri­ous na­ture of the vil­las them­selves would fit right in to the pages of Ar­chi­tec­tural Di­gest, it’s the de­sign­ing hand of Mother Na­ture that sets An Lam Re­treats apart from all pre­tenders. In­stead of seek­ing to tame na­ture, the re­treat em­braces its wild beauty. Built to merge seam­lessly into the land­scape, prac­ti­cally hidden amongst tow­er­ing trees and gi­ant

boul­ders, each villa fea­tures in­ge­nious slid­ing pan­els and win­dows which can be thrown open to al­low the sea breezes in. The playlist to life in par­adise is sup­plied by bird chirps, the hum of ci­cadas and the sound of wa­ter lap­ping against the cres­cent beach. The air is heavy with Mother Na­ture’s per­fume, an in­tox­i­cat­ingly woody scent with sweet notes pro­vided by jas­mine flow­ers and cashew fruits burst­ing with their sug­ary, tart juice, just some of the many fruit trees on the prop­erty.

The re­treat is blessed with a nat­u­ral moun­tain spring with its head some 10km up the moun­tain and dou­ble fil­tered for guest and re­sort use.

One morn­ing, we take a guided walk fol­low­ing the stream part­way up the moun­tain, past the Jun­gle Gym, lit­er­ally a state-of-the-art gym in the jun­gle, and the two pri­vate treat­ment salas of the Jun­gle Spa, re­call­ing our ear­lier Swedish mas­sage that took us fur­ther away from re­al­ity with ev­ery firm, ten­sion­re­leas­ing stroke. We stroll along wooden walk­ways and scam­per up large, smooth boul­ders into the jun­gle. Ac­ces­si­ble only by boat, the penin­sula is densely forested and largely un­in­hab­ited save for troops of lan­gurs and other wildlife. We cool off in a swim­ming hole fed by the cool, clear stream, as panoramic views of the pris­tine bay un­fold be­low us with Thi Is­land and its aban­doned pagoda to the right, and Mon­key Is­land closer to the main­land.

The re­treat is sim­i­larly tran­quil, with most of the other guests bliss­fully holed up in their vil­las, no doubt cool­ing off in the plunge pool, loung­ing on plush so­fas or In­sta­gram­ming with a #livey­ourbestlife hash­tag. Life at An Lam Re­treats is all about pri­vacy, and the staff, in­clud­ing ded­i­cated but­lers for each villa, know to be dis­creet, ring­ing a bell be­fore de­liv­er­ing daily af­ter­noon snacks and re­fresh­ments like pas­sion­fruit iced tea with a se­lec­tion of pe­tit fours to stave off the 4 o’clock nib­bles. In fact, the rare times we see other guests are usu­ally at the in­fin­ity pool, on the post­card-per­fect beach fronting glassy, sea foam green wa­ter or at Sen Restau­rant.

Built over wa­ter, the spec­tac­u­lar open-air restau­rant fea­tures plush, over­stuffed so­fas on the out­door deck and ta­bles in­side with a show grill in the cen­ter, sur­rounded by mas­sive tim­ber pil­lars. The restau­rant show­cases clas­sic Viet­namese cui­sine with a hand­ful of Western fa­vorites, im­mac­u­lately pre­sented. One lunch, we have the Aus­tralian Ten­der­loin, beau­ti­fully seared with an earthy mush­room sauce and served over a bed of mashed potatoes and steamed veg­eta­bles with a smear of sweet berry re­duc­tion bal­anced by the tart­ness of bal­samic caramelized onions. How­ever, it’s in the treat­ment of fresh seafood where the restau­rant truly shines. Thanks to care­fully cul­ti­vated re­la­tion­ships with some of the nearby float­ing fish and lob­ster farms, the seafood on of­fer is sec­ond-to-none

and guests are even in­vited to visit the float­ing farms via 5-minute boat ride to se­lect their own seafood.

One evening, af­ter sun­down­ers at the rooftop bar with 360-de­gree views of the bay and the hazy blue moun­tains be­yond, we or­der the Nha Trang

Seafood Plat­ter with grilled sea bass, tiger prawns and squid served with a small heap of herbs and veg­gies from the re­treat’s own or­ganic gar­den and a fla­vor­some green chili dip­ping sauce.

It’s fol­lowed by Lob­ster with Gar­lic But­ter, grilled to per­fec­tion, and a whole grilled pom­fret, its firm meat ideal for rolling in rice pa­per with fresh veg­gies, all dipped in a thick, Viet­namese dip­ping sauce. With the lights of the main­land glit­ter­ing like a string of Christ­mas lights in the dis­tance and the gen­tle sound of waves lap­ping the shore, there’s no place else we’d rather be.

It’s ap­pro­pri­ate that in this hal­cyon Land of the Lo­tus Eaters, An Lam Re­treat’s logo is a lo­tus flower in full bloom. It’s sub­tly in­cor­po­rated into the de­sign of the re­sort—in drawer pulls and ta­ble tops and in the con­tem­po­rary shape of Sen Restau­rant. Iconic of Viet­nam, An Lam’s lo­tus proudly rep­re­sents a home­grown Viet­namese brand achiev­ing a level of lux­ury pre­vi­ously seen only at in­ter­na­tion­al­level prop­er­ties, but here wholly Viet­namese owned, de­signed and op­er­ated.

As with Odysseus’ men on the myth­i­cal is­land of the Lo­tus Eaters, we can barely tear our­selves away from An Lam when the time comes. Even as the boat idles on the jetty, we sip the last drop of our frothy Viet­namese iced cof­fee and freshly baked breads, a last nib­ble of the in­tox­i­cat­ing lo­tus in this very real ver­sion of earthly par­adise.

Dou­bles start at VND7.4 mil­lion per night in­clud­ing break­fast and roundtrip boat trans­fers. See www.an­lam.com for spe­cial sum­mer rates.

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