M Style - - Contents - Text: ELENA DEL AMO

We show you two hid­den ho­tels de­signed for the rest­less ex­plorer.

The long and nar­row countr y of Viet­nam stretches over the South China Sea. It’s a land cloaked in rice fields and beaches, moun­tains in­hab­ited by small eth­nic groups and cities rid­den with floods of mo­tor­bikes that have usurped the ter­rain of rick­shaws and bi­cy­cles. After wit­ness­ing the ur­ban mad­ness of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you can de­light in just the op­po­site: sooth­ing mas­sages, yoga ses­sions and holis­tic treat­ments pro­vided at the Meliá group’s countr yside hide­aways.

Just like ‘British hu­mour ’ or ‘Swiss punc­tu­al­ity’, the ex­pres­sion ‘Asian lux­ury’ wasn’t coined by chance. Yet the con­ti­nent is rather huge, so per­haps the cliché should’ve been more spe­cific. It wouldn’t have such a nice ring to it, but South­east Asia in par­tic­u­lar is where lux­ury ho­tels of­fer the high­est-qual­ity ser­vices and at­ten­tion to de­tail, set­ting them far apart from other lat­i­tudes. In Viet­nam, at least, this phrase fits like a glove.

The coun­try is in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile, al­low­ing you to en­joy top des­ti­na­tions like Ha Long Bay, the ef­fer­ves­cence of Hanoi, the im­pe­rial foot­print of Hue, the ori­en­tal charm of Hoi An or walks among the rice fields of the Mekong Delta and the moun­tains of Sa Pa. There’s an end­less num­ber of ex­cuses to travel here—for food­ies, shopa­holics and he­do­nists alike. After an ex­haust­ing day of hag­gling your way through the cap­i­tal’s old quar­ter in search of crafts or spot-on im­i­ta­tions at bar­gain prices, you can al­ways find a place to get a re­ju­ve­nat­ing mas­sage and gain your strength back, even late at night. And if you start to no­tice the col­lat­eral dam­age of Viet­namese cui­sine around your waist­line—by be­com­ing an ex­pert on ei­ther the best restau­rants or the thou­sands of street stalls cook­ing up au­then­tic del­i­ca­cies—every morn­ing at dawn you can join hordes of re­tirees, housewives and neigh­bours who meet at parks and lakes to prac­tice the hyp­notic move­ments of tai chi be­fore go­ing to work.

The bal­ance be­tween body, mind and spirit is ex­tremely in­grained in the lo­cal cul­ture. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that Viet­nam, with its abun­dance of stun­ning nat­u­ral set­tings, has be­come a mecca for well­ness. More and more Euro­peans are es­cap­ing here to un­wind and dis­con­nect. If you’re tempted to join them, read on.


Pedes­tri­ans be­ware: only a fool would take a stroll through Hanoi with­out hav­ing pre­vi­ously learned how to walk here—lit­er­ally! Traf­fic in the cap­i­tal is so wild that the colour of stop­lights, the direc­tion of the road and even the hum­ble signs say­ing ‘pro­hib­ited’ seem to be deemed as mere ad­min­is­tra­tive opin­ions, to which no­body pays any at­ten­tion. As a re­sult, swarms of mo­tor­bikes zip through the streets with no ap­par­ent rhyme or rea­son—and half the fam­ily aboard—in a crazy ur­ban chore­og­ra­phy in which there are rarely ac­ci­dents (must be a thing of the gods!). To come out alive, sim­ply cross the street at a nor­mal pace, with­out run­ning or ever turn­ing back. Rest as­sured that driv­ers cal­cu­late pedes­tri­ans’ pace to the near­est mil­lime­tre, brush­ing right up against them and pass­ing by just when a crash seems in­evitable.

If you’re still not con­vinced by this tip, you can al­ways cross the street while tak­ing shel­ter be­hind a lo­cal passer-by, or get some prac­tice in the pedes­trian parts of Hanoi’s beau­ti­ful old quar­ter. Shop­ping in this area can be as ad­dic­tive as the am­bi­ence in the af­ter­noon, when tiny bars are set up along the pave­ments. After a few days of bat­tling the blessed chaos in the cap­i­tal, the body cries out for a bit of peace and quiet. You’ll find all the tran­quil­lity you’re look­ing for—and then some—about an hour and a half away, at the five-star Meliá that opened last March.

Dur­ing the colo­nial era, the French would get away from Hanoi’s sticky heat by vis­it­ing the na­tional park that this ho­tel is named after. Res­i­dences and clubs were built for of­fi­cers and their fam­i­lies amidst the green hills. After in­de­pen­dence in 1945, they were or­dered to be de­mol­ished.

Ba Vi Moun­tain Re­treat was con­ceived 600 me­tres above sea level, with breath­tak­ing views over the north­ern delta and in­spi­ra­tion from the for­got­ten ru­ins. Ac­cord­ing to the man­ager of this ex­clu­sive and ex­otic refuge, Mr Hai Do, ‘one of our high­lights is the de­sign that fuses colo­nial taste with tra­di­tional Viet­namese ar­chi­tec­ture’.

It fea­tures trop­i­cal wood in all the rooms, earth-toned up­hol­stery and large ve­ran­das over­look­ing the forests, where you can go fish­ing, kayak­ing or ex­plor­ing by foot or bi­cy­cle, catch­ing a glimpse of the beau­ti­fully coloured birds and but­ter­flies. Eth­nic groups like the Kinh, Muong and Dao also live in these moun­tains. With­out leav­ing the ho­tel, you can take part in cook­ing work­shops that use prod­ucts from the or­ganic gar­den, as well as med­i­ta­tion and yoga classes. Then, of course, there’s the YHI Spa, where you can bal­ance your body and mind through a phi­los­o­phy based on the five el­e­ments, as well as es­sen­tial oils, herbs and spices that have been used as se­cret recipes for health and beauty in Asia since an­cient times.

The swim­ming pool is a ver­i­ta­ble oa­sis in the mid­dle of the wilder­ness. The flavours of old In­dochina over­whelm

the senses, es­pe­cially at the Tonkin restau­rant, and even more so at the 1902 bar, where you can en­joy the night’s last cock­tail sur­rounded by a colo­nial at­mos­phere. The ter­race of­fers im­mense panoramic views over­look­ing Ba Vi Na­tional Park, its hills and its jun­gle.


At the op­po­site end of Viet­nam, you can hop aboard cruise ships that cross the Mekong Delta, de­part­ing from the out­skirts of Ho Chi Minh City to­wards the small is­land

of Phu Quoc. The south­ern cap­i­tal, which many still call by its old name Saigon, em­bod­ies the un­stop­pable growth that be­gan in Viet­nam in the eight­ies, even more so than Hanoi. Its pace is so fran­tic that, after ex­plor­ing the Chi­nese neigh­bour­hood of Cholon and the few colo­nial traces that have sur­vived among the city ’s sky­scrapers, the ru­ral land­scapes of the delta stretch­ing off to the sea will be a source of com­fort.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to peer through the branches and spy on the lo­cals who come by ca­noe to sell their pro­duce to whole­saler barges. Within these float­ing mar­kets, you can eas­ily spot the mer­chan­dise on of­fer by look­ing at the long stick on each boat’s bow, hung with fish, seafood and veg­eta­bles that most west­ern­ers have likely never seen be­fore. But the real king here is rice. In fact, the area along the delta alone pro­duces enough rice to feed all of Viet­nam, and there are still plenty of ex­tra tons to be ex­ported.

Among the maze of the Mekong, you can also catch a glimpse of Kh­mer tem­ples; women do­ing laun­dry in

the cho­co­late-coloured wa­ters; and tiny un­paved roads that are hap­pily shared by pedes­tri­ans, oxen, lor­ries and mo­tor­bikes car­ry­ing three or four pas­sen­gers, or even en­tire fam­i­lies, per­fectly bal­anced on one seat. Mean­while, a unique and end­less row of road­side houses, with di­rect ac­cess to the rice fields from their back doors, fade into the dis­tance. Like a scene straight out of a doc­u­men­tary film, all of this is slowly re­vealed from the decks of the cruise ships that, after a few days’ jour­ney, reach the point where the ferry con­tin­ues to Phu Quoc: an off-the-beat­en­path des­ti­na­tion that’s also ac­ces­si­ble by plane.

In­cred­i­bly close to the coast of Cam­bo­dia, much of this lit­tle is­land in the Gulf of Thai­land is oc­cu­pied by the na­tional park of the same name, which is also sit­u­ated in a bio­sphere re­serve recog­nised by UNESCO. Along

Truong Beach—one of the is­land’s best—you’ll find the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc. Each and every one of its em­ploy­ees, and most likely all of its guests, agree that it of­fers one of the most stun­ning sun­sets they ’ve ever seen. The sun­rise is also worth catch­ing, es­pe­cially if you want to start your day with a yoga or tai chi class on the white sand, sur­rounded by trop­i­cal gar­dens and throngs of palm trees.

After that, have a Western-style break­fast or an oblig­a­tory bowl of pho; drink a freshly squeezed juice from the nat­u­ral juice bar; or even en­joy brunch in your bikini while gaz­ing out to sea. Let time pass you by as you loll on the Bali beds or wade in the huge in­fin­ity pool. Al­ter­na­tively, you can traverse the crys­tal clear wa­ters with one of the kayaks and pad­dle­boards avail­able to guests. Or, if you pre­fer, join one of the snorkelling ex­pe­di­tions that take place around mid morn­ingn­ing and are or­gan­ised by the re­sort, which opened less than two years ago. There are many more tempt­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to try, from sports like vol­ley­ball and aqua-fit­ness to cook­ing classes taught by chefs. Take a ride on a cute vin­tage bike and ex­plore the is­land’s trails amidst na­ture, se­cret pic­tureper­fect beaches and pearl farms where you can wit­ness the cul­ti­va­tion process—and get a trea­sure to take home.

But, with­out a doubt, at some point you’ll have to find the time to en­joy the Body & Sol spa. One of the most pop­u­lar pro­grammes of­fers three hours of to­tal re­lax­ation, with a com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous mas­sage tech­niques from the East and the West to help you re­lease en­ergy, loosen every mus­cle in your body and feel com­pletely stress­free... un­til it’s time to pack your bags and re­turn to the real world. Every evening dur­ing your stay, you can savour Mediter­ranean-style seafood and in­ter­na­tional flavours at the re­sort’s restau­rants. As noted by Raúl Ma­teo, Gen­eral Man­ager at Sol Beach House Phu Quoc, you’ll also en­joy ‘the ca­sual at­mos­phere of our se­cret par­adise, es­pe­cially when the sun starts to go down at the Ola Beach Club, let­ting you see off the day with a per­fect sun­set ac­com­pa­nied by cock­tails and DJ ses­sions’.

On the left, the bath­room of one of the fam­ily suites; views from the re­sor t and the king size bed of a fam­ily suite at the Meliá Ba Vi Moun­tain Re­treat. On the pre­vi­ous page, a view of the ho­tel, and to its right, the beach at the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc.

On the left, a room with an ex­tra large bed at the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc; de­tails of the room and an aerial view of the pool area at sun­set.

On the right, the bar and main lobbyof the Sol Beach House Phu Quoc. Be­low it, a wel­com­inggreet­ing, and the stone sculp­tures that rep­re­sent agri­cul­turalwork on the is­land.

The Sol Beach House and its formsof re­lax­ation: the ho­tel's main pool; a Viet­namese meal; a sun lounger to en­joy the fresh air ; and the spa.

Above, sun­set on the beach at the Sol BeachHouse Phu Quoc.

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