Toast of the Coast – Vietnam resorts
AS development dollars pour in and muscle highways streak through the verdant rice fields, Vietnam these days can be summed up in a single word – SPEED. There’s not much of it. Highways in Vietnam are showpieces for belching trucks idling in long snaking lines, their unusual horns the only sign of contrapuntal remonstrance. Stray buffalos, wayward chickens and ducks sunning themselves on the asphalt all do their bit to slow things down. Ubiquitous speed limit signs are set at 40kph when approaching a town, 50kph within the urban zone, and then mischievously at 80kph, even on switchback roads climbing up into vertiginous hills.
I pushed my eyeballs back into their sockets as we began our dizzying ascent from Lang Co, crossing the hump from Hue to Danang. Fact is, speed kills, and the hard-working men in uniform are painfully aware of this. Every once in a while an improvised speed limit – say 30kph – scrawled on a strip of cardboard will appear propped against a tree to trip unwary motorists. Fail to spot it and camouflaged constabulary around the corner will pounce on you with glee demanding “tea money”, and thus are lives saved and wealth redistributed.
Danang area resorts
The epicentre of Vietnam beach getaways is along the fast-developing Danang-Hoi An corridor where names like Le Meridien, Hyatt Regency and Raffles appear on billboards promising new and vast sybaritic escapes. Private villas are sprouting everywhere and a bypass road has made access to the airport quicker.
The Crowne International Casino (opened March 2010) run by the Silver Shores International Resort beckons high rollers. Silver Shores is a modern resort construct, sprawling and spread out, with two extended sloping ship-bridge arms enfolding the free-form pools that front the wide expanse of beach.
There are 548 rooms and 52 villas with the usual mod-cons with the 120sq m Ocean Suites providing top-line accommodation with LCD TVs, living room, sofas, Internet and sea-view balconies. Bear in mind that this is a big, busy resort, and not a hideaway. Also expect a spa, dance club and 800sq m banquet area for MICE events and conventions.
The Life Resort Da Nang is another new arrival (March 2010) set in four hectares of prime beachfront real estate with spa, a 700-seater ballroom and show kitchen. This is a mixed-room red-tile-roof complex with three hotel-style medium-rise wings as well as one and two-bedroom villas. The pools run down the centre of the complex towards the ocean. Rooms starting at 36sq m with balconies are contemporary with gleaming wooden floors, sofa, large work desk and flat-screen TVs.
The 96sq m Grande Suite serves up a king-size bed, large balcony with furniture, LCD TV with DVD player and kitchenette. For exercise pick from swimming, tennis, fitness equipment, biking, or water sports. Also check the Life Resorts at Hoi An, Quy Nhon and Phan Thiet.
The elegant Furama Resort Danang has helped keep China Beach firmly on the travel map and, open since 1997, displays nary a wrinkle. China Beach is called Bac My An in Vietnamese to avoid offending local potentates.
The Furama was the first to open this area to well-heeled travellers and shows little sign of wear. A modern five-star resort with most imaginable amenities including high speed Internet and a business centre, the Furama is a comfortable and dependable choice. It is also sited on one of the best Vietnam beaches.
This resort is set in manicured grounds with two pools, plenty of green and a broad ocean frontage leading through casuarina groves and volleyball courts to the beach chairs and umbrellas along the tide line. Trained lifeguards (6am-6pm) and shallow waters make this a good spot for a family dip. There are acres and acres of beach and you can always find a quiet spot for navel gazing. Let me know what the belly-button fluff portends. Play tennis, billiards, badminton, drive some golf balls or just go fly a kite. Really.
If that's not enough, there's archery, yoga, tai-chi and a children's play area. This is a pretty child-friendly resort that works well for the family as well as for the corporate meeting crowd. The adjoining International Convention Palace (with the 774sq m Da Nang Ballroom that holds 700 persons theatre style) makes this a useful choice among Vietnam conference hotels.
Internet and WiFi is available in-room at US$10 per day. Opt for a split-level Ocean Deluxe to find a split-level room with gleaming timber floors and balcony, a sofa, bright cushions, a clock, notebook-size safe and rain-shower (no tub). Prop up on the pillows to see the sea from your bed. The decor is contemporary, functional and neat. It won’t set you on fire but the rooms are more than comfortable. There is a dive centre and spa. The resort runs regular shuttles to the Cham Museum, Marble Mountains and Hoi An. The Furama is 12km and about 15 minutes from the airport.
Another laid back and simpler option is the Sandy Beach Resort. There's tennis, sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi, and even a business centre with Internet access should you require it. Da Nang is a bit of a one-horse town and there's not a whole lot to do apart from lazing on the beach. There are sights – like the Marble Mountains – but you’ll need to hire a taxi and drive out to find them.
Hoi An resorts
Some of the more charming Vietnam resorts are found in Hoi An. The drive to Hoi An passes rice fields and Marble Mountain where endless rows of giant marble temple lions await your fancy. Nice, but a bit large for carry-on. Hoi An is quaint with more than a hint of commerce. Silk shops and restaurants line its pedestrian lanes. Prices are a bargain but, if you like, you can bargain some more. Have your taxi wait in the car park and walk in, or hop onto a cycle rickshaw. This preserved heritage zone is a compact area with brightly-hued two-storey shophouses with tile roofs. The streets meander from nowhere to nowhere which adds to the charm.
At the western corner is the covered Japanese Bridge which was built in the 16th Century. There are tickets at modest prices for entry into some of the historic buildings and assembly halls. The local speciality is cao lau, a rice noodle. Much of the area has been restored and a fresh vitality is evident in the area as tourist dollars rev up artists and street musicians. There are several quaint restaurants – some serving international fare – and coffee shops.
It is on a prime stretch of China Beach near historic Hoi An that The Nam Hai (from the Singapore-based GHM group) is sited, 30km south of Danang. The Nam Hai is no ordinary beachfront getaway. This is a benchmark setting for sybarites in search of real class. Sprawled elegantly across 35 hectares, this Vietnam luxury resort and spa offers 60 elegant Villas and 40 Pool Villas each within walled courtyards with landscaped gardens and unobstructed views across the South China Sea on to the misty Cham Islands.
Three huge swimming pools cascade down the central tiered concourse from the lobby to the beach, flanked by soothing green gardens, the shimmering blue of the water and the sea beyond a stark contrast against the muted greys and blacks of the resort.
The Nam Hai is understated, almost disconcertingly so at night, as you pick your way along the meandering tiled paths following hidden foot lamps. This is a place for romance and reflection, not Disneyland jukebox and fairy lights like the ageing hotels along the strip that display altogether too much make-up and cleavage, straining with multi-hued lights to mutate into risible karaoke-bar confections. No such effort here.
The place is laid back and self assured. Service is friendly and attentive. Ask for food on or off the menu. The waiters are neither nonplussed nor unruly. At the restaurant, try spring roll, risotto, or tandoori prawn. Dine Indian, Vietnamese, Italian or International. There are chefs from Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, India and Vietnam. Do too many chefs spoil the broth? Not at all. They get the job done, in palate-zinging style.
The villas offer split-level accommodation with timber flooring, white linen, inviting plump beds on raised plinths and plantation-house window slats blocking or permitting light from all sides. The grey tile floor leads to an open-plan bath area. Indeed the sunken bathtub is right behind the bed and next to the Japanese-style work desk with sunken footrests so you sit floor level flush with the bathtub. This may not be to everyone’s liking and the split-level access from the bed to the toilet at night could trip some but there is much to distract those discerning of taste.
Take the Krups coffee maker for example, the high ceilings with fans, the iPod with dock, flat-screen TV, Bose sound system, gauze mosquito nets that drape the beds in a dreamy Arabian Nights haze, the outdoor shower, indoor rainshower, the hand-held rod shower and pressed-silk glass doors for toilet privacy.
Pool Villa interiors are again set on three levels – the bathing area, the bed, and the living area with deep divans looking out at the views. You would never guess it but the sunken bathtub is lined with dark gold beaten egg shell as are the twin vanities. It is an eye-catching finish that successfully combines a sense of tradition with a contemporary twist. To unwind – or wind up – choose from the Spa Pavilion with eight treatment villas, tennis, badminton, basketball, and gym. There is even a villa with kids’ activities to keep tiny tykes entertained. And the Montgomerie Links Vietnam (www.montgomerielinks.com) offers the luxury of a quality golf course nearby.
The Hoi An Riverside Resort & Spa is exactly as its name suggests. It is spectacularly sited on a bend in the Do River with unsullied horizons and lush green paddy fields on the other side. It has 60 rooms divided, by décor and the odd quirk, into Japanese, Vietnamese and other styles. The Nippon rooms have low seating (though the Japanese have grown a fair bit in the last century) while the Vietnamese rooms feature wooden parquet flooring and tasteful furniture. There is an in-room safe.
All rooms come with balconies, some with excellent river views. The resort offers boat trips and a daily shuttle to the beach, one kilometre away. Deluxe rooms have CD players and flat-screen TV. There's a nice riverside pool too with an irregular pattern blue-tile finish. The owners of the Hoi An Riverside Resort run the popular Khai Silk stores and the celebrated Brother's Café in Hanoi. They have an atmospheric restaurant by the same name in Hoi An too. The Brother's Café Hoi An (tel: 914-150) is housed in a colonial style building right on the river. Massage service is available. This is a nice Vietnam boutique resort with local flavour.
Another Vietnam resort option further downriver, closer to the beach, is the HoiAn Beach Resort. It is not entirely true to say the place is on the beach but it is close enough. Cross the road and head up the dunes. This place is more "resorty" and spread out. It is neat and modern with a large and brightly-tiled infinity pool but it lacks the greenery and cosy charm of the Hoi An Riverside Resort. The villa rooms are spacious and comfortable.
Just across the road (there is just one, quiet street here) is the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa, a small complex designed in the traditional shophouse style with lowrise rooms and bungalows. Climb up the steps to enter the resort through a Chinese gateway festooned with silk lanterns. There are 109 rooms in all and the signature accommodations to plump for are the beachfront bungalows (or Victoria Deluxe Beach Front Rooms as they are called). Again, there are the obligatory Japanese, French and Vietnamese-style rooms with pastel hues and varying décor including four-poster beds, timber floors, desks, almirahs, box TVs, notebook-size safes, and other amenities.
The resort loves red and has splashed it liberally on several walls to good effect. The restaurant bar is a good example. The vegetation is sparse but well cared for. At night the pool area is lit up in red and green hues, a bit Love Boat, but the guests seem to enjoy it.
The Swiss-Belhotel Golden Sand Resort & Spa Hoi An is comfy, posh, and big. If you need a Vietnam resort that is larger and more structured, this could be it. The lowrise development is on a prime stretch of Cua Dai Beach not far from the heart of Hoi An and around a 50-minute drive from Danang Airport.
Well appointed rooms offer international comforts like TV, individually controlled air-conditioning and complimentary coffee and tea-making facilities. Deluxe rooms are a generous 45sq m and Ocean View Suites go up to 90sq m.
Expect roomy interiors, light-wood parquet flooring, dark-wood cupboards and cabinets, a large box TV, lounging sofa, armchair, and work desk. In addition to a broad range of cuisines on offer, the Golden Sand Resort has extensive sports and recreation distractions – including a vast array of swimming pools along the sea shore – to keep the most eager fitness enthusiast occupied. Try the 150m seafront pool, outdoor whirlpools, tennis, cycling, beach volleyball or just laze on the beach. The spa offers single and two double treatment rooms. Those keen on staying in touch can avail of WiFi. The resort hosts ample meetings facilities and the Grand Banquet Hall can handle up to 350 persons.
Also on Cua Dai Beach is the Palm Garden Beach Resort & Spa set in five hectares of garden with semi-detached bungalows set around a central free-form pool. There is a kiddie pool and slides along with a children’s play areas. This is a convivial child-friendly Vietnam resort with family friendly features and space for rough and tumble. The resort is neat with a low-rise format, the bungalows spread out so accommodation is not check by jowl.
There are 166 rooms in all starting at 32sq m and going up to the 48sq m Beachfront Bungalows with red ceramic tile floors, queen beds, small work tables, flat-screen TV, small garden patio with rocking chairs, a semi-alfresco bathtub near the entrance, and an electronic safe. Friendly and neat but unspectacular.
Published on 9/16/11