Like a middle child, Central Vietnam never seems to get the credit it deserves whilst it’s North and South sisters, Saigon and Ho Chi Minh get all the limelight. We check out the stunners you just have to be seen in.
Best luxury villa for friends and family – Intercontinental Sun Peninsula Residences, Danang
So what is it like staying at the ‘Best Luxury Resort in the World’ as it launches its most elite villas ‘The Residences’?
Get ready for the highlife as you enter the resort at the top of the cliff face and gaze onto a private bay as suites, villas and rooms dot the hillside like design gems created by Time Magazine’s acclaimed architect Bill Bensley.
Zooming down the resort in a buggy you’ll enter the exclusive land of villa giants as wooden walkways bordered by jungle lead into an unashamedly massive two bedroom, two infinity pool residence built across two separate pavilions with wrap around verandas and lush day beds. The Living room table is set for six. Upstairs, the four-poster king bed is draped in muslin with a thoughtful mirror above the bed for your er-hem entertainment? Kodak moments include views onto sand, sea and sky. Divine bathrooms, rainwater showers and more places to waft in your kaftan than Café Del Mar has albums.
Returning from a divine couples massage in the HARNN Heritage Spa (Pavilions sprout from the gardens like budding blue beehives) you’ll discover your butler Hoa loves to make magic to happen. The villa is lit up with candles as the Teppan dinner kicks off with sugarcane prawns and champagne thanks to your private chef. Dining decisions are tough here, you could head to La Maison 1888 where Michelin-starred chef, Pierre Gagnaire has just been appointed.
If you want to go to ‘Heaven’ your wish is their command as the funicular takes you to levels Earth, Sky and Heaven. Step into Citron restaurant and dine in the top spot; seemingly airborne lily pad pods hanging over the edge of the resort. You’ll be happy frogs indeed, munching on prawn and pork spring rolls, mango salad and a superb Pho which even the local Hanoi’s say is the best in Vietnam.
Need a fitness fix? Grab a paddle board at the beach, then find yourself a boat at the Boathouse Restaurant, this one doesn’t move but it’s a fantastic spot for lunch or head to The Longbar with its mechanical Indian style fans as you swing in the hanging basket seats. This infectious blend of odd, whimsy and luxury creates a world winning place to stay. If there is a hell… it’s leaving.
Best Villa for Romance – Banyan Tree, Lang Co
In just over an hour from landing you will be bikini clad, sipping your welcome drink on perfectly made up sun loungers in the privacy of your own villa overlooking the inland lake and gardens. Ice is in the bucket, cooling spritzer spray at the ready and cold towels are chilling. Your infinity pool is for your eyes only (and perhaps a few Vietnamese ducks). If seclusion is what you’re seeking it’s here.
The double day bed loaded with cushions just begs you to chill out. Doors slide back to reveal the main event – the king-size bed illuminated by a shimming mural with a bathroom which will make you feel like a Hollywood legend. Get your timing right (ours was Friday) and you’ll be invited to the manager’s cocktail party. As the sun sets over the beach, the sounds of a Trung (bamboo xylophone) is best paired with Pinot Gris. Flames illuminate the pool where you’ll be served canapés of sushi, fresh Vietnamese rolls and the best rice crackers on earth.
Whilst Banyan Tree is famed for its spa, its breakfast buffet should be launched into the highly acclaimed list. We think 8am is never too early to start drinking Moët and a fajita style DIY Vietnamese pancake. Next, head to the spa. Ensconced in a private pavilion your massage starts with a rose petal foot soak. Skilled hands deliver soft Swedish stokes finishing with your tea of choice and fresh fruit by the lily pond. It’s a gentle cycle back along the gardens to your villa. Hop on the complimentary boat which shuttles guests across lantern strewn river laneways to the nearby Angsana resort for a pool that most Vegas hotels would drool over.
At night head to Saffron, the signature restaurant perched high above the sandy beach. Waves are the soundtrack to your meal as you dine on papaya salad with soft shell crab, delicious pancakes of coconut and prawn, but it’s the Thai green curry and the famous Thai rice degustation which will have you drooling.
Newest Boutique Design Hotel – MGallery Hoi Ann
It’s new, it’s boutique and it’s a design mix of Japanese and Vietnamese history. Red birdcages, bright lanterns, and vibrant fabrics greet you, as does the glimmering black tiled pool. The rooms get bigger and better as you ascend floors. Our pick is the Royal Deluxe, it’s amazing what you can pack into 50sq meters. With its dramatic interiors of blacks, chrome and Japanese lanterns, the red velour day bed could be your spot of choice.
Hoi Ann is less about lounging more about discovery as a riot of colour, smells and beeping bikes should tell you that at any point you can be hit from above by a plastic flapping toy or taken out by a Swedish cyclist, it’s good to know MGallery is situated along the river in a quiet part of town.
The River Bar plays host to the GM’s weekly cocktail party where you can enjoy their warm hospitality with Chef’s Wa Ka Ku’s sushi and a mixology special. Swap the cult order of Pho for something more remarkable at Laifo Restaurant (Luke Ngyuen’s a popular guest here). Order Cao Lau, a chewy noodle dish local to Hoi Ann – it’s got attitude with layers of smoky pork, flat crispy croutons and spicy sauce with a lawn of herbs. Chase it down with fresh prawn rolls, banana blossom salad with fresh mint and braised free range duck.
Best Villa Hideaway – Aman Resorts, AMANOI
Landing in Nha Trang everyone heads north: you head south. When you are greeted by more cows, goats and sheep on the road than cars, you know you are on a road less travelled. If you hanker after forced seclusion then this is nirvana.
Nestled inside Nui Chua National Park, the nearest ‘anything’ is 20 minutes away and that’s not even a village. They say that staying in an Aman resort is a cult; the list of celebs, notables and simply ‘those’ who can whisk up a private jet like chefs make omelets is just part of daily life here. There is a reason people fall in love with its untamed beauty of bushland and tree covered hills. Native plants spill around the villa, hidden from the connecting pathways but marked by a numbered stone. Japanese style sliding doors reveal an expansive villa, part pavilion with soaring ceilings and calming tones of wood, cream which illuminate via vertical lamps which glow red at night. Nature provides entertainment; swallow swoop, busy squirrels scamper and bell birds take $1000 bath from the deck of your infinity pool.
Afternoon tea with superb rice cakes cooked over an iron skillet dotted with pork, squid and beef is the perfect way to chill out after a few laps in the infinity pool down by the beach. Watch from the columned cliff top terrace as the creation of a night time floating city appears on the horizon before your eyes, it’s as fascinating as any sunset as the local fishermen settle in for their nightly catch. British chef Danny, delivers dishes of the tiniest baby scallops, aromatic glass noodle salad with crab and a fish claypot loaded with juicy caramelised onions and king prawns complimented with a superb Louis Jadot Chardonnay.
Simply retire to the long bar and pair a Flaming Lamborghini cocktail with a game of scrabble. If it’s all too much activity wellness is a massage treatment away at the lakeside spa.