Vietnam - Paradise Found
Written by Gemma Price
In the six years that I’ve lived and travelled in Vietnam, I’ve seen the country’s 3,000 or so kilometres of sand-fringed coastline become as celebrated as the country’s unique history and culture. Sunworshippers will love Vietnam’s deserted stretches of sand fringing standout luxury resorts, and the enchanting destinations that inspired them.
Historically, Vietnam’s scenic central coast has been the seat of kings, emperors, colonial administrators, and war heroes from both sides. Anchored by the developing city of Danang, and incorporating four UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Champa ruins at My Son, Hue’s imperial citadel and monument complex, Hoi An’s ancient merchant town, and the world’s largest known cave passage Hang Son Doong – today the region is once again under the international spotlight, this time with a little help from the biggest names in luxury hospitality.
A half-hour drive from Danang’s new international airport, the GHM-managed Nam Hai seamlessly combines Vietnam’s proud architectural and cultural traditions with award-winning contemporary design. In each villa, a central platform accommodates a desk, sunken eggshell lacquered bath, flatscreen TV, and king-sized bed. Villas are arranged so that every guest has ocean views, and the resort is centred by highly stylish communal buildings and three central pools.
Along this stretch of coast you’ll also find the zen, Hue architecture-inspired Fusion Maia, Asia’s first resort with an all-inclusive spa, and the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa, a luxury contemporary hotel resort retreat situated on a 650m stretch of sand at the foot of the Marble Mountains.
To the north, ecoluxe pioneer Banyan Tree launched its first Vietnam resort, the Laguna Lang Co, along a 3km beach in Lang Co Bay – a member of The Most Beautiful Bays in the World. Accessible in just two hours from Danang via the new Hai Van Tunnel, this spot was historically favoured by Vietnamese royalty and is just 60 km from the old Imperial capital Hue, best known for its UNESCO-listed citadel complex and magnificent tombs, temples, and pagodas. To the south, Nha Trang has always been a popular holiday spot for the Vietnamese, but three resorts are now attracting international jetsetters. The Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang evokes the serenity of an old Vietnamese village, surrounded by private tropical gardens with views over the open ocean, while sister resort Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay, set on an undeveloped island just offshore, is one of Vietnam’s most secluded luxury resorts.
A 10-minute speedboat ride north of Nha Trang city centre, the 35-villa An Lam Ninh Van Bay is perfect for those seeking a tropical castaway experience with all life’s luxuries laid on. Beach and Lagoon Villas offer uninterrupted views over Ninh Van Bay, and the deliciously cloistered three-storey Hill Rock Villas – set at the base of the mountain – enjoy ocean views filtered through the leafy canopy. Rooms are furnished in an eco-modern style with traditional touches like dark woods, soft furnishings made from rich, embroidered silk, and indoor rope swing seats; state-of-the-art technology; outdoor bathtubs, rainfall showers, and a plunge pool; plus a full butler service.
A 45-minute flight east from southern hub Ho Chi Minh City, on the former penal islandCon Dao, the Six Senses Con Dao resort is not only one of Vietnam's most luxurious places to stay, but one of the most environmentally friendly. Built to comply with Green Globe 21 certification, a benchmark for environmental sustainability, each of the 50 villas was crafted from locally grown wood, and laid out in a plan inspired by a Vietnamese fishing village and marketplace, fitting seamlessly into the untamed forest and beachfront. Airy butterfly roofs maximise ventilation while reducing the need for air-conditioning; unheated pools minimise electricity usage; and open-air bathrooms and living areas capitalise on the views of the curving bay.
Another 50-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, this time southwest, is Phu Quoc Island, known for its bountiful fishing, black pepper trees, and high-quality nuoc mam (fish sauce), used in Vietnamese cooking. To the island’s northeast, Bai Thom’s coconut-strewn beach and azure ocean backdrop provide an idyllic setting. Whatever the season, and your preferred style of accommodation, Vietnam has world-class luxury beach retreats with sun, sand, and sea in spades.
Mui Ne’s consistent onshore winds and pleasant climate – Phan Thiet is Vietnam’s driest province – is largely thanks to its second big attraction, the vast sand dunes that melt from warm reds and golds to pure white as they meander through the landscape. The best way to make the scenic 65km drive is by jeep, with stop-offs at the local ‘fairy springs’, red dunes, and red-sand canyons, before testing your mettle with some 4WD off-roading on the dunes themselves.
Hue’s glorious monument complex is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List under two criteria: for representing an outstanding demonstration of the power of the vanished Vietnamese feudal empire at its apogee in the early 19th century; and as an outstanding example of an Eastern feudal capital. Construction began on the banks of the Perfume River when the Nguyen lords came into power in the early 1800s, and within the stone perimeter walls Emperor Gia Long created his Forbidden Purple City, said to be modelled on Beijing’s Forbidden City, to impress the new dynasty’s formidable power upon both their enemies and subjects. The Nguyen kings prized perfection in all things, attracting the nation’s top craftsmen, artists, religious figures, and eminent scholars to the city during their 150-year reign, and Hue is still famed as a religious, learning, and artistic centre.
By the numbers
Vietnam’s estimated inhabitants (2012), making it the world’s 13th most populous country.
The number of Vietnamese properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The number of square kilometres protected under Vietnam’s national parks.