(No.1, Vol.3, Jan-Feb 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort.
Photo: Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort
While moving along the immense shoreline lying south of Phan Thiet, in the direction just opposite of over-touristy Muine, one observes the peaceful and charming scenes of coastal village life; the lush groves of graceful slim-bodied Casuarinaceae trees stretching their sea breezeâ€“swept tops high up to the tropical sun and groups of locals taking a bite under their cool shadow, rural houses lamed in white and picturesquely framed with palm trees drooping with fully-ripe coconuts and hotels and resorts still sparsely scattered here and there with limitless spaces of the blue ocean in the background.
Iâ€™m enjoying a bolide speed drive on a public bus full of local women, each covered in ninja-like gowns to escape the omnipresent rays of the sun at noon, which bite oneâ€™s skin like red hot chili peppers; a full bunch of barefoot men with gaspers are hanging on handrails, each turn of the road sending them flying together with clouds of sand rising from the bus floor. The roadscapes in spots occasionally remind me of the Wild West shots with fanciful silhouettes of magnolias in full flower instead of cactuses growing on both sides of the road. I hop off after a 20-minute drive from Phan Thiet and race across the sizzling hot road into the saving shade of Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort premises where Iâ€™ m booked. In the huge lobby of the main building, erected in the monumental traditions of Italian baroque, so surprising to find within rustic naturescapes, the giant wooden eagle has spread his wings wide, ready to accord a hearty welcome to the guests.
The aged porter guides me through the lush palm trees and magnolia garden to the sea view bungalow. It impresses one even from the outside with an open-air veranda spacious enough to contain a coffee table with chairs and cozy beach bed. The last one, together with peaceful verdant surroundings and the ultramarine body of the sea a few steps away, seduces one to give oneself immediately to all kinds of meditation; visual meditation when contemplating the juicy leaves and brightly-colored flowers in the garden, the still surface of a seawater pool behind the bungalow, the sea itself, being so close, rolling and toying with its white horses, then acoustic meditation when listening to the breeze in the tops of the trees, the sound of the dry leaves falling down to earth and the clear sound of the waves.
Stepping out of the resort garden onto the sandy beach and seeing the uninterrupted spaces of the ocean and the shoreline running on both sides until the very horizon fills oneâ€™s sight, is a striking experience. The grandeur of the scene gets more intense with both the sun and the moon clearly seen on the canvas of the sky. On both sides, as far as the eye can reach, not a single human silhouette, only the small fishing fleet of round basket boats parked on the sand and the rocks standing out of the water spectacularly in the far distance. People seem to have exited en masse from this mesmerizingly beautiful coastal area, having surrendered the full immensity of the space to the yin and yang of the sea and the sands.
When walking along the shore with the sunset approaching, I observed living souls appear: the locals with fishing tackle, skillfully casting ten lines per capita, dark chocolate-colored kids and adults splashing in the waves and old ladies darning fishing nets with big fish-bone like needles.
Back at Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort, I prowled around its premises in the twilight, trying to find my bungalow in the lush groves of a 2-square ha garden with twin lines of bungalows framed by a pair of cozy restaurants decorated with wood and tiles with patio seating under the dome of dense foliage. The big pool, brightly lit by full moon, lured me to take a long swim, then lazily drift under the stars with only a family of Egyptian cats cozying themselves under sun loungers to share the beauty of the moment. The deck around the pool suddenly metamorphosed itself into a stage, with the sea moving its giant body like a Japanese bhuto dancer under the beaming soffits of the moonlight. The deck on both sides gradually transformed into fluorescent white sands with Casuarinaceae treesâ€™ coppice growing upon them and light wooden garden benches acting as loges. The ocean, obviously affected by the full of the moon, roared deeply. The feeling of wilderness and the primeval power of nature thrilled and captivated. Finally, the waves chased me back to the desert shore, where the perfect disc of the moon peered down on the giant glass of seawater broken with waves. It was already close to midnight when I noticed the wandering lights approaching by land from the distance. My tension mounted, but the resortâ€™s night guard, who was striding along the garden and watching my back, helped to keep things at an even keel. Upon closer look, the lights appeared to be wandering night â€˜huntersâ€™, scavenging for plastics carried to the shore with night tide. The grandeur of the seascapes by night was really hard to part with; I escaped it step by step watching the sea first from the beach then from the resort gates, then from the benches in the garden and finally from the veranda of the bungalow.
Next morning, I headed to the Ke Ga lighthouse, first of its kind in the country, according to the guidebook, and built in 1899 by the French. Itâ€™s perched on a small island 6 km from Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort with the stunning sandy headland at its back and uninterrupted ocean ahead. The islet with lighthouse is just asking to be painted and can be reached immediately by swimming or by whisking there in one of the basket boats parked in plenty on the shore. It is divided from the mainland with a picturesque bay and animated by small sea vessels of all kinds, with basket boats skillfully equipped with Yamaha motors. Here, the peaceful images of coastal life can be observed at their full beauty; sun and sea breeze-beaten sailors dragging their cockleshells with a good take of squids out on the shore. That part of the scene can be bought, cooked and eaten right on the spot. Once on the shore, the catch is sorted out and bought up in minutes by owners of small eateries scattered along the seashore. The Ke Ga lighthouse is easily reached by local bus or on foot along the beautiful seashore to the south from the resort. By travelling further south along the highway, one can enjoy the spectacular coastal sights mixed with colorful dragon fruit plantations, juicy green rice fields and â€˜snowdriftsâ€™ of salt-licks stretching till the Ta Ku mountain with a splendid concrete Buddha statue at the summit.
Located amidst truly spectacular nature surroundings away (but within reach if needed) from a broad path well-trodden by tourists, Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort features every amenity of a 4-star resort and various types of 4-star accommodation, from casually elegant standard rooms with balconies to bungalows and suites with an outdoor garden bath, allowing one to enjoy alluring beauty and sweet solitude of the wilder coastal area in complete comfort. Since its opening, Saigon-Suoi Nhum Resort has successfully hosted various events with as many as 1200 persons. It possesses a great as-yet undiscovered potential as a destination for yoga and meditation group travels.