Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 Advertorial– I had the great privilege of an invited stay at Hoi An Riverside Resort one recent weekend. Arriving after six on Saturday evening, somewhat stressed from lack of sleep in Danang from the cacophony of house construction next door, this was just the break I needed â€“ an oasis of calm, where the only sounds were wind in the trees and the songs of crickets and frogs.
While a porter in a fabulous black hat took care of my motorbike, I was warmly welcomed at reception. The very charming Chu, looking much younger than his 28 years, escorted me to the bar for a â€˜welcome drinkâ€™ of fresh-pressed apple and orange juice at a table overlooking the river. Gazing across to the rice paddies, where farmers tilled the land till the sun went down, I unwound from my week. While sipping on an â€˜Italian mojitoâ€™, deliciously laced with Campari, beautifully decorated with those regrettable plastic straws, I watched flickering flower lanterns drift downriver (a nightly event that one local refers to as the â€˜evening pollutionâ€™). I couldâ€™ve done without the tinny bar music. After dark, a shrimper, visible only by his headtorch, poled his way silently through the water.
The attentive young waiter, Binh, to my surprise, was 29, married and father of a one-year old. Heâ€™d worked at the resort for seven years. Vinh, 46, the porter who escorted me to my room had worked there eleven years, since the establishment of the resort, the first in Hoi An. Riverside is Vietnamese-run and changed owners last year.
My room was Japanese-style with a garden view from a private balcony. Tatami mats underfoot, I was mellowed by the subtle beige hues of walls papered with hand-made rice paper of a simple three-leaf motif. Furniture was low-slung in dark brown wood. I was to especially savour using the writing desk. An abundance of windows invited in the breeze. Everything had been tastefully and thoughtfully prepared. A single purple daisy between two serrated leaves lay on each bed and peeked from between neatly folded towels. It felt almost sacrilegious to disturb them.
Almost everything was made of natural materials and a special effort had been made to individually present the collection of bathroom toiletries in small brown packets. Two small rounds of soap were as inviting as a chocolate fondants.
I slept well and woke late to the sounds of children playing and birdsong. The wind rustled through mature stands of bamboo, coconut, areca and fan palms, banana, frangipani and Norfolk Island Pine, which afford welcome shade. Riverside is a haven for wild birds (a delight to see them flitting between the trees) and huge black butterflies. Formerly there was a â€˜botanical gardenâ€™, I was told. Stone pathways meander between the villas and one encounters the occasional Cham statue or urn or water feature. I am an ocean swimmer, but I did enjoy the pool and some long moments in a hammock beneath coconut fronds.
I dined overlooking the river on a 4-course meal: a salad of mustard greens, rocket and succulent river shrimp with a vinaigrette a little heavy on the vinegar; tomato cream soup was like velvet, a perfect balance between sweet and sour; basa fish steamed in banana leaves was exquisitely presented, but too salty for my taste; the fish in a clay pot on Sunday evening was also too intensely flavoured; dessert was luxurious dark chocolate drizzled over a halved banana or cut tropical fruits. I was the only diner (both evenings).
Buffet breakfast offered a vast choice of Western food. I ate the same delicious selection both mornings: rolls and Emmentaler cheese, croissants and homemade tropical fruit jams, a pancake and yogurt. The small pack of butter was molten into a strange texture, which reminded me that here was another little piece of plastic pollution that could be eliminated. On Monday, the only table available was close to the bar and I was not enamoured of the digital â€˜Country Roseâ€™ and â€˜Morning has Brokenâ€™, playing rather too loudly. The orchestra of natural sounds was enough.
On my way to Sense Spa for an oriental massage, I passed lotus ponds and paths lined with torch ginger. The massage was excellent, except a little too firm and fast, and ended exquisitely with the therapist wiping off the oil with hot wet towels. I paid $40 (about what I used to charge in the UK as a Shiatsu therapist).
One more dip in the pool was the perfect end to a heavenly weekend.