Right: plunge pool at a hill villa. Left: sitting room in a ‘lagoon villa’.
Photo: Le Thanh Hai

Vietnam Heritage, June-July 2011 — In May, I stayed at the newly opened An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas, 16 km north of Nha Trang, on the Central Coast, with a group of reporters invited by Epikurean, the villas’ management company.
To get there I took a train from Ho Chi Minh City at 11 p.m. and arrived in Nha Trang at 5.30 a.m. Then I continued by car; high-rise buildings mushroomed on the left, sea lay deep blue on the right and mountain ranges stood in the distance.
The simple wooden board of an An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas sign was modest beside the road and I wondered how big and luxurious the resort could be. The reception house at the sign was of wood and simple, though spacious. From there a speedboat was to be operated by a young man, who confirmed, ‘Yes we have life jacket, if you need one.’ He seemed to be very confident about his boat. It took us about 10 minutes to get to the resort. The calm of the sea at An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas made me decide I would swim out to its pontoon, in fact might put in several kilometres.
To welcome me was a young man who introduced himself in Vietnamese: ‘Good morning, I am Phong, I am your butler. Do you want to have breakfast now or do you want to go to your villa?’ I chose villa first, and he drove me in a six-wheeler. On the left mountain, on the right trees. A small area of new plants in beds followed a wooden wall. The setting reminded me of Vietnam’s northern villages, the height of the wall suggesting privacy.
My villa was number 6. I heard piano music on walking through the gate. A garden and then another space, opening toward a lake and, further, the sea.
‘Happy birthday ‘Chị Hải’ was the wish Mr Phong the butler messaged to me after he showed me the inside of my brief home. I was surprised and happy. Yet I felt a bit lonely in this big, thatched wooden house. The music was exactly what I like, romantic melodies. The villa was open in all directions, with a breeze swinging white curtains and moving flowering plants in the garden. The swing chair in the living room seemed too big for one. The bath tub and the shower in the open air were surrounded with high, flowering plants, booming nature. Complete privacy. On the terrace, the plunge pool was inviting and I turned fish.
 I regretted being alone. I wished I had someone beside me. And on this special day it must be better to have your closest person with you.
The inspection, formal work, passed quickly; our group took lots of photos of the sea, the rocks, different types of villas, the wine cellar and library (they were being completed). The thing I got inspired by most was a big area by the road where yellow flowers grew as if wild. No other flowers could have been more charming. It is the beauty, at An Lam Villas.
In the afternoon, I went to the beach. The sand was clean, the sea blue, calm, no waves. But after only a few metres from the white-sand, smooth beach, my feet caught stones and mud. I chose to swim along the beach instead of heading further into the sea. It struck me that a calm surface might hide a lot underneath. I discovered later that a river from the mountain reached the sea here, and the protective mountains around made the area particularly still. Hence, perhaps, mud in the basement of the water.
A friend in the group turned to the communal swimming pool next to the sea. It was not athletic-size but good enough for low-risk-takers.
Around sunset we cruised the bay for an hour. I met the chief engineer of the villas, who introduced himself ‘I am called “B.” by my family.’ So I called him Mr B. He confirmed that no waste water from the villas went into the sea. The general manager of the resort, Mr Frederick Maclean, later told Vietnam Heritage each villa had its own septic tank, which would be emptied periodically to tanker, and the resort was thinking about intercepting the grey water (as distinct  from toilet sewage) and processing it for use on the gardens. It was really good news to me, as I love swimming in the sea. Mr B. was enthusiastic about other projects that the owners of An Lam Villas were going to develop in the area, following an eco-green concept.
Mr Frederick hosted a dinner for our group on the beach. It was especially remarkable, as it was the middle of the lunar month, when the moon is full and bright. Various kinds of fish, squids, crabs, shrimps and oysters were grilled. Fresh and delicious. We then sang in different languages. I got wishes from new friends and a birthday cake from Ms Victoria Maclean, Mr Frederick’s wife and the villas’ manager in charge of service standards. I was very happy, and at the same time felt in debt to those who had taken so much care. I only suggest that the villas should go further and have a guitar ready and tuned, to go with this purity of nature, on which guests might love to express themselves.
Back from the dinner, I found the bedroom done, with air-conditioner on and mosquito net hung exactly. On the terrace of the villa, the moon was even brighter. I turned off the air-conditioner and opened the door, to let the moonlight and breeze in. It was full tranquillity, with the sound of ‘ve sầu’ (cicadas) sometimes arising from somewhere back in the direction of the mountain. The soft sound of piano again in the house – so peaceful and relaxing.
We had to go back to the city the following day, after only one night. It was a pity that I didn’t have enough time to talk to the chef, Mr David Thai. I would have asked for the recipe for the appetiser crispy shrimp and mango salad and dessert tutti-frutti mousse with mango coulis. 
After accompanying us to the speedboat, Mr Frederick stood on the pier to wave. He looked a giant on the island.
The place is soon to add over 20 new villas to the current 14.
I am sure that if you happen to go to An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas on your birthday or another special occasion Mr Frederick knows about, you will be in for lots of pleasures and surprises.

By Le Thanh Hai