Vietnam Heritage, November-December 2011 Advertorial — Not so far from the madding crowd but definitely well away from it, hidden in a cove at the remote end of a peninsula, lies the An Lam Ninh Van Bay all-villa resort. From it you can actually see the northern extremity of Nha Trang City across the wider bay, so near but thankfully so far away. The only access to it is from the sea, or, if you prefer, a hard day’s trek along a track over mountains that tower above it to the nearest proper road and village. Those who seek a beach and jungle holiday in total seclusion but with tip-top accommodation with food and beverage to match need look no further. Here you may either lie back on your daybed and pursue a life of relaxation and meditation or participate in a variety of activities including trekking, fishing, snorkelling, cruising the bay and sailing.
My Vietnamese wife and I took the night sleeper train from Ho Chi Minh City, which is quite a good alternative to the plane. For one thing it takes you to the heart of Nha Trang City, which is much closer to the final destination. The airport is far to the south and an hour’s drive away from the resort’s mainland jetty. We slept quite well. The last half hour was in the daylight and we awoke to find outside the window a dream world of egrets winging across paddies and stretches of forest before the train trundled through the suburbs and reached the station. Already the pace of life seemed a couple of gears down from frenetic Saigon. Our mission of spending a couple of days together in tranquillity was well on its way now.
There to meet us was the resort’s representative, who ushered us into a luxury car for the twenty-five minute journey to their waterfront facilities and mainland jetty. The trip took us alongside the city’s famous beaches, where early birds were having their morning dip and on past the famous PoNagar Cham Towers, along a new and largely empty road. At the fishing village of Tan Thanh we reached the resort’s mainland foothold.
After executing some business we had deferred from the train, namely a wash and brush up and a trip to a spanking clean loo, we settled down to a welcome drink. This facility doubles as the reception for the resort and we filled in the simple registration form as well giving our preferences for music, food and drink and activities. We were also asked what level of butler service we required. Having brought along my own girl Friday, my wife, I set this at low.
There had been some talk in Vietnamese between my wife and the representative about having to cross over by canoe. I had visions of being asked to help paddle our way over – I who had failed to make it into the college rowing team. Fears were allayed as I now discovered by some almighty semantic shift canoe in Vietnamese means speedboat. And off we sped like James Bond on a mission with the resort staff welcoming and waving us on from their own boat. It took just eight minutes. The morning mist hang poetically in the mountains and even on parts of the sea. We waved hello, as we went, to men out on artisanal fishing, standing up in their tiny launches and basket boats.
At the resort’s pier we were met and welcomed by the management and introduced to our butler, Miss Hai. She led us to the only motorised vehicle, a ‘buggy’ which took us to our villa. Outside the bamboo fence was a tandem bicycle for our personal use. The villa itself  was down a short garden path. To the front was a swimming pool and a sundeck area overlooking a lagoon with sandbanks of the beach ahead and the open sea. They had taken heed of the preference form already, as my favourite Latin music was playing on the entertainment system, which also included 35 TV channels and all kinds of in-house movies. To the rear we had an open-air bathtub as well as inside and outside showers. Inside the airy rooms two swings hung from the roof. There was an area for coffee and tea-making and the fridge was stocked with sixteen kinds of grape wine. The garden was well planned and made to be an extension of the jungle. It attracted bees and butterflies and the following morning we awoke to birdsong.
Later that morning we were taken on a tour of the resort by Mr Yamany. He hails from the Maldives, a country great in experience of the luxury end of tourism. He showed us the gardens with herbs and vegetables for the resort as well as a mango and sapodilla orchard.
Next, we were shown the classroom/kitchen for cookery lessons. Then we went to the library stocked with mainly pictorial books to help explain the nature and fauna and flora that surrounds you here and in Vietnam in general. The tour also included viewing of the five classes of villa. On the rocks up wooden staircases are little villa nests intended for honeymooners. We did notice several young couples on the beach during our stay. I could personally recommend this also for second honeymooners. We are in our mid-fifties but I can I can tell you the place had quite a rejuvenating effect on my wife. But we won’t delve into that. The other villas are aimed at various family types. The largest for an extended family stay was $700 per night, Mr Yamany explained to us.
An interesting detail my wife spotted on the tour was that lemongrass is planted in front of each villa. ‘This’ she said and Mr Yamany confirmed it, ‘is an effective repellent for garden snakes.’ If you have that irrational but very human fear of serpents you need fear not here. We were not bothered by mosquitoes either, but you sleep under netting and repellent and incense coils are provided just in case.
The food at An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas is superb. The Vietnamese food we tried mainly at breakfast. My wife, who used to run a restaurant herself and who has been described by another contributor to this magazine as ‘Madame Epicure’, was highly impressed by the Beef Pho, Banh Cuon and the Banh Canh Cha Ca (kinds of Rice Cake Rolls). I opted for western food, as I normally eat only Vietnamese, but had quite a reverse culture shock at lunch. The sea bass came nouvelle-cuisine-style. Actually it looked quite a picture, garnished with carrot puree and a brown sauce and framed by the large square plate it was presented on. But, living a Vietnamese life, I am no longer used to a round steak of fish. I’ll make no fish bones about it. For me fish has to have a head, a body and a tail; not necessarily in that order. And I am not used to seeing fish so dressed up. Having first swallowed my prejudice, the catch of the day was superbly delicious, and such a change it made not having to worry about having a bone stuck in your throat!
Dinner also was a memorable experience, with meditative and swaying Samba music in the background keeping in time with the lapping of the sea waves. I went the whole, three-course hog. Cream of pumpkin soup with coconut milk proved a great entree. For the ‘pièce de résistance’ I had grilled New Zealand lamb with couscous (steamed semolina). I went for the low-calorie fruit selection for dessert, having ‘sinned’ at lunch by eating scrumptious lemon cheesecake with rasperry ice-cream. Here I have to point to an amusing error in English on the menu. ‘Mint mouse’ is actually quite possible in a country like Vietnam but they meant ‘Mint Mousse’.
The following morning, after a champagne breakfast featuring scrambled eggs with salmon in the mix, we went on a two-hour sailing cruise of the bay, just the two of us. The weather was sunny with bright blue skies. They had to run the engines slowly as it was such a perfect day there was no breeze. Our guide, a knowledgeable and seasoned salt named Sang, offered more sparkling wine on board but we declined in favour of fresh orange juice.
We sailed along the peninsula around the islands of Hon Thi and Dao Khi, with its monkey colony. Then it was out almost to the open sea to Hon Cha La, where the salangane or swiflet saliva for bird’s-nest soup is harvested – a Nha Trang speciality. From here the nearest village, Ninh Van, was in view in the near distance, with its enticing long, sandy beach.
Back to the villa for some more serious relaxation and then at four o ‘clock in the afternoon it was back on the speedboat for our return to Saigon realities. The whole staff turned out on the jetty to bid us ‘Hẹn gặp lại’. They seemed already like old friends although we had known them for barely more than two days.
Vietnam tourism has come long way since I came to live here fourteen years ago. It still caters for and welcomes well visitors of all budget levels. But at the top end of the market now it is truly world-class. For a beach and jungle break in perfect calm and luxury (An Lâm translates as ‘forest calm’) there can be few places on the planet that equal the standards and setting of An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas.n

An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas
Hon Heo, Ninh Van Commune,
Ninh Hoa Town, Khanh Hoa Province
 Sales office in Ho Chi Minh city: (08) 3920-6949


By Pip de Rouvray