The Aman group’s first foray into Vietnam, luxury retreat Amanoi,has flourishes from traditional south-east Asian architecture in its sleek, temple-like design. Pagoda-style rooms are hidden amid the Núi Chúa National Park’s greenery; some gaze out across the South China Sea. Families and groups can stake out one of the multi-pavilion residences and take lantern-lit meals by the infinity-edge pool. Days are spent unwinding at the serene lakeside spa, exploring the surrounding wildlife-roamed sanctuary, or kayaking and paddle-boarding before supper – courtesy of the local fishermen and whatever their boats have brought in.
2pm, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, noon, also flexible if your room’s ready.
Double rooms from $800.00, excluding tax at 16.6 per cent.
Rates include return transfers for two passengers from Cam Ranh Airport and a daily afternoon tea. Breakfast isffrom $20 a person, each day. A three-night minimum stay applies in high season (a five-night minimum over Christmas and New Year’s Eve).
Hobbies can get a little help at Amanoi: improve your repertoire of south-east Asian dishes in a cookery class; bolster your backhand with some private tuition from the resident tennis coach; and work on your Chaturanga (‘planking’ for the uninitiated) with the yoga teacher.
At the hotel
Spa, private beach, two tennis courts, free watersports, gym, library, valet parking and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Bose iPod dock, Nespresso machine, bath products made in Thailand, beach bags and sun hats.
Our favourite rooms
The hotel’s lofty clifftop perch ensures most rooms come with a view – the most difficult decision will be choosing which you prefer. Decisions, decisions… Our closely contested favourites are the Ocean Pool Pavilions, which ogle both the Eastern Sea and the Cliff Pool. The multi-roomed residences will come in handy for groups, especially those who enjoy having the unwavering attention of a private chef.
There are two pools within the resort: a 50-metre one in the Beach Club, and the 20-metre infinity-edge, sunlounger-surrounded Cliff Pool overlooking the ocean. Several suites have their own, too.
The spa, set by a lotus-filled lake, aims to energise and relax guests in equal measure, with Pilates in an open-air pavilion and sessions with a personal trainer; or you can simply soak in the indoor pool. Book a treatment for two in one of the five suites, each with its own double bath tub, private shower and dressing room.
Bring swimsuits, sarongs and snorkelling gear – you’ll be spending a disproportionate amount of time submerged in seawater.
The resort isn’t especially suited to wheelchair users and those with limited mobility should avoid booking rooms 17 and 18, as they involve a few stairs.
All ages are welcome. Cots can be added to rooms. Babysitting can be arranged with eight hours’ notice; the cost is US$15 an hour (a minimum three-hour booking is required).
The roomy residences, which have multiple bedrooms and a dedicated chef to cater to every age group.
There’s a sandpit and playground, regular film screenings and watersports, including kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and trips out in the catamaran for older kids. Tennis lessons, cooking classes in the pastry kitchen, dog walking and arts and crafts afternoons can also be arranged.
Children are allowed in both pools.
Children are welcome in both restaurants at all times; highchairs can be provided and menu items can be adapted to suit younger palates.
Babysitting can be arranged with eight hours’ notice; the cost is $15 an hour (a minimum booking of three hours is required).
No need to pack
Baby bedlinen, potties, bottle sterilisers, toys, DVDs, computer games, pens, paints and paper or puzzles. Buggies are also available to borrow.
Head to the Eastern Sea-facing terrace for a meal lit by the glow of the moon and the roving searchlights of boats far out on the water.
Elegant and ecclesiastical – the communal spaces could double as temples.
There are two: a beach club for lunch, and the main restaurant in the central pavilion for evening meals; the latter has a terrace overlooking Vinh Hy Bay's rugged coastline and the surrounding green hills. The local fishing boats’ daily catch takes up a large part of the menu: fish, lobster and squid are prepared with aromatic herbs and vegetables grown nearby, followed with fresh tropical fruit for dessert. Authentic Vietnamese dishes are also on offer, such as grilled baby scallops, pomelo and prawn salad, barbecued pork ribs and clay-pot-cooked fish; more international fare includes tapas dishes served at the bar or grilled meats from Australia and New Zealand.
The bar is in the same pavilion as the main restaurant and was designed to mimic a local tea house. Settle in on a leather armchair to admire the collection of photos and paintings by Vietnamese artists on the walls as you sip on home-made ginger beer or an orange- and cinnamon-infused margarita.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 11am. Lunch is on offer from noon until 3pm. A free afternoon tea is served from 3.30pm to 4.30pm in the main restaurant. Dinner is from 7pm till 10.30pm.
The full restaurant menu is available round the clock.
Amanoi is on Vietnam’s south-eastern coast, facing the Eastern Sea from the edge of the Núi Chúa National Park.
The nearest airport is Cam Ranh International; from here the hotel provides free transfers for up to two guests (extra passengers are charged US$85 each); the journey usually takes around an hour and 20 minutes. Domestic flights are the simplest way to navigate Vietnam’s vast distances; VietJet Air and JetStar Airways offer services to Cam Ranh from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines has direct routes between London and Hanoi.
Those with the patience to ride the cross-country train can arrive at Tháp Chàm Railway Station, an hour’s drive from Amanoi. Free transfers are provided from the station to the hotel for up to two passengers.
The hotel is a two-hour drive south from popular beach hangout Nha Trang; it lies in between Cam Ranh and Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm, just off the AH1; there’s free valet parking when you arrive. Ho Chi Minh City is eight hours by car – it’s easier to reach the hotel by hopping on one of the frequent 60-minute flights that depart throughout the day.
Worth getting out of bed for
The resort is on the edge of a Núi Chúa National Park, which guests can explore on guided nature walks; off-road biking through the neighbouring vineyards and villages can also be arranged. On Amanoi’s private beach, watersports such as kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, snorkelling and sailing are on offer. For something a little more relaxing, try yoga, Pilates or tai chi. Further afield, the Po Nagar Cham Towers temple complex is an hour’s drive south, where four of the eight structures built between the seventh and 12th centuries remain; one of the oldest pottery villages in south-east Asia, Bau Truc, is a 90-minute drive away; and, a similar distance from the resort, the village of My Nghiep offers an insight into the ancient craft of brocade-weaving. Closer to home, explore the sleepy fishing village of Vinh Hy, on the edge of the Núi Chúa park, five minutes away by car.
A 20-minute drive along the coastal highway, you’ll find restaurants floating off the shore at Binh Hung Island – the hotel will be able to direct you to the best ones. There are also plenty of bars, cafés and restaurants in resort town Vinh Hy.
‘There’s a serious problem in Vietnam,’ I told Mr Smith, ‘chocolate isn’t part of the culture.’
In the midst of eating our way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, we’d consumed more varieties of banh, com and bun than the second Nguyen dynasty emperor had kept concubines, and cravings for the sugary comforts of home felt like withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully we’d checked into Amanoi in the Ninh Thuan province, on Vietnam’s south-central coast, just in time for afternoon tea.
Like a cartoon pie on a windowsill, the view lured me straight to the hedge-lined terrace. Set on a cliff in Nui Chua National Park among shrub-covered hills and sculptural boulders, I squinted across the vast South China Sea to see if I could glimpse the Philippines.
After recovering from my awe I ate, not chocolate, but banh can for the first time. The little rice-flour cakes are made in a terracotta version of a poffertjes pan, each hole with it’s own lid. Cooked over coal, they were crisp at the bottom and aerated like crumpets in the middle, sprinkled with pork, chicken, fruit or – Mr Smith’s favourite – cooked with egg. By the time he ordered his third helping, staff were giggling.
The same afternoon-tea view greeted us at our ocean-view pavilion, with the added bonus of a northern aspect across to Vinh Hy Bay fishing village. One evening during our stay, Amanoi drove us to the local resort, where we slurped a casual seafood and noodle hot pot and gorged on cha gio spring rolls for the equivalent cost of a few large coffees.
Our pavilion – like the 31 others with views of the lake, mountains and some with private pools – was incredibly private and designed to look like a temple. Its slate-grey tiled roof ducked behind the undulating landscape as we were chauffeured around the property in a buggy.
Inside, a comfortable king bed lay temptingly between a desk looking out to the ocean and a mini-bar with a coffee machine and a lime, should we need garnish for sunset drinks. The television swivelled 180-degrees from the bed to the sofa, where a coffee table with a tropical fruit bowl and hand-written note welcoming us to the Aman family as Ong and Co Smith.
In the bathroom, our square bathtub separated his-and-hers sinks with a small forest outside the floor-to-ceiling windows and the high-pressure rain shower, bless it, opened directly to lounge chairs on the balcony. Not a speck of dust was out of place – there was even a wide-brim straw hat to borrow and a matching fedora for Mr Smith.
We could have spent time lounging by the infinity pool or on the private beach. We could have attended the daily meditation and yoga classes on the waterlily-speckled lake. We could have watched a film under the stars, cycled, cooked, trekked, toured, and done some watersports. Instead, we did nothing. I’d like to blame the high winds that blew sand into our faces when we were getting the grand buggy tour, but I have a feeling that in the event of a gentle breeze, we wouldn’t have changed tact.
I can count on one hand how often we emerged from our sanctuary. Both mornings for breakfast – where we sipped tea and coffee, health-oriented juices and smoothies, and picked something from column A (a cacao chia seed pudding with goji berries) and column B (bun ca fish noodle soup one morning, an omelette loaded with crab meat the next). We left our room for dinner and ate plump pomelo salad studded with tiny, succulent scallops and, upon the chef’s recommendation, the local catch. Its fillets were promptly cooked in banana leaves and the rest made into a delightfully sour soup, served with rice. When we couldn’t finish it, the chef appeared beside our table, head hung in genuine apology. When we returned to our pavilion, there was a pouch of local coffee to take home on the bed.
‘Aman’ is a Sanskrit-derived word for peace while ‘noi’ means place. The tranquillity of this ‘peaceful place’ abounds at the spa facilities surrounding the lake. Although we wished we had more time and deeper pockets to indulge in a spa house (available for a day or half day), I felt that visiting Amanoi without at least one massage would be like visiting Egypt and skipping the pyramids. I chose an essential oil for my namesake Amanoi massage – something spicy with clove and cinnamon – and the next 90 minutes were a blur of deep relaxation, half-sleep and the occasional escaping snore. Mr Smith had the traditional Vietnamese option, the hollow pop, pop, pop of cupping strangely relaxing to hear. After facing the harsh reality of getting up, a buggy drove us back to our pavilion.
I slid open the door like a blissful zombie and was met with dimmed lights. The bath had been filled and pink gerberas floated on the warm water. Twenty candles lined the edge of the tub and staff had gone to town with scattered rose petals. Even the flowers beside the sinks had been changed to roses. As I switched out of mindfulness mode to capture the scene on my phone, Mr Smith called from the edge of the turned-down bed.
‘Babe,’ he swooned, ‘they left us chocolate.’
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