Heâ€™s behind some of the regionâ€™s most applauded hotels and resorts, yet architect Bill Bensley claims his studioâ€™s newest project in Vietnam is the â€śbest big hotel we have ever designed.â€ť Itâ€™s certainly the most distinctive. Set on Khem Beach on the southern coast of Phu Quoc Island, the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay (84-77/377-9999; doubles from US$400) takes its inspiration from a mythical academy of learning, Lamarck University. The story goes that the school was built in the 1800s as a base for French colonists and their children, beginning small and then expanding as the student population grew. The new JW channels this theme through a design that eschews large communal buildings in favor of intimate, individually crafted accommodations lining a long main street known as Rue de Lamarck. Here, low-slung â€¨Chinese-style shophouses are backdropped by more elaborate buildings where 243 rooms, suites, apartments, and villas are done up in signature Bensley whimsy. The restaurants continue the premise: there are no cocktails or mixologists in the bar, named the Departmentâ€¨of Chemistry, but instead â€śchemistsâ€ť create â€śelixirsâ€ť in a dreamy space overlooking Emerald Bay. â€śWe wanted to break down the scale so people feel like theyâ€™re in their own boutique department of the hotel,â€ť Bensley says. â€śItâ€™s not your average beach resort.â€ť
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2017Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śHigher Learningâ€ť).