It was perhaps only a matter of tIme before the Danang areaâ€”situated within striking Distance of three world heritage sites and fringed by still-serene beachesâ€”emerged as the ultimate vietnamese idyll. judging from a trio of indulgent seaside resorts, that time has come
By Chris Kirkpatrick
Photographs by Martin Westlake
IN THE ROLL CALL OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN beach destinations, Central Vietnamâ€”specifically the coastline in and around Danang, the countryâ€™s third-largest cityâ€”has long registered little more than a murmur. Expect that to change. The 30-kilometer long stretch of sand running south from Danang is now studded with beach hotels (a Hyatt Regency is among the newcomers); there are three championship-caliber golf courses within an hourâ€™s drive from town; and a year-old terminal at Danang International Airport, designed to handle upwards of four million passengers annually, is bringing in more overseas visitors than ever before. Many, no doubt, will come to poke about the areaâ€™s World Heritage Sites: Hoi An, Hue, and the11th-century Cham ruins of My Son, Vietnamâ€™s counterpart to Angkor. But for the â€śbeen there, done thatâ€ť crowd, hereâ€™s another enticement: a trio of Vietnamâ€™s most beguiling resortsâ€”one an established favorite, two not even a year oldâ€”that are destinations in their own right. Better still, thereâ€™s not a single Filipino band or Jet Ski within earshot, just the rustle of palm fronds and the lapping of waves against a seashore whose time has come.
So, whatâ€™s all the fuss about? When the Nam Hai opened on Ha My beach in 2006, it was widely hailed by travel punditsâ€”this magazine includedâ€”as the countryâ€™s most elegant resort. Half a dozen years on, it can still lay claim to that mantle. If the Nam Haiâ€™s understated villas and terraced public spaces appear Aman-ish, itâ€™s because they bear the imprimatur of Amanresorts founder Adrian Zecha, who collaborated on the project with Indonesian interior designer Jaya Ibrahim and French architect Reda Amalou. Arranged in a series of horseshoes that arc back from the beach, the100 villas, roofed in flat terra-cotta tiles, take their cues from Central Vietnamâ€™s traditional nha ruong, or garden houseâ€”essentially an elongated living space centered on a raised platform that here is occupied by a bed, a tub, and (for the limber) a sunken work station. Gleaming tropical woods and smooth granite floors are accented with lacquered eggshell finishes, gauzy bed curtains, and hand-carved grilles, an effect spoiled only by the standmounted TV plunked down unceremoniously at the foot of the bed. Preloaded iPods offer a less-obtrusive bit of technology, while bathrooms open onto sexy garden showers.
Having neglected to book one of the Nam Haiâ€™s pool villas, I took solace in the views from the breezy outdoor daybed fronting my villa, and in laps in the three palm-flanked swimming pools (one Olympicsize) that serve as the propertyâ€™s aqueous centerpiece. The surf of the East Seaâ€”which, unless you want to be scolded, is how you refer to the South China Sea in Vietnamâ€”was a touch too big for swimming during my November visit, but I happily strolled the powdery beach, sometimes without passing another soul. Resorts might be thick on the shore closer to Danang or Hoi An, but out here, youâ€™re more likely to spot seashells than sun loungers.
You certainly wonâ€™t spot any water sportsâ€”somnolent gentility is more the flavor at the Nam Hai. There is, however, an excellent spa, set around a lotus pond and featuring overwater relaxation rooms from which you can watch carp swim past. And for guests looking to explore the touristy but quaint-as-can-be lanes of Hoi Anâ€™s well-preserved Old Town, a shuttle bus can whisk you there in15 minutes. For a more immersive experience, ask the concierge to set you up with a â€śsunrise fisherman tourâ€ťâ€”youâ€™ll help unload the dayâ€™s catch before your fellow guests even wake up for breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast, the morning spreads at the Nam Hai are terrific, augmented by sparkling wine and energizing shots of pineapple juice, ginger, lime, and local basil. The rest of the meals, surprisingly, were hit and miss, perhaps because one of the resortâ€™s two restaurants was closed for renovations while I was there. Still, if itâ€™s local flavors that youâ€™re craving, get your fix in Hoi An: homegrown specialties such as cao lau noodles are best sampled at the source.
Hamlet 1, Dien Duong Village, Dien Ban District; 84-510/940-000; the namhai.com; doubles from US$650