If the Nam Hai sounds a little too subdued for your tastes, consider Danangâ€™s new InterContinental, which I can guarantee you looks unlike any InterContinental resort youâ€™ve seen before. For one, thereâ€™s the swoon-worthy setting: the buildings are terraced down a hillside above a private cove on the thickly forested Son Tra Peninsula, which is really more of an island, connected to the mainland by a low isthmus that runs between the cityâ€™s main beach and the mouth of the Han River. After the low-key hubbub of Danang, the peninsulaâ€™s wild, dewy luxuriance comes as a pleasant surprise.
Itâ€™s the design of the InterContinental, however, that has everyone talking. The whole thingâ€”architecture, interiors, landscaping, signage, art, even the staff uniformsâ€”is the work of Bill Bensley, whose Bangkok-based studio made its name with such acclaimed projects as the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai. Given creative carte blanche and what must have been a stupendous budget, Bensleyâ€”whom Forbes once anointed â€śthe go-to guy for resort hotels that want something different and a little strangeâ€ťâ€”has delivered a lavish fantasyland where vernacular elements like carved merawan wood panels and gray-tiled rooftops rub up against the quirky (Vietnamese busts festooned with seashells), the kinky (my room had a tinted mirror positioned above its bed), and the outrageous (is that really a stuffed ostrich?). Lovers of a less aggressive aesthetic might be put off, but I found it hard not to get caught up in the exuberance of it all, not to mention the sheer scale of the vision: thereâ€™s hardly a corner or surface that has escaped Bensleyâ€™s keen eye for detail. And the roomsâ€”of which there are 197 spread across more than a dozen accommodation blocks, including a clutch of seaside villasâ€”are supremely comfortable, done up in predominantly black-and-white tones with big beds, big balconies, and big bathrooms fitted with terrazzo soaking tubs.
The InterContinental Danang is especially good for families. Young children will love roaming the grounds and spending time in the pirate shipâ€“themed kidsâ€™ club, which, conveniently, is located right behind the Long Bar, where parents can chill out over champagne cocktails on oversize daybeds. And what could be more fun than riding the Nam Tram, a boat-shaped funicular that carries guests some100 vertical meters between the reception level and the beachfront? Those looking for more active pursuits can join guided treks into the surrounding hills to spot rare douc langurs, go kayaking around the bay, or try their hand at steering a bamboo coracle, surely among the most infuriating contraptions ever invented.
Food is a highlight, too, particularly the Vietnamese fare at Citron. Dishes such as betel-wrapped beef marinated in five-spice and oyster sauce and grilled grouper in banana leaf are considerably more authentic than youâ€™d expect from a resort kitchen, thanks largely to the fact that the restaurant caters as much to in-house guests as it does to townies from Danang, who are clearly a discerning bunch. Iâ€™d be hard pressed to name a more pleasing lunchtime snack than Citronâ€™s pomelo-and-soft-shell-crab salad, especially when enjoyed from the vantage point of one of the outdoor dining booths, which hover like upside-down non la (conical hats) above the hillside. Pizzas and pastas are more the order of the day at the sand-floored Barefoot CafĂ©, a breezy beachside eatery lit by tiki torches in the evening. Alas, the resortâ€™s signature dining room, La Maison 1888, was still a couple weeks away from opening during my visit. But with an haute French menu by Michel Roux (one of the founding chefs of Londonâ€™s Le Gavroche) and a soignĂ© setting in a colonial-style mansion, itâ€™s bound to impress.
Bai Bac, Danang; 84-511/393-8888; ichotels group.com; doubles from US$280