Vietnam has always been a popular choice for resort escapes, but a clutch of ultra-luxurious properties with world class spas are making it a a beauty and wellness must-do. Sigourney takes a colourful tour of Hanoi and Nha Trang before checking in to eco-luxe Six Senses Ninh Van Bay to sample their new holistic spa offering.
When the invitation to Vietnam first pings into my inbox it seems there will be no way to get this across the line with my husband until I realise I have a bit of 'credit' - Damien has literally been traveling all year for work. Plus, I argue convincingly, I will be trialing a resort that is breaking new ground in sustainability and wellness, and creating some beautiful content for Beauticate along the way. Somehow, the stars align and a few weeks later, I am nestled in my Vietnam Airlines business class seat, sipping Pol Roger.
The daytime flight is super comfy. I smash out a few hours of work, nibble my way through any vaguely Vietnamese dish on the menu before setting the bed to flat and having a few hours of doze. We arrive in Hanoi close to midnight and board an airconditioned transfer to the city to check into the Sofitel Metropole – the oldest hotel in Hanoi and located in the pretty French Quarter.
It’s so late but I simply have to sample the amenities. I run myself a bath in the sleek marble bathroom and lather up with the Lanvin products while nibbling chocolates that have been left with a little welcome note on my desk. The room is luxurious and stylish with accents of scarlet and gold. The bed beckons like an Egyptian-Cotton-swathed chariot and I promptly fall asleep dreaming of Pho.
The next morning at breakfast my dreams come true when I’m able to order the traditional Vietnamese noodle broth at a special soup station and watch it being made before my eyes. I have two bowls followed by some tasty rice noodle dumpling things with chilli sauce. Oh, okay, and a croissant. The French influence is still very evident in Vietnamese cuisine – from their excellent baking skills to the popular Banh Mi baguettes that have also become a cornerstone of local cuisine (next on my tummy’s bucketlist).
I top it all off with a Vietnamese coffee – they drink their java super black but tempered with iced sweetened condensed milk . It jolts me into the day on a high speed train. To try and calm myself I take a walk around the beautiful old hotel – lingering in the colonial bar, coveting the bamboo ceiling fans and fantasizing about the pool. There’s no rest for the wicked, though, as we check out of the stunning hotel (such a tiny taste but I am resolute that I’ll be back here) to head off on a tour around Hanoi.
The day is soupy with humidity, so I hide from the sun in the Temple of Literature and The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum – which is kind of haunting but worth a look. Lunch is at Ly Club for some delicious spring rolls and soy-infused snapper and then it’s off to the airport to catch a flight south to Cam Ranh.
Next stop: Nha Trang – one of Vietnam’s most popular beachside destinations and the building development is immediately evident. On either side of the expansive highway we drive down there are super resorts and casino’s going up in a blink. We arrive at the Evason Ana Mandara, which is Nha Trang’s only absolute beachfront resort, just in time for dinner. The beach front villas are rustic with mosquito-swathed beds and outdoor showers and enjoy direct access to the ocean.
It’s another early start this morning and I take a sunrise stroll down the beach before we head off on a local markets tour. This is a technicolour feast for the senses, complete with murderous motorbikes coming at you from every direction, baskets overflowing of fragrant tropical fruit and this mornings ocean catch glinting on chunks of ice. The air is ripe with the scent of mint and fish sauce. We stop at Pho Bo Hanoi Huong Du 3 where I sample the most delicious Pho I have ever had the joy of eating (for 30,000 VND equivalent to $1.70 AUD), then head back to the hotel to cook up a feast of our own – Vietnamese seafood pancakes.
The next day we take a transfer (a sleek black Mercedes, no less) to the incredible Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Luxury begins at the wharf – the staff whisk away your bags and offer you a welcome drink and chilled towels before you board the speed boat that will take you to the resort.
As we whiz into Ninh Van Bay I’m glued to the window. The verdant cove is encircled by a mountain range that rises up dramatically behind the villas. The first row are the Beach Villas and beyond that the Hilltop Villas. On either side of the bay the Water and Rock villas carved into the cliffs, super private and apparently a popular choice for honeymooners.
Stepping onto the glamorous jetty we are welcomed by the staff and I’m introduced to my GEM – Guest Experience Maker, Thao. She golf-buggies me to my room then offers to help me unpack and iron my clothes. (I’m officially never leaving.) We hang everything in the vast bathroom with its Swedish wooden bath, his and hers sinks and terrace that leads out to an outdoor shower (there’s an indoor one, too). She then shows me my AC, all-natural insect repellant and a basket that I can take to the chooks to collect my eggs in the morning. If you give them to the chef he’ll cook them to your specifications.
And, with that, I’m alone. A rare feat when you have two kids under six.I fall back on my huge four-poster bamboo bed, which is swathed in a grand mosquito net. Ahead of me a little window seat overlooks my private plunge pool and all around the villa are trees and bushes creating privacy from the neighboring villas and beach. A small doorway cut into the foliage leads out to a private path and there’s a sunchair perfectly poised to admire the beach. Little fishing boats putter across the bay but apart from that there’s barely a sound. I de-robe and plunge first into my private pool and then into the ocean.
Upstairs is a living room that is open to the elements, with a hanging chair, tea and coffee and mini bar. It’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. Again I’m struck by how quiet it is, save for the occasional chirrup of a little gecko who lives in my ceiling.
The next morning we take an epic hike over a mountain into the valley from which the resort collects water to use in the resort. We do a tightrope walk along the edge of reservoir then conquer another mountain to take in the most magnificent view. It’s not for the faint-hearted so make sure you wear flexible walking shoes and long pants to protect you from mosquitoes.
Later that day on the sustainability tour I learn that Ninh Van Bay is leading the way with a variety of initiatives – they source much of their food from their own organic garden, there’s the chicken farm and also a mushroom hut. Water for the resort is collected in the reservoir we hiked to then treated, heated and distributed using gravity as energy. Water-saving showerheads and faucets are installed to help reduce water consumption.
Over a cooking lesson, the resort’s resident Aussie Chef Alex shows us how to prepare a mean superfood salad and some delicious fresh rice paper rolls while explaining the Eat With Six Senses ethos, which uses local, sustainable and seasonal produce wherever possible. The chefs at Six Senses create most food from scratch and steer clear of flavour enhancers, lectins, lactose, gluten and sugar. Meals are designed to promote a healthy microbiome (the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live within the human gastrointestinal tract) to offer better digestion and absorption of nutrients while boosting the immune system.
The next morning I start the day with an aerial yoga session in a pavilion over a rushing stream. Next up, I head to the spa for one of the best massages I’ve ever had (seriously), and then it’s off to a wellness consultation wth Dr Boorani. After a quick chat about my health, she hooks me up to a strange looking machine (it looks a bit like a lie detector) which measures the water levels, fat mass, heart beats per minute and other biomarkers which give me a score across a variety of areas. The upshot? I’m stressed but not about to die with no initial signs of anything scary like diabetes or liver disease. Phew! Dr Boorani emails me a comprehensive report and gives me a bunch of proactive tips to give me the tools to keep up my healthy-ish status.
By the time I check out I feel like I’ve actually spent a week at a wellness retreat – rather than the reality of spending three days at a resort. I’ve been cycling everywhere (bikes are included with every villa) so I’ve been getting plenty of exercise and my wellness consultation has prompted me to make better choices at mealtimes. I love that the Six Senses has a variety of wellness programs that allow you to infuse your holiday with health retreat-esque qualities. You get the best of both worlds – the indulgence of a resort with the worthiness of a retreat. Vietnam is stunningly beautiful and Ninh Van Bay is perfectly poised to enjoy all of that beauty. Now, if I can just earn some more marital credits to ensure my return.