Indulging in the zen-like charm of Nam Hai resort in Hoi An

Eighteen Vietnamese railway employees, gathered for the ping pong, were trundling north on the Reunification Express for a table tennis tournament in Hanoi and I was in party carriage No 1. There were three bat-wielding women in my compartment, and as they and their comrades plied me with grapes, beer and chicken I could almost forget the sorrow of leaving luxury to the power of zen – zenux if you will – of The Nam Hai hotel.

Room-with-a-view-Nam-Hai Indulging in the zen-like charm of Nam Hai resort  in Hoi An

Room with a view: The pool villas also look out towards the South China Sea

Located on pristine Ha My beach on Vietnam’s central coast, 7km from the Unesco-listed port town of Hoi An, The Nam Hai is designed to supply soothing Asian-fusion luxe wherever you turn. Or are taken by electric cart. The Nam Hai looms large among the ‘leading small hotels in the world’, being set in 35 hectares of sculpted grounds. Each of its 60 ‘rooms’ is a self-contained 80sq m villa with a central sleeping platform facing the South China Sea. The resort also offers 40 ‘pool villas’ with up to five bedrooms (and quarters for the butler).

Some of the parts of a nightly zenux ritual are staff light candles in each villa enclosing the slumber pavilion in flowing white drapes. The hotel’s design was drawn from Vietnamese tradition as interpreted by Paris-based architect Reda Amalou. For the Vietnamese, architecture is a high art form and the platform bed, or phan, a central feature.

Being opened in 2006, it has received many awards, including Travel + Leisure USA’s ‘World’s Best Designed Resort’ for 2008, and accolades from Conde Nast Traveler, Frommer’s Review and Australian Gourmet Traveler, among others.
Even the treatment rooms at the spa are arranged around a private lagoon, and each session begins with a footwashing ceremony in a separate bathing chamber. A Himalayan Hot Stone Massage was my introduction to the genre, and I fear massages of this type from here on can only be a disappointment.

Once you can manage to leave the resort, there’s no better place to appreciate ancient Vietnamese style than Hoi An, which was the largest harbor in SE Asia in the first century, and is now considered by many to be the country’s prettiest town. With evidence of Chinese, Japanese and European influences – particularly French – going back to the 16th century, the streets are a feast for the eyes, with many opportunities to feed other parts of the body.

In Hoi An, people could find street food, cafes and restaurants, where it would be churlish not to sample local specialties such as ‘white rose’ seafood dumplings and cao lau, a noodle soup. The hotel operates a regular shuttle bus to Hoi An, where handicrafts and silk abound, not to mention the 200-plus tailors that make clothing to measure in a day or two. If fortunate enough to be there on the 14th day of the lunar month, visitors can experience a full moon festival, where Hoi An’s old town is lit by lantern light while the people recite poems, play games, sing and dance.

Excursions from the area include the ruined temples of the fierce Champa people at My Son.

Though you could just lay by the pool all day drinking cocktails, The Nam Hai also offers opportunities for holistic improvement with complementary yoga classes. Or guests can book individual sessions with Giri Raj Timshina, the resident yoga guru.

Guests can also discover more about the light, fresh cuisine of Vietnam at a cooking class. Huyen, my tiny but talented teacher, taught me how to construct a fresh spring roll with prawn – gỏi cuốn tôm – that didn’t fall apart. We took a morning cycle together to a local market where she explained the more exotic produce to me, though she sniffed with disdain at most of it, saying it wasn’t fresh enough. The ducks quacking in a corner just managed to satisfy her strict criteria. As did some fruit, and still-warm noodles sliced on the spot. Back in the kitchen we made banana blossom salad with BBQ pork and mỳ quảng, fresh yellow noodles with prawn and chicken. With Huyen’s help, my julienne technique improved considerably.

On the train the next day I had reason to be very grateful to Huyen. As the ping pong players offered some of their vast picnic supplies to me, I fretted about what I could offer in return. Then I remembered that thanks to Huyen and the market expedition my luggage included a bag containing a large – and easy-to-share – papaya …

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