Journey to peace

Discover Amanoi, a beachside retreat in Vinh Hy Bay, Vietnam

Photos courtesy of Amanoi Vietnam

Vietnam has always been a bit of a struggle to get to, with its visa restrictions and limited air connectivity. This has since changed with online e-visas and with the introduction of Bangkok Airways' flights to Nha Trang. This has also made it easier to get to Amanoi, derived from the Sanskrit word for peace, aman, and the Vietnamese word for place, no'i. Aman's first resort in Vietnam is perched over Vinh Hy Bay, where a nature park tumbles into crystal-clear waters. This secluded retreat is for those seeking serenity, though not without a bit of adventure.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A 70-minute scenic drive from Cam Ranh International Airport, along the coastline of Ninh Thuan province, leads to Nui Chua National Park, around which Amanoi is built, among a forest, a marine reserve and hills, providing a fantastic view of Vinh Hy Bay and its fishing villages.

The first view of the breathtaking architecture, reminiscent of Japanese-style pagodas, peeks through the lush green foliage and opens out to the sea views from the main lobby and restaurant, high above the bay. Needless to mention that the cameras will take in the view before you do.

While the villas and residences aren't visible to the naked eye, they lie hidden amid the almost-desert like flora, keeping each one private. Buggies are on call for the commute between spa, restaurant, shop and your residence. While the property's wilderness may tempt a stroll through its grounds, it is easy to get lost. It took my butler a good three months to get familiar with the entire place!

Residence.

Pavilion bedroom.

Ocean Pool Villa.

STAYING IN

Amanoi is a mix of villas and pavilions, a few with their private pools, and residences, which come with a minimum of three bedrooms, a private living room, outdoor heated pool, outdoor dining area, and best of all -- a private chef and butler!

The Ocean Pool Villas are spacious one-bedrooms that come with a private wooden deck and outdoor pools overlooking the turquoise waters of Vinh Hy Bay. If you prefer a greener view, the Mountain Pool Villa offers view of the national park or the man-made lake.

The peaceful lake, home to abundant lotus blossoms, houses a pavilion and the Amanoi Spa, as well as the pavilions for three different detoxifying immersions, all equally transforming. Offering an initial orientation and well-being review, each day of the individual immersions are personalised and include holistic spa treatments, with each meal created with personal goals in mind. There are two spa houses, where immersions take place. I skipped the immersions to indulge in a signature spa treatment. Bliss, thy name is the skilled hands of my therapist.

Morning yoga, pilates, meditation or qi qong classes are conducted in the outdoor pavilion built in the lotus lake for that touch of serenity, amid the sounds of nature.

If achieving the perfect tan is your thing, then the cliff pool is the best place. As the name suggests, the infinity pool offers a breathtaking view of the sea and beyond. With plenty of sunbeds, it is the pool to spend the day at with a book and to take in the fresh sea breeze. Though I preferred to spend the day in my private pool soaking in the views of the sea and the fishing boats docked along the coast.

Beach Club.

Private beach and Beach Club.

Amanoi Spa.

If you're a bit more adventurous, head out to the beach club, which is along the private stretch of beach and has a large pool to frolic in. Water sports are also available at the beach, where one can also go kayaking pass the lobster and crab farms to a private picnic beach.

Should you spend the day at the beach club, it offers a substantial lunch with Western and Asian delights. Don't miss out on the Taste of Vietnam menu from where the succulent Bo la lot or minced beef fillet infused with spices and wrapped in betel leaf was a hit! For those who like to end each meal on a sweet note, do indulge in the Coconut creme brulee, served in a coconut!

For me, the best option to spend a lazy afternoon was a cooking class with Amanoi chefs at The Rock Studio, situated on a cliff complete with a view of the sea. The class also comes with an Amanoi cookbook on Vietnamese delights. Learn how to make the iconic Vietnamese fresh spring rolls made with rice paper with a filling of prawn and vegetables. At the show and tell class, you can also learn to make Banh xeo or the savoury Vietnamese pancake. I learned to make Cha ca thang long or fish with turmeric and dill, eaten with steamed rice. For dessert, I was taught to make a refreshing Vietnamese dish with lychee and gingko nuts.

Of course, while in Vietnam it would be a crime not to get the Vietnamese coffee and here at Amanoi, it was deliciously frothed. Though you may want to refrain from drinking the strong beverage towards the latter part of the day so you can make the most of the cosy beds. Do start off the day with one of the three healthy juices, made fresh when ordered at breakfast. The main restaurant offers a delicious a la carte spread for breakfast and I indulged in the pho and bahn mi, because when in Vietnam…

Dinner here is served Vietnamese family-style and consists of a starter, main course and dessert. The restaurant also offers fresh seafood, most of which come straight from the bay to your dinner table. Choose from the Vinh Hy Fisherman's Catch of the Day or Chef's Specials or Daily Specials. There is also an entire section devoted to Vietnamese cuisine. If anything, you are spoilt for choice at mealtimes.

GOING OUT

If you're a morning person and want to see the glorious sunrise, the Goga Peak trek is a quick 10-15 minute hike from the lobby. The peak is an idyllic spot for a picnic breakfast while soaking in the first rays of the sun.

If you're not much of a sunrise person, hike through Nui Chua national park's 29,000 hectares, home to a vast variety of flora and fauna. I did the trek to the Stone Park in Ninh Thuan, where a natural phenomenon has created hill stones in unique formations. From the top, the vastness of the ocean is apparent and the grandeur of nature really comes through. Do be careful of the cactus and prickly pears along the way. After the climb, treat yourself to one of the vineyard tours and a taste of Vietnamese wines or enlist in a pottery class in the nearby potters' village.

Sunset is best enjoyed at the Twilight Cliff Lounge, which is Amanoi's secret lounge, a short boat ride along Vinh Hy bay away and makes it a special start to an evening followed by dinner at Ong Bay's house.

Afternoon tea.

Village elder Ong Bay hosts Amanoi guests for a candlelit al fresco dinner in his courtyard home, complete with an outdoor kitchen where you can watch local specialties being prepared. It is a great insight into a traditional Vietnamese home, as well as a sneak peek into their culture and home cuisine.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Though it may be hard to imagine why Aman Resorts chose to open a place of peace in Vietnam's driest province, once there it is reminiscent of an oasis amid an arid land with its pools, beach, fishing boats and continuous views of the ocean. Renewing focus, detoxifying and finding peace is now merely a plane ride away.

AMANOI, Vinh Hy Village, Vinh Hai Commune, Ninh Hai District, Ninh Thuan province, Vietnam / Call +84 259 353 5777 / Email amanoi@aman.com.

GETTING THERE

Bangkok Airways is the first Thai airline to fly four flights a week (Mon, Wed, Fri and Sun) to Nha Trang, on the southeastern coast of Vietnam. The outbound flight PG993 departs Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 10.20am and arrives at Cam Rahn International Airport at 12.05pm. The inbound flight PG994 departs Cam Rahn Airport at 12.55pm and arrives in Bangkok at 2.40pm.

Call 1771 or visit bangkokair.com.