Wylde World: Exploring Vietnam
Report and photography: Yamine Daaboul
Vietnam is best known for its picturesque landscapes, lush greenery, glistening beaches, cuisine, street markets and the friendliness of its people. In order to experience as much of this as possible, my brother and I decided to split our time between Hanoi – the capital city and cultural heart of Vietnam – and the ultimate experience at the idyllic Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, based in Nha Trang.
Our first home-away-from-home was at the esteemed Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, which was the perfect landing spot after an almost 12-hour flight from London. Opened in 1901, it has welcomed stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Graham Greene and very recently played host to US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s summit meeting!
The grounds of the hotel felt special and calming; their classic white walls and green shutters wrap round the jungle-style garden; filled with palm trees, tropical plants, a good sized pool, plenty of places to relax both indoors and out, and any foodies will be glad to hear that, as a respectful nod to their history, they have a multitude of different restaurants and cuisines on offer – Le Beaulieu (French), Angelina (Italian) and Spices Garden (Vietnamese).
We managed to fit in a day trip excursion, wonderfully curated by Sofitel, to Ninh Binh. Cuc Phuong National Park was our first port of call, located deep into the Tam Diep Mountains and we soon found ourselves hiking through the landscape; acres of lush tropical vegetation all around us.
In the park we were thrilled to visit the two vital conservation centres – one for turtles, often smuggled into China to be sold on the black market as medicinal remedies – and one for endangered primates that involves rescuing them from poachers, rehabilitation and preservation before letting them venture back out into the wild. A rustic lunch followed, and our trip culminated in a bamboo boat ride in the tranquil Van Long Nature Reserve; home to the largest community of Delacour's langur in Vietnam. Undulating layers of cliffs and mountains in the distance with thick forests resting on their slopes seemed to dance in and out of the misty sky as we made our way around the lagoon.
The almost two-hour drive to and from Ninh Binh meant we could also take in the stunning landscape from the comfort of our air-conditioned SUV. There were waves and waves of all the different shades of green you can imagine, rice fields, pagodas and wondrous flora sprinkled throughout. On our return, we were given an insightful private tour, available for free to all guests, of the hotel’s 1960’s bomb shelter that was discovered in 2011, during renovations. This is what makes Sofitel Legend Metropole unique; that it is linked hand in hand with the history of the country.
On our third day in Hanoi we transferred to InterContinental Hanoi West Lake which sits harmoniously along the banks of Ho Tay Lake. Due to an early arrival we were able to take a leisurely stroll around the expansive grounds before check-in; a broad smile struggled to leave my face as I spotted my favourite flower, Plumeria, nestled on every corner.
Rooms here are divided between the main building and pavilion blocks dotted around the lake, one of which we were notified we would be upgraded to, an Overwater Panoramic View room to be exact, complete with balcony. The room was immaculate with a huge marble bathroom including a separate bath and walk-in shower as well as dual basins and ample toiletries. As a Brit I was overjoyed to find out that they had UK style plug outlets available in the room – a lifesaver after I had forgotten to bring my adapter. There was even a complimentary pillow menu which had 10 different types of pillows on offer including a body pillow and a water pillow for headache relief but my favourite aspect of the room was the encouragement card left on the side table for guests to use when wanting to reuse bed linen and towels.
The hotel beats with a dynamic and lively spirit, further accentuated by the mellifluous sounds of birds singing in the trees. Other highlights include the exceptional breakfast buffet that caters to both Asian and European tastes with made-to-order stations for eggs, noodles, pancakes/waffles also on offer, as well as the 24-hour gym facility, which you would be hard pressed to find better than in Europe, never mind South East Asia, and finally the view of the sunset from the aptly named Sunset Bar, which left an everlasting memory. So much so that we forgot to take pictures!
Discovery and shopping recommendations
Although the most preferred way to travel in Hanoi is via motorbike, one of my favourite things to do in any city is to walk around without a destination point in mind. Both hotels were perfectly located in this sense with what seemed like notable discoveries on every street. We were within walking distance to the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, as well as many cultural sites such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long.
Other places I would recommend adding to your to-do list include Dong Xuan Market, a huge wholesale market which you can’t possibly leave empty handed from, Craft House, a delightful souvenir store that sells handmade products and supports local artists and Mekong Quilts, a non profit organization that specializes in handmade quilts and was founded with the aim of supporting and generating work for indigent women from remote villages in Vietnam and Cambodia. I bought three quilts and they graciously gave me one for free!
The sanctuary of Six Senses Ninh Van Bay welcomed us for our final destination in a memory filled trip so far. I can’t lie, the allure of a Six Senses experience has engulfed me for a while and reality took hold almost immediately when we were greeted in the airport by a member of staff. We were offered fresh cool towels, crystallized ginger slices and water to help us freshen up before embarking on a private, wifi enabled (!), car transfer to the Six Senses dock. It turns out the resort is only accessible by boat. As we road the choppy waves and took in the fresh sea air we eventually approached an arc of golden sand, stone boulders and nature are interwoven with pavilions - the most perfect blend of coastal and mountainside settings I’d ever seen.
Once ashore we were greeted by our GEM (Guest Experience Maker), Thao, who would be our right-hand woman for the length of our stay. After completing the most pleasant check-in procedure, we were whisked off to our Beachfront Pool Villa, more specifically Beachfront Pool Villa #10 (just writing that makes the memories come flooding back), one of 35 at the resort. It’s the most popular choice (with villas on the hilltop, nestled in between the rocks and over water also on offer) and it didn’t take us long to see why. The bedroom is just footsteps from the serene private pool with direct access to the beachfront within seconds; a standalone living room sits blissfully upstairs overlooking the bay; a huge en-suite bathroom, that I don’t think will ever be topped, encompasses a gorgeous hand made wooden bathtub and a shower is located invitingly outside. The sense of soulful seclusion I felt was magical, it was luxury without ostentation. The villa also came equipped with bicycles that were personalized with our names carved into wood and hung from the back. A sweet touch and even better, we got to take the name tags home.
This level of attentiveness is something all guests are to become accustomed to, in fact just two hours after being on the resort the 24/7 stand by nurse was sprung into action when I fell off my bike and scraped my palm. The level of care I received was exemplary and it was not before long that I was back on said bike exploring the grounds and activities on offer. There were outstanding features everywhere I looked; an outside tennis court; yoga pavilion; water sports and diving centre that offered us complimentary access to kayaking, snorkelling and paddle boarding; an organic vegetable garden; 24/7 gym facilities and of course a Six Senses is never complete without it’s incredible world-class spa - one I was lucky enough to undergo an outstanding deep tissue massage in. I particularly enjoyed snorkeling in the wonderfully deserted sea, something I’ve always wanted to do but been too self-conscious to try, as well as the private Vietnamese cooking class we were treated to with the resort’s experts.
I will miss waking up to waves gently brushing against my feet as I walk along the pristine beach; the charming staff who felt like family and the food! My only wish would have been to stay longer. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is an escapist’s dream, it is the ideal place to rest and revive in body and mind.