Crowded streets, ferocious motorbikes, famous landmarks, and tasty pho are not the only things Vietnam is famous for. There can be a respite from this country’s hustle and bustle. In fact, the country is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious beaches, and a very short plane ride from Ho Chi Minh to Cam Ranh Airport will bring you to the lovely quaint villages and amazing shorelines of Vietnam.
Vin Hy Bay’s isolation from the rest of the busy provinces of Vietnam introduced me to what I regard as a place bursting with stillness and sophistication. I want to liken it to a lady expectant of its guests, a hostess expert at how to take care of travelers such as myself. I was eager to meet this ‘lady’ who turns out to be any beach lover’s dream, already talked about in Vietnam’s elite resorts circle– Amano’i Resort.
Her name speaks for itself
She lies quietly in the most admirable setting on a high ridge that dramatically overlooks Vin Hy Bay. Amano’i Resort holds true to its name. Aman is a name of Sanskrit origin meaning ‘peace’ and no’i is a word in the Vietnamese language that means ‘place.’ Surrounding her is the lush Nui Chua National Park. Complementing this view is the charm of the nearby laidback fishing village with majestic rock formations as its background. Amano’i is the newest resort opened by the Singapore-based hotel group Aman Resorts. Just like all the properties of Aman, Amano’i promises its guests a luxurious, romantic, comfortable and intimate stay.
I and my travel team were all tired from roaming the busy streets of Saigon and waiting for quite a while at the airport for our connecting flight to Nha Trang province. We also had to take a 90-minute ride to Vin Hy Bay in Ninh Thuan province. All we wanted was to sleep for a few hours. Then finally, there she was, with a façade flaunting her grandeur. We finally reached Amano’i Resort.
Amano’i folk and their work
It was a bit cloudy and all I could hear was the whistling wind, but we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly faces. Xin cháo is a welcome greeting we often heard and learned to say during our stay, and indeed made us feel the hospitality of everyone in the resort. If Amano’i were a lady, she would be exuding not just graciousness, but also elegance and warmth.
No doubt, I was treated into a stunning visual treat from the time we entered the gates and when we were ushered into the Central Pavilion, where we were received by Susan Noonan, the resort’s General Manager. A lady so simple, full of grace and beauty, Susan talked to us about the resort with a lot of affection. She reminded us that Amano’i is all about ultimate relaxation and that we should enjoy its tranquility during the coming days. The schedule my team initially prepared for reviewing the resort was set aside. There would be strictly no itineraries during our stay.
Before we were escorted to our rooms, we had a quick lunch. Undecided as to what to order, I settled for a simple dish from the Taste of Vietnam list: Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Seafood and Vegetables. I found it amazing how flavorful authentic Vietnamese food can be, matched with Vietnamese coffee, which for me tasted more like a double shot of espresso, only with condensed milk. It really perked me up to continue exploring Amano’i.
Pavilion 7 was my home for the next two nights. En route to this suite, we passed through narrow alleys that were perfectly cut through the forest to fit the buggies that would bring guests around the resort. We were told that for every tree the resort needed to cut, they had to plant one in the protected areas. These tiny roads lead guests to the 31 pavilions, 5 Aman villas, Beach Club, Aman Spa, fitness gym, and the Central Pavilion. Privacy of guests is quite evident for I hardly saw them walking around the resort.
As the butler opened the doors of Pavilion 7, I was stunned. I’ve never been given a room so huge in the years I’ve been traveling. It seems that my pavilion has the size of at least two grand suites merged into one. My suite, with its sleek architecture and interior design, perfectly fits the beauty of nature that surrounds it. More importantly, I was most amazed by the graceful curves of every pavilion’s roof, crowning the classy spaces beneath. All the structures were designed by the renowned Malaysian-based architect Jean Michel Gathy, inspired by the Vietnamese style of architecture, and characterized by clean and contemporary lines. All pavilions and villas seem identical and all are positioned with a scenic view from the timber sundeck of each room.
By using neutral colors on the interiors, intricate lattice design on doors and windows, lofty ceilings and warm lights, Gathy created a subtle and seamless haven. This beauty, with the backdrop of the East Sea, just made my stay incomparable. As much as my regal bed often lured me to rest, I simply could not at some points, being too busy taking photos and tinkering on anything I could get my hands on in every corner of my suite, for the next two nights.
True to the embracing vibe of Amano’i, Susan hosted our formal dinner where we chatted, laughed, exchanged stories, and practically forgot about work for a couple of hours. My personal choice for that dinner was the scrumptious little spicy Vietnamese Chicken Curry, matched with French red wine. Our evening went by quickly for we were entertained by the most accommodating general manager I have ever met.
The good life embodied
Each time I visit a new place, it always happens – I wake up at an ungodly hour and for a few seconds I somehow forget where I am. And my first morning at Amano’i wasn’t different from the rest of my disoriented first morning experiences in the past. So, my day started quite earlier than expected. With a little drizzle outside, I decided to call the buggy service. I was too excited to roam around the resort and couldn’t wait for our resort inspection scheduled that day.
Little did I know how the day’s tour would also expose me to relaxed Amano’i’s energetic side. In a buggy with Phuc Nguyen, the Guest Services Manager of the resort, I got a glimpse of the Beach Club where breakfast is usually served al fresco while guests get the most magnificent view of the swimming pool, the beach and granite cliffs. Here, water activities can be enjoyed like kayaking, snorkeling and more, handled by Richard Dadule from the Philippines.
Next stop was breakfast at the Main Restaurant at the Central Pavilion where I had what any Vietnamese usually have for breakfast – a bowl of Vietnamese Pho with Beef and Fresh Vegetables and a cup of black coffee. I guess rice noodle soup is like cereal in Vietnam.
After breakfast, we headed to the Cliff Pool, and this, I must say, is my favorite part of the whole place. The serene setting with the infinity pool overlooking the coastline of Ninh Thuan province was just captivating and for a short moment, would make you feel numb, because of its beauty. My excitement turned into a little sadness for I wanted to dip into the pool, but more important things were lined up for the day before we headed to the nearby fishing village.
Another place we were so eager to see is the 5-bedroom villa located close to the Beach Club. Each of the Aman Villas has freestanding bedrooms, an outdoor dining area, a separate receiving area, and its own private swimming pool. A dream house is what I’d call this, or maybe a dream accommodation. It costs a whopping US$5500 to $8500 a night, but it is a luxury worth having, considering the level of refinement.
Amano’i’s kitchen is manned by men from all around the world. We sampled the delectable and creative dishes prepared by Chef Nicola from Belgium who joined the Aman Group in February. Though menus may be tailor-made for every guest and arranged before their arrival, Chef Nicola wanted us to try some of his Vietnamese specialties.
First, he served us Goi Cuon, steamed shrimps, mushrooms and fresh vegetables in rice paper rolls, with fish sauce and chili dipping sauce. I just couldn’t stop eating a lot of it especially because of the tasty dipping sauce. Next was Goi Bap Chuoi, a Vietnamese salad with shredded steamed chicken and thinly sliced banana blossoms with herbs, with a full-flavored dressing that had a taste of vinegar and mint. For our main course, Chef Nicola chose to serve us the freshest catch of the day. This was the Steamed Sea Bass with black mushrooms, garlic and tomatoes. For the finale, Chef Arnaud, Amano’i’s pastry chef, created a Passion Fruit Soufflé. Every spoonful of the soufflé left a mouthwatering memory. All in all, everything served was a healthy choice, with most of the ingredients locally produced.
Braced before I waved goodbye
My Amano’i trip would not be complete without the legendary Aman Spa experience, a staple in all of Aman Resorts properties. Surrounded by natural beauty, Amano’i’s version of the spa is located in the most charming setting in the forest, with a view of the lotus lake. Yoga and Pilates at the Pavilion are also offered if guests would be interested to book a session with their fitness director. To satisfy my body and soothe my soul, my choice was the Aman Signature Spa. Relaxing and rejuvenating my tired muscles, the experience was simply heavenly.
The following morning, we had to leave her – a place queenly in its solitude and resplendent with sophistication. I thought about the things that make Amano’i unforgettable as I had my last cup of coffee in my Pavilion 7’s deck. There were just so many details that my camera could not capture. And as I turned for a last look, if there was anything left behind, I felt a little pang that my relaxing days at her arms were over. We said our farewells and expressed our gratitude to the staff and Susan, and it dawned on me how much I’d miss Amano’i. But I would be going back home with happy thoughts and beautiful photos of a beautiful lady who offers such a charmed life.