21 May 2024

The stunning pool of The Nam Hai
A taste of Zen
Enjoying the bliss of the luxurious Nam Hai resort, Carolyn O’Donnell discovers some secrets of Vietnam’s fabulous cuisine
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hey had gathered for the ping pong. Eighteen Vietnamese railway employees 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 the luxury to the power of zen – zenux if you will – of the Nam Hai hotel.

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).
A traditional Hoi An Market
Learn the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine in a cooking class
For the Vietnamese, architecture is a high art form and the platform bed, or phan, a central feature. Since the hotel opened in 2006, it has received many awards, including Travel & Leisure USA’s ‘World’s Best Designed Resort’. Even the treatment rooms at the spa are arranged around a private lagoon, and each session begins with a footwashing ceremony. After my Himalayan Hot Stone Massage, I fear future massages can only be a disappointment. If you can tear yourself away from the resort, there’s no better place to appreciate ancient Vietnamese style than Hoi An, which was the largest harbour 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. Hoi An has 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 runs a 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 you’re 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 lanterns while the people recite poems, play games, sing and dance.

Excursions include the ruined temples of the fierce Champa people at My Son. Champa kings lived in the now Unesco-listed site from as early as the 4th century, and much later the Vietcong based themselves there. The area was bombed during the ‘American war’ although the fine masonry skills of the Champa are still much in evidence. Keen snorkellers should head to the Cham Islands, 10km offshore and inhabited by the navy, fishermen and collectors of birds’ nests (they fetch up to $2,000 a kg). Wildlife lovers could spot up to 135 species of coral and 200 varieties of fish. Our enthusiastic guide for the day, Sinh, took us to an ancient temple before we headed out to see the marine life. Then it was back to the beach for a seafood lunch.
From the terraced infinity pools leading down to groomed sands to the eggs benedict cooked just for me at breakfast, attention to detail is exquisite. As part of a nightly zenux ritual, staff light candles in each villa and enclose the slumber pavilion in flowing white drapes. The hotel’s design was drawn from Vietnamese tradition as interpreted by Paris-based architect Reda Amalou.
"The Nam Hai is designed to supply soothing Asian fusion luxe wherever you turn."
Though you could lie 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, resident yoga guru. Discovered in Kathmandu, he has been teaching for ten years and says clients have included members of the Nepalese royal family. He practices hatha yoga, which emphasises breathing, and our session begins with a mantra, some philosophy and an exercise ‘that could change your life’.

Giri said this deep-breathing technique can cure all kinds of physical problems and increase sexual energy, particularly the kind known as kundalini, characterised in hatha teaching by a sleeping reptile at the base of the spine. ‘This will awaken the snake,’ he said.
"With evidence of Chinese, Japanese and European influences – particularly French – going back to the 16th century, the streets are a feast for the eyes,"
Enjoy a meal at The luxurious Nam Hai
The UNESCO listed port town of Hoi An
Enjoy an evening nap at The Nam Hai on the beach
While my snake groped for consciousness, the dry bit of pasta that is my unco-operative body submitted to some stretching poses (forwards bending not bad, though sideways needs work).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 – goi cion tom – that didn’t fall apart.

We took a morning cycle ride 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 my quang, fresh yellow noodles with prawn and chicken. With Huyen’s help, my julienne technique improved considerably. And 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…

Original article published in Jun 2011. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
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