Scooter-filled streets, brimming with people whizzing about their daily lives, are the striking memories I have of Vietnam from a visit years ago. So it’s not surprising that Mr Smith and I are struck by a sense of déjà vu on the drive from Cam Ranh Airport to Evason Ana Mandara, our hotel in the coastal town of Nha Trang. En route similar sights stream past our car window: families of four perched on single scooters; a tradesman balancing a ladder as he peddles his push bike; a young lady wearing a bright pink áo dài dress and nón lá hat selling ripe, golden jackfruit.
This lively streetscape is replaced by long line of palm trees that lead down to a white-sand bay as our driver turns onto Tran Phu Boulevard, after 40 minutes of weaving through traffic. We step into Evason Ana Mandara’s breezy reception pavilion, a wide open-air space overlooking a koi pond, the hotel’s private beach and a serene stretch of South China Sea. We’re greeted with lemongrass ice tea and passionfruit sorbet and, after a short wait for our room, the news that we’ve been granted an upgrade. Welcomes don’t come much warmer than this.
Our Deluxe Sea View Room doors open to high thatched ceilings, whitewashed walls and rustic wooden furniture. From our veranda there’s a view directly onto the beach, which immediately soothes and relaxes us.
Surveying our new abode, Mr Smith’s eyes skim over a bowl of exotic fruit and straight to the four-poster bed, piled high with crisp white pillows. He’s quick to conclude it’s solid enough, but I’m rather taken by the outdoor Jacuzzi.
Further scoping shows that the hotel is both indulgent and eco-minded: environmentally friendly amenities are wrapped in recycled paper and string, and a 24-hour room service menu offers organic, locally sourced food. Castaway-luxe, if you will.
Drawing the resort’s map out of a Robinson Crusoe-style bottle, we navigate our way to the Six Senses Spa retreat. Mr Smith opts for a rejuvenating facial and hot-stone massage while I choose the signature 80-minute massage. Capped off with an alfresco shower, fruit and herbal tea, we float back to our villa for a late dinner.
Evason Ana Mandara advocates a ‘Slow Life’ ethos, which we’re only too happy to adhere to as we leisurely start our second day in the Ana Pavilion Restaurant, one of two restaurants here. A decadent spread of Vietnamese and continental breakfast offerings fuels our day-trip out on the sea.
We dedicate the morning to a guided snorkelling tour of nearby Mun Island, at the suggestion of the staff. The Evason’s speedboat whisks us there, past floating lobster farms guarded by dogs, and the steep cliffs where prized salangane nests have been harvested for years to make traditional bird's nest tonics and soups. Once reserved for kings, this delicacy is in high demand throughout Asia, and is now protected from poachers.
After lolling about in the warm, calm waters, ogling coral reefs and Technicolor fish, we cruise back to the resort. We could easily spend the rest of the day lying in hammocks, sipping cocktails from the pool bar, but Mr Smith has other plans in mind.
Kitted out with a scooter and driving directions, our mission for the afternoon is to explore the beach-blessed village of Nha Trang. We spy a graceful white Buddha and wander past the harbour of bobbing blue and red fishing boats. The winding alleys of Cho Dam Market turn up stalls laden with fruit and vegetables, fragrant spices, lush herbs, clothing and home staples. It’s a vibrant snapshot of this cool coastal town, and another vivid image to add to our Vietnam memory bank.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote that there are two kinds of people in the world, ‘those who stay at home and those who do not. The second are the most interesting’. We’re sure he’d agree that Evason Ana Mandara was worth leaving home for…