Glass Goes Holidaying in Vietnam

A HUMDINGER of a way to start a holiday in Vietnam is with Alma, a resort with  twelve pools in its landscaped grounds plus private infinity-edged ones in each  of the villa-style pavilions. It takes only a couple of minutes to stroll down to a glorious sandy beach that stretches for over two kilometres and look  out to the South China Sea. On the beach you stand at a western end of the Pacific Ocean and from the balconies of the suites and the windows and patios of the pavilions there are more sweeping seascapes. 

You feel a million miles away from home, secluded on a peninsula in southern Vietnam, but Cam Ranh airport is less than fifteen minutes away and the city of Nha Trang some 30km to the north. Bamboo Airways flies to Cam Ranh from Ho Chi Minh City in 60 minutes, half as long again from Hanoi, and the airline will also fly you on a Dreamliner wide-body aircraft from London, nonstop, to either of these cities. 

Arriving in Vietnam with Bamboo Airways

Arriving in Vietnam via Bamboo AirwaysOne of the 12 pools at AlmaOne of the 12 pools at Alma

There is no shortage of family-oriented activities at Alma but the resort’s design makes strategic use of its huge 30-hectare site  and holidaying couples can remain blissfully unaware of attractions like the water park and children’s science museum and focus instead on water-based activities, including banana boat rides and water skiing, body treatments at La Spa plus superb restaurants and bars – writing from personal experience, a memorable evening can be enjoyed in  one of the resort’s karaoke rooms above the American Bar. 

Alma is blessed with space (and Dok Champa flowers that delightfully dot the grounds), something immediately obvious when stepping in into its vast lobby, and this allows for a wide choice of restaurants, from à la carte seafood, Italian and Japanese to the cheerily-lit Food Court with six different outlets for casual meals and drinks. An imminent  development is an upgrading of some of the pavilions, adding enhanced room facilities and an exclusive breakfast room, thus making a stay at Alma a more private experience for holidaymakers who welcome the resort’s facilities but desire a sense of being somewhere apart.

Before leaving Alma for Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the city of Nha Trang is not without diversions: vestiges of an ancient south-east Asian civilization at the Cham Towers; an oceanographic museum with startling live displays; a cathedral bearing witness to French colonialism; and surprisingly good Indian cuisine at Nha Trang Sailing Club.

Sunbeds on the beach for guests at Alma

Sunbeds on the beach for guests at Alma

Sofitel Legend Metropole HanoiSofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Hanoi, well over a thousand kilometres to the north of Nha Trang, is home to 10 million people and three quarters of them have a scooter or moped but they coexist in an astonishingly tranquil way and this is best experienced by taking a morning coffee or tea at La Terrasse on the pavement outside the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.

Commuters glide by, seemingly unaware of their vehicles’ wing mirrors when seamlessly moving lanes and very occasionally politely honking at other traffic. La Terrasse evokes Metrople Hanoi’s colonial heritage – a hotel opened by two French businessmen in 1901 and now part of a French hotel chain – with its Parisian-accented décor and brasserie-style menu. French-inflected dining of a more formal kind is available inside the hotel at Le Beauliou and another of its gourmet restaurants, The Royal Pavillion, serves classic Cantonese dishes from dim sum to bird’s nest soup.

Heading south from Alma, Ho Chi Minh City is the obvious destination and here is a hotel, the polar opposite of Metropole Hanoi, which defies tradition by creating its own inimitable style. The Reverie Saigon occupies part of one of the city’s tallest buildings, Times Square (164 metres high), and some of the rooms look directly across at Bitexo Tower (a hundred metres higher) and its helipad jutting out from its 52nd floor.

The superlatives that matter, though, are to be found inside The Reverie with its visually overwhelming sense of glamour. It brings Las Vegas to Vietnam with vibrant mosaics, Italian design features and flamboyant flourishes throughout the hotel, from the lobby to its bedrooms and sixty two suites, culminating in immensely expensive, extravagantly designed accommodation  on its top floors.

The view from one of the designer suites at Reverie SaigonThe view from one of the designer suites at Reverie Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City has its share of famous sights and they’re easy to locate on your own but a good guide, like Luxperia’s will suggest off-piste corners like  Café Cheo Leo, situated down a small side street you would never just happen to be walking down. It has been in the same family for eighty years and its way of making coffee on a clay stove in a tiny kitchen has remained unchanged,  drawing in a cohort of loyal customers of all ages while welcoming new visitors to squeeze into the available space and absorb its non-touristy vibes. 

With a resort like Alma and hotels like Metrople Hanoi and Reverie Saigon, plus the ease of getting to Vietnam and linking travel between these places with Bamboo Airways, it is easy to plan a holiday in Vietnam that spans the country.

by Sean Sheehan

For direct flights from London to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, see Bamboo Airways.