Itching to get away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon but short on time? Brett Davis discovers an oasis of calm on the city’s doorstep.
I am a thousand miles away, or at least that is what it very much feels like. The wide, lazy tree-lined river meanders past while I have a glass of wine and take in the gathering dusk. It is quiet and so very peaceful as a gentle breeze stirs the lush surrounds of my villa. The lights from the nearby bar and outdoor dining area are pinpricks in the fabric of the night.
What is most extraordinary about where I am is that I am not on a distant coastline, a flight or endless drive through careening traffic from my home in Saigon. In fact, my journey entailed little more than 15 minutes by boat from the heart of the city.
The An Lam Private Residences (though it is actually a boutique short-stay establishment) has only been operating a few short months and has not yet really registered on the local getaway market. Heading north along the Saigon River past District 2, the property is located on the same branch of the Saigon River that ultimately takes you to Cu Chi.
Formerly the private home of a local lumber magnate, the main house and outbuildings have been upgraded and adapted to create four free-standing villas and several rooms in the old main house. There are also several executive apartments, a formal dining area with special chef’s table that fronts a modern open-kitchen and a more relaxed restaurant and lounge bar perched on a deck by the water’s edge.
With only 15 rooms at most when fully operational, An Lam will always be a haven of tranquility away from the city. The resort also has a spa and main pool for those few whose room does not boast a private plunge pool. An Lam is open to day visitors wanting to dine or use the spa facilities, although general manager Richard Frot advises that it is imperative to call ahead to ensure there is space available.
He explains the number of day visitors will be strictly limited depending on how many guests are in residence at any particular time. “We must be very careful that we do not overload the property,” he says.
This is in keeping with the philosophy that when guests arrive at An Lam they do not feel like they are entering a resort. “It is very important that [guests] feel like it is their place, we want them to feel like they are at home,” Frot says.
The sense of being at home is emphasized, for me at least, by the journey taking about the same time as it would to get to my real house in District 7. I begin to dream of relocating to a life up river. All I need is one of the handy modern speed boats An Lam maintains to ferry guests about.
The trip is something of an eye-opener, providing a seldom seen view of Saigon’s outer reaches. Roaring away from the private dock on Ton Duc Thang adjacent to the roundabout featuring the large statue of Tran Hung Dao, the downtown skyscrapers quickly recede. We soon pass under the bridges connecting Binh Thanh District and District 2, and head out into a broader channel of the river. Life is still bustling on these reaches as the boat navigates between long strings of floating vegetation, and under yet more bridges, both old and new. Soon enough even the top of the Bitexco tower fades into the distance and urban sprawl gives way to green rural vistas.
The spell is somewhat broken as we suddenly come upon the imposing presence of the new Han Phuc hospital, which is a reminder that we are now in Binh Duong, and that An Lam is also accessible by car for those who are not comfortable on the water. Soon enough though we are again amongst the trees and on approaching our destination only a hint of what it contains is apparent from the river.
Once installed in my villa, and after a quick dip in the plunge pool to cool down, I can fully take in my surroundings. There is a strong sense of seclusion and privacy here. As Frot tells me earlier on a tour of the facilities, every villa and room has a private entrance, so guests can be assured of the utmost discretion.
The menu at An Lam features mainly Vietnamese dishes, but there is also enough international fare to satisfy most diners. You can eat at the open dining area by the river, but in this instance I also opt for discretion and have my meal served in the villa. It is a difficult spot to resist. The high ceiling, cool stone floors and leather sofas coupled with the wide French doors affording a wonderful breeze from the river make for a perfectly relaxing setting.
The only sounds are the faint rustling of the trees and the odd chug of a riverboat plying its trade in the inky night. All I can think is that I really do want this to be home.
For more information or to make a booking go to epikurean.com or call (083) 920 6949.