Shedding his city-dwelling fear and loathing, Brett Davis heads to the coast for some much-needed R&R. Photos courtesy of Ho Tram Grand Resort and Casino.
It tends to build within you, the need to escape Saigon. For the most part this happens without you really realising it, and then it is there and you just have to go. But as most residents of the city know, getting away somewhere that is pleasant and conveniently located when time is short does not present you with a host of options.
This is precisely the situation I found myself in not long ago. In addition to an escape, I needed to get some work done. I actually find hotels the most comfortable and productive environments for this. I’m not sure why, but the office just seems to inhibit creative thought, cafes are out of the question (too many folks tapping away on laptops, and I actually have a job) and home is prone to too many distractions, like laundry or playing with cats.
Hotels are kind of perfect retreats from the world, where you can relax and focus at the same time. I also happened to be battling a ridiculous flu, so escape, solitude and relaxation seemed the order of the day.
So, summoning my manservant to pack me a case and organising the necessary transportation, I headed to the Ho Tram Grand resort and casino. Opened two years ago among some well-publicised challenges, I thought it time to give the place another look. An additional incentive being that, with the recent opening of the Long Thanh-Dau Giay Expressway, it was only a smidge over two hours from the city.
On approach it is an imposing beast, dominating the still largely empty beachfront strip. This is due to change in the not-too-distant future, with other condo and five-star resort projects in the pipeline. But for now there is a sense of isolation and gentle drama to this windswept coastline.
There are 541 rooms here, I pondered after closing the door to my room and taking in the view from its floor-to-ceiling windows. Not surprising, given the size of the building. Everything did seem to be on a rather grand scale, not least of which was the huge, horseshoe shaped swimming pool spread out below me and fronting the long strip of beach.
The room was well-appointed with a spacious bathroom including a generous tub and a well-positioned desk from which to do my work. The clincher, though, was the bed. I was instantly ashamed of the impoverishment of my own bedding situation and now I knew why: goose down. Yes, the goose down duvet and pillows atop a marshmallow soft mattress were heavenly. It was all I could do not to flop into bed and drop into a 24-hour coma.
Instead I summoned up the requisite energy for a tour of the facilities. After a stroll by the pool I took a vantage point on one of the sun lounges facing the remarkably clean beach, cleaner than most I have encountered in this country. Some hardy souls were out on the choppy, grey-green ocean taking advantage of the considerable breeze to sail board and kite surf. An even more optimistic soul bobbed upon a longboard waiting for the occasional small wave to surf.
It was all very calming and pleasant, and aided by the abundant flu medication and occasional cocktail coursing through my system, created a delightfully cottonwool sensation.
Next was a peek at the Greg Norman-designed Bluffs golf course. As a rule, I don’t play golf. Here I made no exception, although I did drive in a golf buggy. I find it difficult to believe I am saying this but it was incredibly beautiful. More gigantic landscape sculpture than sporting facility, the integration of the lush, green course into harsh, arid dunes was impeccably executed.
Sometime later, wearing my best dress sandals (all my most valuable fashion advice comes from my Canadian friend, photographer and fashion savant Fred Wissink), I entered Brasserie, The Grand’s French and Vietnamese fine dining establishment. Oysters on the half-shell and smoked salmon with capers accompanied by a stunning New Zealand sauvignon blanc commenced proceedings. This was followed by confit duck and a stolen taste of Australian ribeye with a classic Barossa shiraz and rounded out with the house-made apple tart. It was simply stunning food, the equal of – if not better than – anything you will find in Saigon.
More than well sated, I went off in search of after-dinner diversion. The Churchill Cigar Bar had earlier caught my attention with its refined Old World styling but my mood seemed to demand slightly more stimulation.
Fortunately, Club 9 was readily at hand. The house nightclub was a riot of sound and coloured lights. There was also a number of, shall we say, vertically integrated cylindrical dancing apparatuses stationed strategically around the room, with some very athletic and talented dancers practicing their skills upon said equipment. More than a little pleasing to observe.
It gave me pause to think about the obvious allusion made between the so called Ho Tram Strip and that other famous strip. One could imagine going a little Hunter S. Thompson in these surrounds. However, I doubt Thompson’s much quoted maxim – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – would be tolerated here. This is still Vietnam, after all, not Vegas.
In the end, the siren song of that wonderful bed was too strong and I departed for my room. The Ho Tram Grand weekend was a short escape but just what I was looking for. An escape as easy and comforting as the dreams one dreams when resting upon goose down pillows.
The Ho Tram Grand Resort and Casino will host the USD $1.5 million Asian Golf Tour Ho Tram Golf Open from December 3 to 6. Summer Escape packages are available from now until September 30. For more information visit TheGrandHoTram.com.