Tucked away in a picturesque cove on Nha Trang Bay, Mia Nha Trang resort is the perfect weekend escape from Saigon writes Brett Davis. Photos by Fred Wissink and Philip John Deans.
I always like flying into the airport at Cam Ranh Bay. The plane banks steeply left and right, making a figure-eight pattern to line up the approach for landing. It affords a great view of the bay below: the scattering of islands, some with small villages near the shore, others intriguingly deserted, and the fleet of fishing boats riding the gentle swells of the stunningly blue water.
Turning right out of the airport and heading north towards Nha Trang, the drive along the coast is equally remarkable. This time, though, the drive will only take half of the usual 30 minutes as my destination is the Mia Nha Trang resort, located halfway between landing strip and glitter strip.
Each time I have driven this road over the last few years and been captivated by the scenery, I’ve always thought how cool it would be to stay somewhere on Cam Ran Bay and have longer to take it all in. Fortunately, I am obviously not the only person to have this idea.
As we sweep around a bend my first sight of the property is of the reception buildings and the under-construction owners’ residence/Presidential suite. The latter is indeed startling and I can’t wait to see it when it is fully complete. The external structure is largely in place and its size and position, jutting out from the rock and hanging high above the crashing waves, make it look like the kind of pad a Bond villain would be found in.
The reception building also takes advantage of its location. Open at front and back you look from the arrival point through to a wide expanse of ocean. It is stunning, and I feel slightly odd given it was only about two-and-a-half hours ago that my alarm clock went off at home in Saigon.
The majority of the resort is laid out below in a small cove with its own white-sand beach. Two small blocks of condos and about 20 free-standing villas are scattered around manicured grounds sloping gently to the main pool and restaurant area.
I am installed in one of the sand court villas, which are the most numerous, and differ only from the beach front villas in that they do not have an individual plunge pool. This is not a great crisis as the main pool is all of thirty yards away beside Sandals, the resort’s main dining area. It’s early, so that’s where I head and prop myself at the bar for a coffee.
You certainly can’t fault the location: perched right on the sand with sweeping view along the coast in both directions. After a perfect latte I’m on my way out when I spot Sandals’ tasty-looking wine cellar and pop in for a look. I spy a few choice bottles including an extensive range of Francis Ford Coppola’s wines and even a bottle of 2003 Penfolds Grange.
I’m soon joined by Cindy Duncan, the young South African food and beverage manager who gives me the run-down on the wine stock. Cindy is from the Western Cape area near Capetown, one of the most stunning wine regions in the world, and it is apparent she knows her stuff. Cindy will keep popping up at my shoulder over the next three days like a Tinkerbell of friendly and polished service. I soon learn that this is a hallmark of all the staff at Mia, which honestly has the highest standard of service I have encountered at a resort in this country. Even the gardeners stop and smile and say hello as you pass.
That evening I have dinner with the resort’s executive chef Benjamin Thomalla, coincidentally also from the Western Cape region of South Africa. Over a tasting menu that includes perfectly seared tuna with sesame seeds and a main of rib fillet with mashed potato, Thomalla tells me how the Sandals’ menu is retaining its family-orientated and rustic element, but evolving to something with a slightly more contemporary appeal.
Next afternoon I pop into town to visit Mia’s sister Nha Trang property, the recently renovated Sailing Club. The space has a natural yet funky feel with lots of stressed timber and brightly-coloured soft furnishings.
Over lunch and an enjoyably wide-ranging chat, Sailing Club Group vice director Patrick Haninger outlines their philosophy of continually researching new ideas and staying abreast of the latest trends. “We have the only truly world-class beach club in Vietnam,” he says. Haninger explains how the club morphs from day-time beach club to casual evening dining to night-time hotspot.
This seems like something of a high-wire act, but when we meet again later before dinner I can see phase two in action. Returning a few hours later just before midnight I can tell from half a block away phase three is in full swing. The place is heaving with people, but the open-air venue keeps it from being overpowering.
After a sea-salt scrub and massage at Mia’s excellent Xanh spa the next day, my foggy head has cleared by the time I join General Manager Louis Walters and chef Thomalla at Mojito, the resorts up-market lounge and dining venue attached to the cliff-top reception building. Needless to say it is a ridiculously beautiful spot to take in the sunset and get a preview of their modern-with-an-Asian-twist menu. The roasted salmon with bacon and passion fruit is a killer combo, as is the tempura chocolate truffles with chocolate ice cream.
It has been a revelatory couple of days. I am pretty sure I have found my new escape-Saigon destination.