Catching the train from Saigon to Nha Trang took up a good chunk of the day, seven hours I think, of whizzing past bright green rice paddies, mountains and villages. Nha Trang is on Vietnam’s south-central coast and is heavily touristed thanks to its sweeping sandy beach and loads of hotels and resorts. We weren’t here to see Nha Trang, however.
Waiting in the train station carpark was a private van just for us. We take a seat and are handed chilled refresher towels and driven about twenty minutes up the coast to a private jetty with a boat awaiting our arrival. Onboard we find complimentary snacks and drinking water (what, no minibar?) and outside the choppy seawater and up-and-down motion was beginning to become a bit of an issue with me. All I was hoping for was to not hurl all over the pretty white interior.
Welcome to Six Senses, Ninh Vân Bay, a secluded property at the bottom of a forested promontory that juts into the South China Sea. Stepping off the boat we’re warmly greeted by management and introduced to our personal butler, yes it’s that kind of place, and after a bit of paperwork we’re taken to our villa.
This is where things started to feel a little familiar. Six years ago we stayed at its former sister property, Soneva Gili (now Gili Lankanfushi), in the Maldives. Luxurious overwater bungalow, Robinson Crusoe-style set-up, pretty lush. I know, it’s sickening but someone’s gotta do it.
Ninh Vân Bay is the only place in Vietnam that has its own time zone. Just to ease you into the Six Senses lifestyle the time is set forward an hour; a longer day to do a whole lot of nothing. Well, not nothing. There’s bush walking, bike riding, swimming, eating and drinking. That’s for starters. Let me walk you through our little pad.
Our beachfront pool villa is nestled amongst the brush, overlooking the calm bay. Downstairs there’s the bedroom with bi-fold doors and a daybed that opens out onto a small terrace that drops into a private plunge pool. Not too shabby at all!
At the rear a large bathroom opens onto an enclosed courtyard, complete with outdoor shower, and back inside are two vanities on the opposing walls. The free-standing wooden bathtub went untouched and was more of a pretty obstacle than functional device.
Head upstairs and you find yourself in an open-plan lounge space. Table and chairs overlooking the plunge pool and beach, there’s a minibar, coffee & tea facilities and a cushy daybed made for slouching the day away. Oh look, complimentary champagne! Let the sloshing begin.
A couple of minutes up the path on the bike, or a few more if you’re walking along the beach, is the treehouse-style bar that offers half price drinks every afternoon. Well hello there, cheap dirty martini! Perched on the side of the hill, the bar is perfectly positioned for watching the sun set over the bay and distant Hon Thi Mountains. Aww so romantic, but no time for gushing, look at the free cheese platter!
There are a few dining options here at the bay, two of which are in the main restaurant or down on the deck built over the rocks. The menu is a mix of western and local food that’s knocked up using organic produce from nearby Dalat. You see it come in every day by boat, along with the multitude of staff that work there.
Over the two nights we ate some pretty good meals with dishes like banh xeo (220K), that traditional Vietnamese pancake loaded with seafood and sprouts. Another goodie was the char-grilled beef la lot (250K) rolls on rice vermicelli and wow, there was some serious garlic in there! Loved the lemongrass and chilli-crusted cobia (kingfish) with stir-fried morning glory, garlic and nuoc mam (480K).
Aside from some heavy handling with celery salt, the black angus beef carpaccio (300K) was fantastic. It came drizzled with parmesan aioli and extra virgin olive oil plus a few herbs and grissini. The great hunk of black snapper (480K) was a joy to unwrap from its banana leaf parcel; all soft and steamy with a side salad of shredded papaya. The Ha Noi chicken rice (a take on the Hainanese version 500K) came with a side bowl of tasty broth containing two still-soft quail eggs which I nabbed and put on the rice of my own dish, claypot caramel pork belly (460K). The other half has an aversion to raw egg, you see, and I don’t have a problem with it.
A few of the desserts tread the cusp of East and West with a beautiful pandan crème brûlée (250K). My more traditional and absolutely divine che chuoi (220K) – banana in coconut cream, tapioca and toasted peanuts – hit the spot nicely.
Time for breakfast.
Once again we have a mix of western and Vietnamese options via several stations offering fresh fruits, cereals, yoghurt, breads and pastries. There’s hot food in there as well including a station devoted to pho and even a couple of mammoth steamers loaded with a variety of dumplings. Let’s not forget the help-yourself bottles of fresh juices and champagne wading in a bucket of slushy ice.
Waking up to fresh sea breezes was a great way to start the day, only made better with a bike ride to the restaurant for some fabulous food and Vietnamese coffees. Fancy a bit of pool action?
Additional to your own private plunge pool, guests have the main cooling-off area that wraps around a two-storey pavilion that’s open for lunch as well as a swim-up bar. The friendly staff offer chilled water and skewers of fruit before the splashing begins. Aside from lunching on pool-side Nha Trang-style stuffed squid, some yin yang tapas (Vietnemese appetisers) and a whole lot of lounging about sipping chilled coffee and cocktails, not a great deal more went down at Ninh Van Bay. Not that you’d expect things to get frantic in a spot like this. A much appreciated two-day chill from frantic Saigon.
Leaving Ninh Van Bay by boat, we were all charged and ready for the next leg of our Vietnam trip. Nha Trang Airport, here we come.