The Awakening of Central Vietnam
EL Hong Kong|December - February 2020
Hoi An makes many a traveller’s shortlist, but sleepier parts of the South Central Coast are asking visitors to stay and play too.
Monica Pitrelli

What’s one of the most talked-about places in Asia right now? Vietnam’s Son Doong cave. The world’s largest cave – 5km long, 200m high – recently opened to tourists, and virtually every travel publication on the planet has been writing about it. (We featured it in our June-July issue, and you can read the story at expatliving.hk!)

Then, in the middle of 2019, Lonely Planet ranked Central Vietnam the 6th best place to visit in Asia Pacific for the coming year.

The area is enticing travellers to think beyond the country’s well-known “H” hotspots – Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and Hanoi and Halong Bay in the north. The South Central Coast (the eastern lower half of Central Vietnam) is even battling its own H-towns – Hoi An and Hue – for attention.

Villas and views

Ever been to Quy Nhon? Not many have. Just five years ago, tourism was virtually non-existent in this central Vietnamese city (pronounced “kwee nyawn”) set between rugged mountains and a gorgeous coastline. Anantara Quy Nhon Villas is trying to change that. Following the success of Nha Trang to the south, Quy Nhon enters the luxury fray with the Anantara as its first five-star international hotel.

With only 26 villas, the property is wonderfully intimate. There are six villa types – choosing the right one is a matter of two decisions: location (beachfront or hilltop) and size (one or two bedrooms). We chose a bi-level Ocean View Pool Villa with pool on the bottom floor and living quarters on the top. This is a great choice for families with young children; you get the splendour of a private pool without the skittishness of having to watch the kids every second of every day. Extra-high balcony walls are constructed without horizontal (aka climbing) beams – another necessity for families.

Every villa has sweeping ocean views with front-row seats for sunrise. We awoke every morning to high-pitched, wall-shaking squeals of excitement over the psychedelic swirls of pink and orange filling the sky. Oh, kids and the joys of 5am wakeups. We could have pulled the blackout curtains but honestly, this view was too good for that.

Days here are long (see paragraph above...), but in the best of ways. The main pool is quiet until 4pm when the sun dips behind a western mountain, casting the entire property into warm shadow. Then guests come out in droves – and by droves, I mean, oh, three families. This is a good time to amble to the private beach where the sand is soft for tender young feet and the waves thrilling but manageable.

Being away from it all has many benefits, but what about the drawbacks? First, it’s a matter of forgotten sunscreen; later, antibiotic ointment for a toddler toe injury. Do we have access to necessities and medical care if we need them? It turns out, we do. The staff ran into town to fetch our requests and were poised to call a nurse if the toe didn’t heal (it did). Anything the resort didn’t have, they got us at no additional cost.

The property has a small gym, and there’s a kids’ play area at the 63-room Avani sister resort next door. But the biggest draw is the Anantara Spa – arguably, the most stunning part of both properties. There are two menus – one for traditional services and another for Ayurvedic and Vietnamese wellness treatments. I loved my massage and facial but I really must try something new next time, like the singing ball chakra treatment or Shirodhara dripping oil therapy.

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