Last January, Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick got in touch and told me that I had won the WanderWomen Write contest. My prize? Twelve fabulous days in Vietnam organized by Buffalo Tours. As part of my itinerary, I had a chance to stay in several high-end hotels and resorts throughout the country.
The Intercontinental Hanoi Hotel is located north of the Old Quarter on the northern side of West Lake. The hotel is massive with 359 rooms and is built right over the lake, so just about every room has a view of the water. I had a Deluxe Hanoi View room.
Rooms are very clean with large balconies, large bathrooms, hot water and clean and crisp linens. There are lots of in-room amenities, including robes and slippers, allow guests to relax. Cable internet service, however, runs a pricey $18.00/day. Overall, the look and feel of the entire hotel is very Western and modern. This is also reflected in the on-site restaurant, which has standard Western menu options as well as Vietnamese ones, all at Western prices. Room service is also available for a hefty price.
Unfortunately, the hotel is really out of the way, and casually strolling to a restaurant isn’t really an option. That said, the on-site concierge speaks English very well and has plenty of recommendations of places to eat and shop, and the staff will call a cab for you.
A large buffet breakfast is included in the price of the room, which includes an omelet station, fruit, pastries, juices and hot items such as beans and hash browns. Large windows in the dining room allow guests to gaze out over the water while they dine.
What I enjoyed most about the Intercontinental Hanoi Hotel was the staff’s ability to anticipate my needs. Upon checking in, they asked when I planned to check out the next day. On one of the mornings, I had to check out before the breakfast buffet opened in order to catch a flight, but the front desk staff had a breakfast packed in a bag for me, which I was able to take with me.
Located at 1A Nghi Tam, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Rates start at about $115.00/night for a standard room, depending on the season.
Life Resort Hoi An is located along the Thu Bon River and only a few minutes walk to the thriving Ancient Town of Hoi An. It’s location makes it easily accessible (no reason to hire a taxi or motorbike here), but it’s also removed just enough to provide a sense of relief.
Upon arriving at the Life Resort, I was given a welcome beverage and a map of the local area before being shown to my room.
The resort is situated around a large open courtyard which has a covered garden library for book exchange, a large pool and a spa. An on-site restaurant offers a full breakfast buffet including hot items made to order and an array of pastries, fruit and juices. The restaurant is also open for dinner, and an on-site bar and coffee shop serve food and beverages as well.
I stayed in a Superior Garden room, which was very large and spacious, decorated in a modern orange and black design. A sitting room with a couch, table and desk were featured in the front part of the room; stairs led up to the bedroom, which made me feel impressively tall when I was walking around the room. The bathroom is quite large with hot water and good water pressure, though there is no shower curtain. Complimentary bottled water and cable internet (fairly reliable) are available in the rooms. Flip-flops are available in each room as well, which came in handy when the humidity left condensation on the floor. Turn-down service is available every evening.
The staff was incredibly helpful in providing me with directions to specific cafes and even calling businesses to find out what time they opened in the morning.
For the most part, I loved everything about the Life Resort. The location was perfect, the staff was helpful and the room was very clean, comfortable and welcoming. The only thing that was rough for me was the location of my room, which backed up to a local’s yard. Every morning before the sun rose, a rooster started making noise, which got the dog barking and eventually led to the people turning on music. I didn’t sleep past 5:30 a.m. any morning I was at the resort.
Located at 1 Pham Hong Thai Street, Hoi An
Rates start at $111.00/night for internet bookings.
Nha Trang is a haven for backpackers, scuba divers and those seeking nightlife, so I was excited to settle in a Evason Ana Mandara, a resort located just a 20-minute walk away from all that is hip and happening in the city. The resort’s location is its first and foremost best feature, because guests can easily reach the array of restaurants, dive shops and bars but are able to stay in a quiet and comfortable villa for the night.
Upon arrival at Evason Ana Mandara, I was given a welcome drink and passion fruit ice cream (AMAZING! I’ve got to find some of this stuff in the U.S.), and then given a comprehensive tour of the property so I knew where everything was located. Evason Ana Mandara is a sprawling resort with large villas that house four accommodations each. There are two pools, a full-service spa, a few restaurants and bars, a small fitness facility and a private beach, which is a huge bonus because the beaches in Nha Trang have the potential to be absolutely packed.
I stayed in a Garden View Villa room, which had a large porch out front with chairs and a table and large glass doors that led into the accommodation. The ceiling was high and the room spacious, but what I most appreciated were the details: A hotel map rolled up like a letter in a bottle, a welcome basket with Vietnamese apples and chocolates, a rustic stationery box with paper and pens.
The bathroom was enormous with two large sinks and a huge mirror, but my favorite part was the oversized sunken stone jacuzzi with its own skylight.
Evason Ana Mandara and the entire Six Senses resort company is undeniably committed to sustainability and environmental integrity. Part of the company’s philosophy encompasses a desire to improve the lives of those who live in the local community, and they do this by displaying and selling local arts and crafts in the resort as well as raising money for local charities. In addition, the company has several programs in place to minimize its carbon footprint, my favorite of which is the use of refillable bottles for standard bathroom amenities such as shampoo and body lotion.
The resort has an on-site activity and excursion center, but I found the prices to be severely inflated. If you’d like to take a snorkeling tour, diving lessons or a trip to a nearby site, walk into town and book through another company for a fraction of the price. Many of these companies will pick guests up from Evason Ana Mandara so its convenient and easy to enjoy an off-site activity.
Located at Beachside Tran Phu Boulevard, Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa
Rates start at about $200/night for a Garden View Villa room depending on the season.
When I originally read on my itinerary that I was going to be traveling by speed boat to a private island for a single night’s stay, I had no idea what to expect … and rightly so! After a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland of Vietnam, we pulled into a dock, where several staff members were waiting to unload our bags and welcome us to the island. I walked down the dock and was greeted personally by my very own butler. Yes, I had a private butler.
“Welcome to Hideaway,” he said, shaking my hand and leading me to a golf cart. “I am Ahn, and I am your butler while you are here. Just so you know, we run one hour ahead of the mainland so guests get an extra hour of sunlight.”
Well, then. I guess when a resort is the only thing on an island, it can get away with setting it’s own time zone.
Ahn drove me to my private villa via golf cart, as no vehicles are allowed on the island. I stayed in a Beach Pool Villa, a two-story private accommodation with an open-air bathroom and enclosed (and air conditioned) bedroom on the first level and an open-air living room/lounge area on the second floor, where a complimentary bottle of champagne was waiting for me. I was so impressed with the accommodations, I even shot a video of the villa (see below).
I was fascinated by the outdoor bathroom, which was completely private but very eco-friendly with refillable amenities and resident geckos. I struggled to figure out how to get warm water for the shower (it was either freezing cold or scalding hot), but once I did, it was refreshing to be completely exposed to the elements versus contained in a commercial shower. A mosquito net over the bed provided peace of mind, though I didn’t encounter any winged insects and malaria isn’t a problem in this part of Vietnam.
My villa also had a private pool surrounded by vegetation, and a path that led to the beach. I arrived at Hideaway too late to enjoy the beach, but I did enjoy some time in the pool, which was refreshing and quiet after the noisy streets of Nha Trang.
The resort is the only thing on the island, and guests get around either by golf carts driven by their butlers or mountain bikes, so I took some time to explore on two wheels. I discovered a large, blooming organic garden filled with herbs and spices, and several open-air buildings where guests could order meals. I should mention here that this is the one thing that I didn’t care for at Hideaway. While a large, delicious breakfast was included in the room rate, any other meals cost extra … at very Western rates. Because the resort is the only business on the island, there are no other options when it comes to dining, so guests are stuck with what is available at the resort. I took advantage of a mid-day meal served before the dinner hour, which helped cut some dining costs.
Hideaway really was unlike any other resort I’ve ever stayed at. The need to be environmentally conscious is evident, and the resort can’t help but take care when it comes to waste because there aren’t many options for disposal. The premises were well spread out, and I hardly encountered another person the whole time I was there. This really is a place that people go to in order to escape it all. Sure, there’s a program of scheduled excursions from the island, but I can just as easily see a couple here for a romantic getaway or an author hunkering down to finish writing a book. (For those who have to plug in, though, there is internet access.)
When I become rich and famous, this is one place I’ll return to.
Located at Ninh Van bay, Ninh Hoa, Khanh Hoa, Vietnam
Rates start at about $600/night for a beach pool villa, depending on season.
My first impression of the Renaissance Riverside Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City was not a good one. Upon pulling up my reservation, the attendant at the reception desk informed me that the room type I had reserved was not available and that I would be placed in a smoking room instead. This wasn’t an acceptable alternative for me, and I was ready to scrap my reservation and hoof it into the backpackers district when someone managed to find an available room for me. I’m not sure if it was an upgrade or a downgrade, but it didn’t smell like smoke, and that’s all that was really important to me.
The Renaissance Riverside Hotel was, in many ways, just another nice hotel. There was nothing particularly special about it. The room was large and clean, though internet access cost extra and my view was into the office building next door. I found the best view to be from the top floor near the outdoor pool, which offered an interesting perspective of the city’s night traffic.
There are several restaurants on site as well as a bar/lounge, a few small stores and a spa/workout center. The hotel itself isn’t located in a particularly convenient part of the city, and I had to take a cab to get to the few sites I wanted to see within the city limits. However, for anyone interested in shopping, this is the place to stay, as the streets surrounding the Renaissance Riverside Hotel are packed with high-end stores.
Breakfast was included in the room rate, and the selection included a variety of Western and Vietnamese options.
Located at 8-15 Ton Duc Thang, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Rates start at about $150/night.