22 July 2019
Mr Phuc is tiny, wiry and scary. He’s the sort of guy you do not mess with, particularly when you see his left foot inches from your jaw. The champion of Binh Dinh province, he is a master of Viet Vo Dao, a fiendishly fast and clever Vietnamese martial art, which you can, should you wish, learn in Hoxton, but much better to learn it in situ, preferably on a beach in the early morning.
Mr Phuc is not just head of security at the newly-opened Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, he also runs classes there for guests. And while his verbal English skills may not be as fast as his physical moves, there is little danger of even the ineptest pupil not understanding what he means with each thrust of a fist or twist of the body. He is very keen that female guests should learn some serious self-defence.
Quy Nhon is the capital of the Binh Dinh province and until recently almost unknown on the tourist trail of central Vietnam, where its flashier cousins Da Nang and Nha Trang have attracted the bulk of the tourist trade. Gradually, however, locals of a certain age and within a certain income bracket began to enjoy its quieter charms and uncrowded beaches, which in turn brought the development of villas and resorts of discreet luxury to its coastline. The newest of these is the Anantara villa complex – just 26 spacious villas, each complete with outdoor decks, private lap pools and vast sunbeds, some of which open directly onto the beach while others, built into the mountainside, look down from on-high and across to the tiny islands opposite.
Seductive as your villa may be – with butlers, daily deli-deliveries and your own wine rack, not to mention the largest, deepest baths imaginable – you may at some stage want to leave to explore your surroundings. The resort offers a number of special guided tours – so much of the decision making is done for you.
Quy Nhon is a growing and busy small industrial town which belies its history as the birthplace of an emperor, a significant seaport in the 18th century and an important part of the 11th-century Champa kingdom, whose temples and towers are still remarkably well preserved. More recently it housed a large American military and naval base. And while the war is rarely mentioned, the local museum does chart the plight of the local Communist party. A visit to the magnificent Thap Banh Champa Temple, which overlooks the entire area, elicits the information that was where the Viet Cong hid during the day. Strategically, it is a magnificent location with endless possibility of cover through overgrown graves and monuments, and affords 360-degree views of the surrounding area. It is also a wonderful place for an early morning yoga class – glorious once you’ve climbed 500 steps and recovered your breath.
Easier to access are the Cham Towers, locally known as the Twin Towers – one big one, one slightly smaller – 11th-century temples almost in the middle of town in their own pretty little park. And wherever you go, it is always time to stop for coffee, a national pastime throughout Vietnam. If you can’t develop a taste for its very sweet, milky flavour then stick to beer or water.
Apart from Champa archaeology, the other great visitor attraction is, of course, food. From roadside stalls making on-the-spot rice pancakes and spring rolls filled with the freshest of fish to a hotel-organised private candlelit banquet in a hidden cove along the beach, the food offering during our trip was outstanding.
Best of all was a trip to a local fishing village, arranged by Anantara, some 20 minutes from the resort, where every type of fish and shellfish is waiting. Simply peer into a bucket or barrel of freshly-caught fish and point – lobster, langoustine, sea snails, mussels, clams, blue-tipped crab or a simple seabass. Your choice is then weighed, cooked and brought freshly-steamed with chilli, garlic or lemon seasoning to your table. Sadly, you then have to work to enjoy the fish – but hammers, scissors, tweezers and the occasional chopstick are all provided. This is anything but elegant dining, but it is rare to taste the ocean as sea-salt-fresh as this.
In-house dining at Anantara is just as spectacular, and a lot more refined. From the breakfast offering – a plethora of smoothies, juices, fruits, cheeses, breads, pastries, all before you get a chance to order your cooked preference – to the lavish choice of local, fusion and international foods served at lunch and dinner. The hotel is also able to organise private suppers, beach barbecues and romantic picnics in the gardens, on your terrace, in a hidden bay or on a nearby island. There’s even an in-house salt sommelier on-hand to offer you a choice of 19 different salts. Choice, you will understand, is exactly what Anantara Quy Nhon Villas is all about. And when you are too exhausted to make any more decisions, simply head to the spa for a massage.
Anantara Quy Nhon Villas Vietnam costs from £382 per villa per night including breakfast, anantara.com