NHA TRANG, Vietnam At night, you look out to sea and notice still,
bright lights in the ink-dark ocean.
“What are they?” I asked several people at the Ana Mandara
Resort, where I was staying. “Oh, they’re boats,” was the usual
reply. “They’re fishing for squid.”
It was a mesmerizing sight. As the warm breeze riffled the palm
trees outside our room, we sat transfixed, just looking.
Ana Mandara is a special kind of place, whether you are looking
at a squid boat in the quiet of the night or enjoying a day at the
beach. It’s also a place of unexpected pleasures: a steaming cup of
delicious Vietnamese coffee at breakfast, a class in traditional
napkin folding or the gentle kindness of the Vietnamese.
Located about 280 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City on Vietnam’s
lovely southern coast, Ana Mandara’s 16 villas, which house 68
guestrooms, are sandwiched between the a crescent of nearly white
sand and the main highway. Miraculously, you never hear the
We arrived from Ho Chi Minh City after a 50-minute flight on a
turboprop jet packed with mostly Vietnamese vacationers. At Cam
Ranh Bay airport, we were greeted by a hostess and an
air-conditioned van from the resort. The ride along beautiful dunes
on the right and lush green mountains on the left was breathtaking.
We hardly saw anyone along the road.
The French created Nha Trang as a resort, and it still retains
some of its old colonial charm, although new hotels are sprouting
up to accommodate the growing tourism trade. Ana Mandara, which
means “beautiful home for guests,” is the jewel in the crown, and
its reputation is well deserved.
Our first day was spent at the Six Senses Spa, which is located
at the far northern end of the property near the huge swimming
pool. There a battery of very gentle masseuses indulged us with
face, foot, scalp and body massages, Vietnamese green tea scrubs
and pedicures and manicures.
After our treatments, we were wrapped in comfortable terry-cloth
robes and led to a pavilion built over a fish pond. There, we
leaned back against huge white cushions, gazed out to sea, sipped
tea and nibbled fresh fruit. It was almost as relaxing as the
Meals at Ana Mandara are served in two open-air dining rooms
adjacent to the spacious lobby and on the beach. One morning, after
remarking how good the Vietnamese coffee was, we were presented
with a bag of coffee beans, a treat we are still enjoying.
At night, the flagstone walkways are lit with candles and you
can hear the gentle pounding of the surf as the wind comes up. The
rooms are light and airy with high ceilings and rattan and native
wood furniture. Some showers are open-air, and if you’re lucky you
will see a friendly gecko or two.
Early one morning we took a tour of the central market, Cho Dam,
with Executive Chef Jim Tawa. Ana Mandara buys all of its produce,
fish and meat locally, but the chef, who worked in India before
coming here, is fastidious about the quality and cleanliness of
what food is served.
In the market, we sampled “Pho,” the Vietnamese national dish
(noodles, vegetables and meat cooked in boiling broth) and marveled
at the colorful abundance of produce spilling out of the stalls. We
then rode back to the resort on cyclos, three-wheeled bicycles with
the driver pedaling in the back.
Twice a week at poolside, there is a buffet prepared especially
by some of the street vendors. The food is delicious and the
management carefully screens the vendors. One day, we had fish that
was caught by my stepson and his girlfriend and cooked by the
As befits a luxury resort, Ana Mandara also has a full program
of activities, if lying lazily in a hammock and having your lunch
brought to you isn’t enough. There is scuba diving, yoga and a full
gym, and the tennis courts are open late.
In addition, there are guided tours to the nearby mountains and
paddy fields, as well as sunset cruises and, if you want it, dinner
at the end of the jetty as the sun goes down. Romantic hardly
begins to describe it.
Ana Mandara Resort
Hits: The fresh Vietnamese coffee served each
morning in the spacious outdoor restaurant is bracing, and many
clients ask for a bag to take home. The Six Senses spa, gives
healing and solitude a new name. Despite the heat of midday, all
the guest quarters come with air conditioning, although most
clients will find themselves in a hammock or on a shady patio.
Misses: The beaches on either side of the
property are dirty and litter-strewn, not for casual strolling or
Be Aware: If you walk into town, you will be
accosted by the usual array of souvenir hawkers and scores of
begging children. Clients should use one of the resort’s many
Plugging In: Despite telephones in every room
with international connections, there are no fax or computer
outlets except in the small business center.
Clientele: Families are attracted to the
resort’s vast array of beach activities, with a heavy sampling of
upscale Americans and Europeans.
Commission: 10 percent.