Pleasure Palace

Vietnam’s Ana Mandara resort is indeed a ‘beautiful home’ by the sea

By: Jim Calio

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 traffic.

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 massages.

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 staff.

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 sunbathing.

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 cyclos.

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.

Rates: $205-$407.

Commission: 10 percent.