La Residence Hotel & Spa Featured In The Wolrd Magazine, June 2014


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La Residence Hotel & Spa Featured In The Wolrd Magazine, June 2014

  1. 1. Thomas Hyde travels to Vietnam to find out why the Central Coast has become thIS Southeast Asian country’s new tourism star. Coasting World Magazine | 155154 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l
  2. 2. with that. Someone suggested to me that Vietnam’s Central Coast today is like Australia’s Gold Coast 50 years ago. Maybe; I’m not old enough to know. But the Central Coast is home to the famed China Beach and a series of other user-friendly beaches. And though legacies of the country’s war-torn past can still be seen in places, today they’ve been pushed aside to make way for a string of new resorts and organised activities that give the region its modern identity. Minutes after leaving the (new) international airport at Da Nang, we were driving through the 6.3-kilometre Hai Van Tunnel, the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia, which opened in 2005. Soon after that, the South China Sea came into view on one side of the highway, rice paddies and residential districts on the other. LAGUNA LANG CO Before long, my driver turned off the main road and steered us out to the coast, to Laguna Lang Co – thus far the only fully integrated resort in the region and only a few months old. By “fully integrated” I mean Laguna Lang Co is a beach resort with two hotels, a collection of restaurants, swimming pools, water sports, a spa, a Nick Faldo-designed golf course, retail shops, art galleries, meeting rooms, a library, bars, complimentary iPads and WiFi and other trimmings, all on the same 280-hectare site. Developed by a partnership of Angsana and Banyan Tree hotels, the suites and villas here overlook the beach and the sea. Their beautiful interiors express local architectural themes and most have private pools just outside the sliding doors. “Banyan Tree hotels were the first to create the ‘pool villa’,” I was told. The main pool was a family friendly waterway winding along the beachfront. Angsana Lang Co is a 229-suite beach hotel that stylistically merges traditional Vietnamese aesthetics and materials like silk, lacquer, bamboo and rattan with contemporary interiors designs and colour schemes reflecting the seaside locale. In contrast, Banyan Tree villas, farther along the beach, are best reached by a complimentary shuttle boat that chugs along a man-made canal, lit up at night with colourful lanterns. Here, the 32 adults-only Lagoon Villas have pitched tiled W ith more direct flights to Da Nang from Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok opening this year, Vietnam’s Central Coast and its attractive beaches on the South China Sea have become much easier to reach. The added flights will save travellers having to connect through Ho Chi Minh City, and while the former Saigon may be of interest to some, the new action is found in and around Da Nang. I arrived there after three days in Ho Chi Minh City, an urban maze of 10 million people and nearly as many motorbikes. But the big city proved too frenetic for me so I welcomed the escape to the quieter, breezier Da Nang, under an hour away by air. A driver was waiting, as arranged by Golf Coast Vietnam in partnership with Central Coast Vietnam, two tourist associations whose very existence speaks to the new efforts to promote travel to this region. Vietnam attracted about 7 million international visitors last year. That was an increase of about 15 per cent over the previous year and the Central Coast has a lot to do “Someone suggested to methatVietnam’s Central Coasttoday is like Australia’s Gold Coastwas 50years ago.” World Magazine | 157156 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l
  3. 3. socially, with direct access to the pool and the beach.” Laguna Lang Co is about a 50-minute drive north of Da Nang and somewhat off the beaten track, so I was curious: how do they manage supplies? “We look at what is easy to get and what is fresh, so seafood is good,” Reinhold said. “We are very careful about chicken and pork; beef is imported from New Zealand and Australia. Good fruit and vegetables are here, but we rely on proven suppliers. We have a hygiene lab and a hygiene manager on the property, so with all local suppliers we check out their shops to see that they are clean and meet our standards.” Australian Tim Haddon, the general manager of the golf course at Laguna Lang Co, was director of golf at the Blue Canyon Country Club in Thailand when he was recruited by Banyan Tree in 2000 as its director of instruction. He was on the job here with Nick Faldo and his team from day one. “Time was important,” he explained, “so from the day we broke ground the course took only 18 months to complete. “We settled on Faldo,” he explained, “because he had a very good team and he brings the Faldo Series, a series of national golf tournaments for young players, which are popular in Asia. The Vietnam tournament will be held here for at least the next three years.” roofs, interior ceiling fans hanging from wooden rafters, Vietnamese calligraphy, traditional sculpture and ceramics and, perhaps most important of all, a walled garden for ultimate privacy. The beach and another 18 Beach Villas are reached via a private path about 100 metres away. Guests of either of the two hotels can enjoy local cuisine in their rooms or even on the beach, but from what I observed most dined at one of the eight restaurants, which range from the fine-dining Thai menu at Saffron to Western style lunches and snacks all day long at Thu Quan, on the beach. I met Reinhold Johann, the resort’s German-born general manager, for lunch at The Watercourt restaurant, where the ambience is casual and the menu is “modern French Vietnamese”. Reinhold is a trained chef who has worked in more than a dozen countries. Over time, he moved into management and in 2007 was recruited by Banyan Tree to open a hotel in China. He opened another in Bali before coming here. “The two hotels here,” he confirmed, “attract a totally different market. “Angsana has many different categories of rooms and is more family oriented. Banyan Tree villas are all one bedroom and set up for couples looking for privacy. Angsana is more vibrant COAST WATCH: The coastal region of Vietnam in and around Da Nang boasts fine beaches, ancient monuments, a string of new upmarket hotels and resorts and some excellent golf courses. World Magazine | 159158 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l
  4. 4. FUSION MAIA Back in Da Nang, I checked into Fusion Maia, a new wellness resort hotel on China Beach with an all- inclusive spa. Fusion Maia, a member of Healing Hotels of the World, includes two complimentary spa treatments per guest per day – all treatments included in the room rate. Fusion Maia has 80 pool villas, four two-bedroom spa villas and two three-bedroom beach villas. Its two restaurants and bars are open all day and guests receive a complimentary iPad, if required, for the free WiFi throughout the property. If not on a day trip to Hoi An or Hue, guests commonly relax on the beach or around an Olympic-size pool. Once a week the hotel features a sumptuous beach barbecue and, it may be my imagination, but I swear I overheard one Aussie voice shout with glee: “Hey, shrimp on the barbie!” One morning, over a pot of herbal tea, I met Louk Lennaerts, the resort’s founder and, according to his business card, its “Chief Visionary Officer”. Born in Holland and a former development officer for the United Nations, Louk built Fusion Maia. “About six years ago,” he recalled, “I met a Vietnamese fellow who had this particular land through his family. He wanted a five-star hotel. The land is about 100 metres wide and 400 metres long and we couldn’t change that, so I came up with the idea of small bungalows laid out in a pattern similar to the Forbidden City in Hue. “We couldn’t give everyone a sea view but we could give them a private pool; and in Vietnam privacy is a luxury. We are generally fully booked, but the result of that means that when you walk around the grounds you wonder, where are the people? It never feels crowded. “But, most important, we didn’t want a spa just to have a spa. We wanted our spa to be the reason people came. So we built treatments into the room rate and we now have 80 therapists working here treating each guest at least two times a day if that’s what they want.” The next morning I hopped on one of the hotel’s complimentary shuttles to the ancient trading port of ABOVE: The famous China Beach is the exotic setting for the wellness resort hotel Fusion Maia. OPPOSITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bamboo walkway, Fusion Maia; the resort reflected in the Olympic-size pool; villa interior; 16th hole, Da Nang Golf Course. Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s best known today as a place to have clothes tailored cheaply. In fact, some of the streets in Hoi An are little more than one fabric shop after another. After a brief walkabout, I chose a shop at random, was efficiently measured up and after lunch at a nearby café returned to collect my things. By then, time was short, so I hailed a taxi and headed back up the highway for stops at the Da Nang Golf Club and, next to it, Montgomerie Links – two other new golf courses that, together with Laguna Lang Co, form the region’s must-play trio. These two golf courses, one designed by Greg Norman and the other by Colin Montgomerie, are ranked first and second in Vietnam. There are only 36 golf courses altogether in Vietnam, with another 18 under construction. But for now, three of the best are found on the Central Coast. One tip for readers planning a golf holiday here: the best time to play is from December to April, when the temperature is cooler. Summer remperatures commonly top 40C. World Magazine | 161160 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l
  5. 5. LA RESIDENCE I couldn’t fly to Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam and one of the country’s most attractive cities, because the airport there was closed for renovations. Instead, I hired a driver in Danang for the two-hour road trip. Paying a driver NZ$140 for the return trip was a better option than catching a crowded public bus or deciphering the train schedule. And my driver turned up at Fusion Maia in an air-conditioned Toyota with fruit and sandwiches in a picnic basket and a bottle of cold water! We sped north through villages and retail districts selling everything under the sun: hardware, tyres, paint supplies, machinery, marble sculptures, logs, carpets, auto parts, flowers, American baseball caps, plastic tubing, cigarettes, motorbikes, corrugated iron, Buddhist prayer boxes, children’s toys, rattan furniture and LPG canisters. On every corner, it seemed, men sat in grimy cafés playing board games. Meanwhile, my driver displayed the home-grown skill of tooting the horn as he weaved through traffic like a slalom skier. Only in this case there were no road markings or even lanes – just heat and dust and every vehicle for itself. Later, I read that the annual reported road toll in Vietnam was more than 5,000. Hue, the ancient capital with a human history as old as the land itself, is today a vibrant cultural centre of 350,000 souls known for its music, art and literature. Unquestionably, the best hotel in town is La Residence, a French Colonial heritage building found in a quiet, leafy part of town someone described to me as “Old Hue”. La Residence was originally a government mansion built by the French in 1930 in the art deco style. After the wars it was occupied by the Vietnamese Government as a mere administrative block until the 1990s, when the country began to open up to tourism. Ironically, it was a French company, in partnership with the Government, that refurbished the building and added two new wings, transforming it into the charming, elegant 122-room hotel it is today. Its guests have included the Prime Minister of France, the Queen of Denmark and the actor Danny DeVito, who, the manager told me, was “a very nice guy”. La Residence is a member of MGallery Hotels, a collection of unique hotels managed by Accor. The group includes the St. Moritz in Queenstown and Harbour Rocks in Sydney. When I arrived at La Residence the thermometer was hitting 42C, so after checking in I went straight to the hotel’s air-conditioned restaurant, La Parfume, for a cold Saigon Red and a lunch of cool garden spring rolls and, yes, another beer. At sunset, I stood outside on a small balcony looking across a park to the Perfume River, where a red-orange sky provided a backdrop for more than 40 kites flying in a cool evening breeze. An oversized Vietnamese flag, red with a yellow star in the centre, fluttered from atop the flag tower of the Imperial City. Before turning out the light, I read some Vietnamese history in preparation for a guided tour the next morning... ABOVE AND OPPOSITE: Built by the French in 1930, La Residence, sitting beside the Perfume River in the ancient capital of Hue, is today an elegant 122-room hotel. World Magazine | 163162 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l
  6. 6. HUE From the early 1800s until 1945, Vietnam was ruled by 14 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. By 1945, the communist guerrilla force formed to fight Japanese occupation during World War II had also forced the abdication of Bao Dai, the last of the Nguyen rulers. The communists took their fight for control of the country to the French, the original colonial rulers and, with the defeat of the French in 1954, the Americans, who in the span of a few short years left most of South Vietnam, including Hue, in ruins. At the time, La Residence was the home of the provincial governor, a brother of Vietnam’s corrupt President, Ngo Dinh Diem, who, in the mindlessness of the time, was eventually assassinated by the American CIA. His brother, meanwhile, fled La Residence and was eventually tracked down and shot by the communists, who in turn took over control of the mansion. My guide, Duong Chi Cam Van (or “Van”) worked for the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, an organisation dedicated to rebuilding the city’s precious monuments and temples. We walked from the hotel to the bank of Perfume River, where we boarded a dragon boat – that is, a long boat with a dragon head for a prow. We took seats on plastic chairs set out on a linoleum-lined deck. The boatman lived at the back with his wife and three young children. We chugged up-river and soon pulled into the opposite bank, where steps led up to the oldest Buddhist pagoda in Hue. Built in 1601, monks still live on each of the pagoda’s seven storeys (seven being a lucky number in Vietnam). The pagoda stands on a 2ha property with two more temples, a graveyard, a residence for monks and a kitchen where young interns were preparing lunch. Outside again, a driver was waiting to take us back along the river to the Citadel and what remains of the original Imperial City. The layout of the Imperial City was copied from the Forbidden City in Beijing. Scaffolding covers the Citadel’s main gates – gates that arch high to allow the progress of elephants that once passed through them. Inside the Imperial City there was little activity apart from small tour groups moving in and out of the tombs and temples that survived the wars. “Plans are to rebuild the entire city as it was before,” Van said. “But it takes money we don’t have right now.” We stopped at the tomb of Minh Mang, the second Nguyen Emperor, who, Van said, had 500 wives, 78 sons and 64 daughters. Make of that what you will, but feel sorry for the fourth Nguyen Emperor, who had 100 wives but had mumps as a child and produced no children at all. After a final restful night at La Residence, a driver took me back to Da Nang for my return flight to Ho Chi Minh City and the connecting flight on to Singapore and finally Auckland. I was left with one final thought: hoping that it would not be too long before I had the opportunity to return. It’s only a hunch, but I suspect emergent Vietnam still has hidden layers I had not even begun to appreciate. 164 | E x p e c t t h e e x c e p t i o n a l