A magical family adventure awaits at the recently revamped Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai in Hoi An, Vietnam
I lie back, cocooned in my bespoke Harrison AntiGravity Hammock that dangles from an outdoor pavilion during a session of aerial yoga at the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An. All I can hear is a cacophony of cicadas and the soothing voice of our instructor, telling us to breathe deeply in and out, allowing our stress to dissipate. After a few days at the resort I can’t say I have much tension left, but I play along, embracing the warm weather, the smells of freshly cut grass, and this rare moment to truly tap out and connect with myself.
London feels as though it’s a world away. From the moment you drive through this truly phenomenal hotel’s gates, a sense of drama and seclusion suck you in.
While the all-villa resort is decidedly modern and luxurious, every turn reveals an element of deep-rooted Vietnamese tradition. The philosophies behind The Heart of the Earth Spa, with its lotus pond and nightly floating-candle rituals, are inspired by renowned Vietnamese Zen master and peacemaker Thich Nhat Hanh. Elsewhere, nestled amid the hotel’s abundant palm trees, you’ll find the perfectly preserved Thanh Hoang Temple, where local fishermen once worshipped. Meanwhile, every one of the 100 gorgeous villas has been thoughtfully built with phong thuy (feng shui) principles in mind.
The fantastic Four Seasons service, stunning setting and hotel’s busy schedule of complimentary activities makes it very easy to stay put for your entire stay. On one morning, we get up bright and early to join in on a bike ride, whizzing past nearby lush paddy fields, traditional temples and local residences. Later that evening, we gather with other hotel guests to witness the nightly candle-lighting ceremony that takes place around one of the property’s dramatic fountains, which stretches out towards the sea. Another night leads us to the spa, where the air is filled with the sounds of crystal singing bowls and we’re asked to leave our wishes in a floating candle, which we release onto the lotus pond. Coconut cutting and conical hat making are other skills we could have learned on-site, had we more time. But you just cannot go to Hoi An, a former port city on Vietnam’s central coast, and miss the chance to explore the local area, too.
Luckily, our class at the on-site cooking academy – in which we learn how to make four traditional dishes – gives us a chance to expand our horizons. After a tour of the hotel’s own farm, we take a trip into the Ancient Town of Hoi An, where we wander through the food markets and are introduced to more local delicacies. We admire the architecture, which has clear French and Chinese influence, and soak in the hustle and bustle, and strong smells, of the traditional marketplace. On the go, we pick up a bánh mì (a must-try Vietnamese sandwich we’re still dreaming of), have a taste of durian (it’s not as bad as it smells), and sip on some tasty local iced coffee (AKA “rocket fuel”).
The next day sees us take a one-hour bus journey to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son, a cluster of Hindu temples that sprung up between the fourth and 13th centuries. This dramatic area is located within an elevated geological basin surrounded by a ring of mountains, and was the religious and political capital of the old Champa Kingdom. The experience is almost ethereal; recounted stories of past kings and queens dwelling in these tiny temples are brought to life as we make our way through the intricately carved ruins.
On another day we take a leisurely boat ride over to Chàm Islands, where white sands, clear waters and souvenir shopping opportunities await. In the past couple of decades this area has become a hotspot for tourists, but the charm of Chàm is not lost. Skilled local craftspeople can still be seen outside their homes creating traditional wares from surrounding natural materials, showing us a much simpler side to life than we’re used to in London. The only downside we see is that a lack of education has led to local fishermen depleting the ocean’s stocks, and we only spot a handful of fish on one of our snorkelling trips in a nearby cove.
In between every activity and excursion we take, we get the opportunity to taste an array of vibrant local dishes (and all dietary requirements are catered for, thanks to that outstanding Four Seasons service). From the traditional bánh mì sandwich I mentioned earlier to the crispy rice flour pancakes (a clear holiday favourite) and fresh seafood galore, every dish we try is as memorable as the last. We eat in hole-in-the-wall-style eateries on the newer side of Hoi An, sample freshly prepared salads and seafood dishes at the beautiful restaurants in our hotel, and even enjoy a beachside feast after working up an appetite while snorkelling. Every meal is an occasion, an excuse to try something new and revel in the expertly balanced sweet, sour and spicy flavours.
Back at the hotel, I indulge in the Nam Hai Earth Song, a 150-minute signature spa treatment that takes place in your own spacious, standalone room. I’m rubbed down with a handmade scrub made using herbs from the hotel’s farm and then allowed to soak in a petal- and lemongrass-strewn bath while I gaze out of the French windows onto that picture-perfect lotus pond, inches away. A 90-minute massage follows, and soothing, vibrational sounds of singing bowls then lull me into a dreamless sleep as any lingering remnants of tension simply melt away.