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LUXURY RESORTS: Nam Hai, Dien ban, vietnam 
Style: Asian sophistication with a relaxed resort vibe
Scene: Central Vietnam's uncrowded Ha My Beach
Seen in the lobby: Sun-seeking European, English and American high fliers
 
The WOW factor - how do you tell a resort that has it? One glance at the face of a newly arrived guest - eyebrows arched and mouth open - suggests the Nam Hai does. But you don't just have to take your The Luxury Travel Bible correspondent's word for it. Travel + Leisure magazine was similarly gobsmacked awarding it Best Resort in the World for design in 2008 - within two years of the resort's opening.
 
The 35-hectare GHM-managed property is discreetly tucked behind a quiet section of Vietnam's famous China Beach (where US troops landed during the controversial 70s conflict), a convenient speed boat ride away to the nearby Cham Islands (popular for snorkelling and swimming), and 30 kilometres from the charming World Heritage city of Hoi An.
 

nam hai exterior
nam hai exterior
nam hai pool
nam hai spa bath
nam hai spa
the nam hai   villa
nam hai gardens

 
It's a stunning case of art imitating life for the Nam Hai's celebrated French architect, Reda Amalou, who endeavoured (successfully) to recreate the royal ambiance of Hanoi's palaces and Hue's royal tombs in the resort's expansive layout and exotic gardens, and drew on the best features of an archetypal Vietnamese home in designing the accommodation.

Grand first impressions are quickly established as you stand atop the central set of steps (behind reception) that descend towards two enormous swimming pools (a lap pool wedged between). The first pool is cleverly elevated to provide seamless water views stretching to the South China Sea.

Either side, beyond rows of tall palms, market umbrellas and decorative big bellied jars (used traditionally to store water and rice) your walk traces the imposing russet-coloured roof line of the resort's public buildings, housingits boutiques and boardroom, library, open lounge and main restaurant and bar, then beyond to the individual villas.

Most of the 40 one-bedroom and 60 pool villas face the sea amidst the shaded dunes of five horseshoe-shaped coconut groves.

Unquestionably, the resort's location is best appreciated looking out from inside where you're likely to idle for most of your stay.

Each villa is modelled on a traditional Vietnamese home, which means the communal flow-through living areas extend over three distinct levels. Screened by timber venetians, the most striking feature of my room was the dais in the centre of the room where I found the traditional platform bed (surrounded by timber columns and sheer cotton drapes which were romantically drawn when I returned from dinner) - and a luxuriously deep bathtub - finished in lacquered eggshell.

Also within this space (behind the bed which faces the water and mounted flat screen TV) was a sunken office space with chaise and state of the art sound system with iPod dock. The iPod' s endless list of artists on its playlist is very impressive - as varied as Guns n Roses, Handel, Spice Girls and Sinatra. I had no problem finding the perfect tune to accompany the happy jig I did around the bed shortly after arriving.
 
Celebrated French architect Reda Amalou recreates the ROYAL ambiance of Hanoi's PALACES  or Hue's royal tombs

The bathroom (which is able to be screened off) featuring walk-in robes, twin (opposing) vanities and al fresco shower, sits at the rear of the villa while the sitting room and outdoor terrace takes best advantage of the sea views in front. While airy and spacious the designers have ensured the raked sands are barely three steps from the bed!

Amalou's work is beautifully complemented by Jaya Ibrahim's inviting (and distinctly Asian) interior decor- predominantly dark timbers, polished grey stone floors, and cool natural fabrics in inviting modern shades of grey, browns, charcoal, smooth creams and crisp whites - a theme that's consistent throughout the resort.

Since summer here is way too humid for golf, tennis, basketball or badminton and dangerous ocean rips confine swimming to the resort pools, so you'll only want to leave your room for two main reasons. The first is to dine in the main restaurant. Executive chef Steve Wilson (previously executive sous chef at Soneva Fushi by Six Senses in the Maldives) has created an inspiring menu that he describes as "fresh, local, sustainable and modern." The second reason is to wilt, willingly in the Spa -where you can eventually restore body and mind (the Eastern way) in one of eight individual overwater treatment rooms. Very Zen.

Check in: Hamlet 1, Dien Duong Village, Dien Ban District, Vietnam. Tel +84 510 940 000.
Ultimate Luxury: Pool villas offer up to five bedrooms with sea views, landscaped gardens, a temperature controlled infinity pool, plus separate kitchen and butler area.
Most Indulgent Moment: Couples can spoil themselveswith the Spa's Love Bath with Love Potion bath oil, champagne and canap├ęs.
Insider Secrets: It takes 100 gardeners to tend the expansive tropical gardens. The resort Spa makes its own massage oils and every treatment and facial comes with a footbath.
The Little Things: Urns of water outside your villa to wash the sand off your feet plus dimmer switches, espresso machines and beach bags in your room.
Junior Luxies: A villa is being built for a Kids Club. The resort's new family retreat program offers a combination of sport activities, like golf and tennis blended with cultural experiences.
Dress code: Shorts and sarongs during the day, open neck shirts and summery frocks at night.
Perfect luggage: Tumi's lightweight Voyageur with wheels and leather trim
Dent in the platinum: Cash Cash Cash Cash Cash

Luxury Resorts Links: www.thenamhai.com www.ghmhotels.com   www.lhw.com 

Debbie Neilson-Hunter  23/3/10

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