Escaping to Anantara Mui Ne Resort
For centuries, Mui Ne has lived up to its name as the “Cape of Escape”, a promontory creating two natural bays to provide shelter for fishing boats during raging storms. Desperate to escape the literal storms that come with Saigon’s rainy season, but even more so the rage that constantly boils just beneath my skin caused by chaotic city living, I head to Anantara Mui Ne Resort seeking solace.
Just four hours door-to-door from Saigon, Anantara Mui Ne Resort features 65 hotel rooms, 5 suites and 19 pool villas. Looking to get away from it all, I choose a one-bedroom pool villa, an indulgent 92 square meters of indoor/outdoor living space. The villa itself is minimalist chic in gorgeous dark wood and stone. I melt into the king-sized canopy bed, swathed in dreamy fabric. After a restorative nap, I explore the villa and its stunning outdoor rain shower and gigantic stone tub, already anticipating a long, hot soak. Outside, a wall of pretty foliage outlines the villa grounds with sun chaises, a sunken gazebo perfect for lazing around, and the crowning jewel, a sparkling plunge pool.
Only hunger forces me out of my private kingdom, and I head to Thung, the beachfront al fresco restaurant by the enormous infinity pool.
The lunch menu features poolside favorites of sandwiches, burgers and salads and because it’s comfort I seek, I scan the menu for bacon, finding it in the Anantara ground beef burger, loaded with grilled bacon, Emmental cheese and a side of crispy french fries. It’s still afternoon, but the wind rustling through the palm fronds and the waves lapping against the wide stretch of powdery white sand combine to usher in an early cocktail hour.
I skip over the classic cocktails and go straight for the signature drinks infused with the flavors of Vietnam, starting with a kumquat mojito. Taking advantage of Happy Hour, my second cocktail is more daring, the Phan Thiet Spirit, a concoction of Pampero rum, pineapple juice and a dash of Phan Thiet’s famed nuoc mam, the acid from the pineapple balancing out the sweet-salty fish sauce for a delectable finish.
Sufficiently lubricated, I set off on my own version of Pokemon Go, but instead of Mewtwos and Charizards, I’m searching for relaxation and tranquility. I wander the beautifully landscaped property, with 50 types of flora, including 18 fruit-bearing. I notice several gnarly dragon fruit cacti, looking like a wildly uncombed head of hair, and pass by mango trees and star fruit. Guests, especially the younger ones, are welcome to sample the fruit. There’s even a fresh coconut stand with complimentary drinks every Tuesday. I stop at the Library, a cheery room with plush white sofas and pick out a thriller I’ve been meaning to read. Later, I skip the gym and head straight to the Anantara Spa, a haven of tranquility in wood, stone and silk. I opt for the Aromatic Massage and choose the coconut oil made by the spa’s own staff every week in the resort’s kitchen, a time-consuming task that involves grating the coconut flesh, extracting the milk and boiling the solids down to a fragrant, moisturizing oil. After a footbath in lime-infused water and a salt scrub made earthy with ground cinnamon, the massage begins and I can literally feel the tension being kneaded from my weary muscles with every movement of my therapist’s palm, forearm and elbow. Relaxed, I finish off the day with a late night dip in my villa’s private pool, floating on my back, gazing at the stars, the softest of sighs escaping from my lips.
Mui Ne and nearby Phan Thiet are blessed with many day trip options including hikes up Ta Cu Mountain, ATV rides on the scenic white sand dunes, and leisurely strolls down the Fairy Stream. Today, however, I decide to stay close to home and take a cooking class overlooking the postcard-pretty beach. By the time I arrive, Demi Chef Linh has the station all set up and we get to cooking up a menu that includes fragrant curry chicken, a crunchy mango and papaya salad, fresh spring rolls with a knockout tamarind, honey and black bean sauce and grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves.
Chef Linh is full of tips and I learn to brown the chicken using only the fat from the skin, dress the shrimp and squid separately in the fish sauce dressing before combining it with the salad, and to wrap the spring rolls with the glossy side of the rice paper down, giving them a more pleasant feel as you eat them. Afterwards, we feast on what we’ve prepared, sitting under large market umbrellas, the soothing sound of water falling from the edge of the infinity pool as our soundtrack.
I learn that the word “Anantara” is Sanskrit for “without end,” pointing to the Thai custom of kind householders leaving out a jug of water on the doorstep for passing travelers to quench their thirst and feel welcome. In fact, the entire property feels restful and welcoming, from the Cham-inspired pale yellow stucco walls with bits of straw, a nod to the seafaring kingdom which once ruled the region, to the freshly cut aloe vera available around the property for guests who’ve spent too much time in the sun. Everything conspires to slow me down – the double stone tub that takes forever to fill, carefully rolling the grilled Vietnamese seafood platter in rice paper at dinner, and even the quaint but fidgety wooden latches on my villa’s doors. But then I remember that I’m a world away from busy Saigon and there’s no need to rush because Paradise is meant to be “without end”. Paradise is meant to be Anantara.
Anantara Mui Ne Resort is located 198km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City and only 11km from Phan Thiet train station. Doubles start at VND2,950,000++, including a sumptuous buffet breakfast. A limousine style van featuring fully reclinable seats, AppleTV and Pioneer sound system can be arranged for door-to-door service. For more, visit www.mui-ne.anantara.com.
IMAGES BY JAMES PHAM