Fancy a bit of role playing on your romantic getaway? Then board the speedboat and be whisked away 007 style…
Nestled in Binh Duong, just 15km north of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, An Lam Saigon River might as well be a world away. Firmly ensconced at the number 1 spot on Tripadvisor for Specialty Lodging despite being open for just over a year, An Lam Saigon River was built as a private residence five years ago, reflecting the owner’s vision of hospitality based on four elements that are increasingly rare in today’s frenetic world – space, nature, privacy and openness.
3:00pm – We meet the speedboat at the Bach Dang Pier for the 15 minute ride up the Saigon River to An Lam. Guests have described the experience as James Bondlike and I begin to understand why as Tran, my personal butler for the stay, uncorks a bottle of sparkling wine and produces two champagne flutes. The boat neatly dodges clumps of water hyacinth and with each passing bridge, high rises and motorbikes are replaced with mangrove palms and the occasional bouy.
3:20pm – We pull up to the hotel’s private jetty and out of habit, I look around for a reception area, only to find there is none. Guests here are served instead by personal butlers who act as reception desk, concierge and waiter, ever ready to satisfy every request, from a cup of coffee to booking a spa session. Constant Wormser, who at 24 is one of the youngest general managers in Asia, comes over to greet us personally and over drinks the impeccably stylish Swiss talks of the hotel’s dedication to meet every request, large or small. He tells of a butler who ran out to get a small gift of wood for a couple’s five year anniversary, and in the same breath, securing a private helicopter for a businessman who had to make an afternoon meeting in Nha Trang.
3:50pm – We check into our room, the Saigon Villa, one of four villas and 11 rooms on the property, most with their own plunge pool. The beauty of An Lam is its location directly on the Saigon River, minutes away from town but really and truly a world apart. The only sound we hear is the rustling of the wind through the tall bamboo and the lapping of the river against our private wooden deck. We spend the afternoon lazing in our own private world within the walls of our villa, only briefly venturing out to see the sunset over the river, the sky streaks of orange and purples.
King & Queen for a Day
The An Lam regularly organizes events for those wanting to get away just for a few hours. The American BBQ (a traditional cookout of hotdogs, hamburgers and Budweiser) on select Sundays are popular, as are Day Use packages, customized to include items such as sparkling wine for the boat trip, couples spa treatments and lunch. Rooms can be had for the day for roughly 40-50 percent off overnight rates. The resort also makes a convenient base for golfing at the nearby Twin Doves course.
7:20pm – With sundowners taken care of, we meander over to dinner. Tonight, we choose the cool vibes of the Luc Binh restaurant overhanging the river with its soft jazz and silk cushions, rather than the elegant, more formal Tram dining room attached to the main house. The menu is separated into Vietnamese and Western cuisine. Chef Vinh brings his Vietnamese-Australian roots and French-Italian training to the menu, creating his brand of clean, simple food, highlighting classic cooking techniques. In order to avoid “fusion confusion”, there is little tinkering with traditional Vietnamese dishes, perhaps simply substituting Australian beef for local in the beef luc lac (VND450,000).
On this evening, we share a starter of tuna carpaccio (VND250,000) followed by mains of swordfish crusted with white four spice set on a bed of braised banana blossom with a creamy vermouth and pea sauce (VND410,000) and the lamb shank with truffle oil mash and steamed carrots (VND450,000), a version so good that it has been adopted by Bobby Chinn.
9:00pm – Popular with couples, An Lam is practically synonymous with romance. Earlier, we spotted an in-villa bath option on the spa menu and when we come back from dinner, the Cleopatra awaits us, a bath of fresh milk, honey, almond oil and rose petals (VND1,900,000). It just so happens that the Saigon Villa has a tub set right in the bedroom, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows which look out onto the private deck and landscaped garden, bringing a sense of nature indoors.
8:30am – Today promises to be a lazy one. After a breakfast of Eggs Benedict with freshly baked breads and croissants, we lounge by the hotel pool, play a few games of petanque and simply find a secluded spot to read. With only 15 rooms, we barely see any of the other guests around, the perfect marriage of privacy and the open concept of the hotel. While some families do stay at the hotel, only those with well-behaved children need apply. After all, the watchword for this property is serenity.
2:00pm – After a lunch of pan-seared scallops with pickled cucumber, beetroot relish and fennel purée (VND290,000), we schedule a couples’ Love Spell spa treatment (VND2,728,000) before reluctantly packing our bags for the return boat ride to hectic Ho Chi Minh City. It really has been the perfect day, the perfect stay.
Exclusive discounts on rates below when mentioning “Oi Vietnam” at booking:
An Lam Deluxe: US$400++/night
An Lam Executive with private
Garden Villa: US$850++/night
Saigon Villa: US$950++/night (riverfront)
Song Villa: US$980++/night (riverfront)
Sunset Villa: US$1030++/night (riverfront)
Room rate is inclusive of breakfast.