INTRODUCTION TO AMANOI
Amanoi, one of Aman’s most recent Southeast Asian resorts, sits along the dramatic southern coast of Vietnam ensconced in a national park, a few hours south of the popular coastal city of Nha Trang. The rugged cliffs and dry weather make for a unique scene in a tropical destination, only a short distance from Hong Kong.
Date of stay: April 2018
Room: Amanoi Ocean Villa #1
Reviewed by: Chinmoy Lad
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PHOTOS AND VIDEOS by CHINMOY LAD
WHAT I LOVED
- Location. The resort is now officially the ‘closest Aman from Hong Kong’ since Hong Kong Express started operating direct flights multiple times a week in and out of Cam Ranh International Airport, primarily to service the busy beach town of Nha Trang. Amanoi is a world away though, 60-90 minutes by car in the opposite direction from the airport, set within a secluded Nui Chua National Park draped over the jagged cliffs. A small Vietnamese fishing village at the northern end of the resort provides a sense of place amid stunning scenery.
- Design. This is a Jean-Michel Gathy Aman – elegant and sleek yet drawing little bits of inspiration from local structures. The individual villas are certainly Vietnamese in styling and structure, along with the interiors, but the clean, contemporary lines found throughout the resort from the room interiors to the Beach Club are signature Gathy.
- Rooms. Some of Aman’s finest hard product with spectacular rooms, featuring Lake, Mountain and Ocean views, and each with its own private pool counterpart. The interior of the individual standalone pavilions/villas is practically identical in terms of design, and the space various slightly but offers a spacious 95 sqm/1,022 sqft-125 sqm/1,346 sqft across the categories, with the only difference being the view, the size of the terrace/outdoor deck, and whether your villa comes with pool/sans pool. The villas with pool feature a lengthy 12m pool, perfect for short laps. The two Amanoi Ocean Pool Villas (#1 and #3) near the main pavilion and restaurant are real stand-outs, featuring an extended private infinity pool that juts out into the ocean, with extra deck space for lounging and gazing outwards. The residences offer multi-bedroom options with a private chef, but note that not all residences come with expansive ocean views.
- Excursions and experiences. For a secluded resort that could arguably be perfectly used just to lounge around and do nothing, Amanoi has some curious excursions.
- Twilight Lounge. We were actually guinea pigs for this excursion, among the first to try it out. You’re led by boat to a rocky cliff on the opposite side of Amanoi’s beach club, where it appears there isn’t much happening, until you see the rope ladder which you climb that takes you up to the custom-built wooden platform, set securely among the intimidating rocks. If you have tried Amanpulo’s Kawayan Bar, I would liken it to this – a very unique and cool experience to enjoy snacks/canapes and a coconut or cocktail of your choice.
- Goga Peak. A short (45 minutes to 1 hour) but moderately difficult hike in the early morning takes you to the summit of the hill across Amanoi, where you can enjoy a private breakfast picnic on a wooden platform as the sun rises and makes the resort glow. With 29,000 hectares of national park, Nui Chua National Park has several hikes for those interested in the more active side of things, including a vast range of flora and fauna.
- Watersports. Of course, there are complimentary (non-motorised) watersports on offer including kayaking, which is perfect to explore around the cliffs.
- Be sure not to miss out on the wildlife often found at the resort itself – from a myriad of bright, colourful lizards and geckos to stunning flora.
- Although we did not get a chance to try it due to limited time, there is much more to do in the region, among which include enjoying a feast at the local fishing village, cycling to Thai An through wilderness and local villages, discovering Cham heritage and enjoying local Vietnamese streetfood in Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan’s capital. On the sea, there are catamaran excursions as well as a range of various motorised and non-motorised watersports. Many of these can be combined with special lunches/dinners or light picnics in unique destinations or secluded bays.
- Food. We primarily stuck to Vietnamese (why wouldn’t you?). The banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiched served in a single baguette) and bun ca (fish soup) were most excellent – we ordered at least one or the other nearly every single day. Vietnamese cuisine is generally quite light and subtle, and provides a series of condiments so you can cater the dish to your taste on the table. Some other highlights include:
- Sacred Cham dinner – the Cham is an ethnic minority group local to the region, with around 70,000 still residing in the area today. The private dinner held at a quiet nook within the resort (following a long walk in the dark) offers a taste of regional Vietnam, with the highlight being the young tamarind broth with chicken, char-grilled angus beef with local herb and braised fish with turmeric, lemongrass and peanut. I was also skeptical about the pumpkin custard but it was truly a highlight dish.
- In addition to the banh mi and bun ca, we also very much enjoyed Vietnamese spring rolls and various foods (tuna, beef) wrapped in betel leaf – very subtle yet tantalising.
- Fruits. In a tropical destination, fresh fruits always rule. More so at Amanoi, where we had some delectable mangoes and pineapples. What surprised us the most was the dragonfruit – a fruit I’m typically hesitant about (I don’t mind it, it just usually doesn’t taste of much) but here it was very sweet and we finished a couple or more every day.
- Seafood. It’s a coastal country – so naturally seafood is a real highlight here. On our final night, we were treated to a live barbecue seafood dinner lakeside, with pomel salad, BBQ scallops, king prawns, squid skewers, sea bass and lobsters, and every dish was an absolute knockout.
- Private dining options – in addition to the Cham dinner at the secluded nook, Amanoi has plenty of evening private dining options including:
- By the beach/beach club
- Cliff Pool
- Yoga pavilion lake-side
- Picnics at secluded beaches and bays
- Spa. While the older Amans suffer from adequate but rather bare spa faciliites (for a resorts of their standing), the recently built Amanoi has really gone all out and rectified that. The main spa is set around the lotus lake and features a spectacular yoga pavilion along with several treatment rooms in the main structure. The real highlight here though is the two ‘spa houses’ which you can book on a half-day usage or even overnight as accommodation. Set around the lake and mountain-side, these are a first of its kind for Aman (and reportedly the first of its kind within Asia) – dedicated two-storyed spa suites that feature living space on the upper floor, and lounging and spa facilities on the lower floor including a 15m long private pool, a double treatment room, a Hammam or wooden-clad Banya, relaxation deck, outdoor dining area, steam room, cold plunge pool and Jacuzzi. When booked overnight, the spa suites offer complimentary three hour spa treatments a day, along with daily breakfast and choice of lunch or dinner.
- Beach and beach club. The beach is set in a secluded bay and is, for all intents are purposes, private. The stretch of sand is small but adequate for the resort. The sand is somewhat rough to touch and does get extremely hot during the day. Reports say there is good snorkeling around the area but we didn’t get a chance to try. The beach club serves light snacks and food during the day, perfect for lazing around.
- Pool options. Staying in a room without a private pool? Not to worry – in addition to the 50m-long beach club pool by the beach, Amanoi features one of the most spectacular infinity pools, just below the Central Pavilion. The Cliff Pool is a 20m-long gorgeous infinity pool overlooking the bay and the cliffs beyond, with adequate loungers with varying views, as well as washroom facilities just below. As it is often empty, service can be sometimes difficult to come by although staff will usually arrive soon after they notice someone is there. As an often empty space, also watch out for the many little critters that scurry back and forth across the area, including taking quick dips in the pool (we found a very cute but extremely bright-looking lizard taking a dip).
- Service and the team. Led by Nicolas and Joy, the Amanoi team epitomises the Aman DNA, thoughtful, kind, cheerful and friendly. Service at the resort was consistently excellent.
- Our dietary needs and requirements were taken care of throughout appropriately, and we hardly ever had to remind the team. At the Cham dinner, they proactively crafted separate courses for my mother who does not eat beef.
- As is customary with Aman, we were never asked for our room number during our stay.
- We also never ran into the amazing Aman housekeeping ninjas, who ensured that our room was always refreshed even when we stepped outside for a 2-hour break midway through the day, after housekeeping hours.
- Turndown service was always thoughtful, with little gifts or edible items kept bed-side. Our favourite treat was a packet of roasted Vietnamese coffee
- By the beach club, I fell asleep for a while almost every day, for a good long nap. Each time I woke up, without asking, a staff member would whisk by within a couple of minutes of waking up bringing me a refreshing ice cold ginger beer, made locally.
POINTS TO NOTE
- Lack of shaded areas at the beach. There are plenty of sunloungers at the beach and the beach club, however, apart from a couple of loungers just under the shade of the beach club structure, the rest are out in the open – with the ever-shifting gaze of the sun, this can be difficult to deal with with regards to the heat. A couple of locally-inspired cabanas (similar to the bales found at Amankila) would have been perfect for lounging in the shade.
- Western food options. As with many Amans, beyond the local delicacies, we did find any Western options to be somewhat considerably average. Any non-Vietnamese breakfast we ordered was generally good but not outstanding, and we did order a burger on the last day before leaving that was rather dry.
- Beach service. While beach service was generally excellent, those accustomed to Aman perfection may be surprised to find out that the towels were simply thrown over the sun loungers rather than neatly tucked in as at many of the best Amans.
- International electrical outlets? For a newly built resort, it was surprising to find that the electrical sockets had not been installed with international pins so we did to have request for several international adapters which the resort staff duly provided.
- Wind factor. This region enjoys a surprisingly arid climate for a tropical destination, so rain isn’t a huge factor (although showers can be heavy). However, the region does have seasons with very strong wind which make being outdoors difficult. While most of our stay was perfect, the last afternoon it did get surprisingly windy which meant we had to retreat back to the villa instead of staying out by the beach club.
- Distances. This is a large resort in terms of footprint, perhaps one of Aman’s largest stretching long distances from point to point (nearly 1km from end to end, as the crow flies, not accounting for road/driving distance), winding roads and also across differing altitude. With about 100 acres to serve across difficult terrain, be patient with regards to the buggy and don’t underestimate the time it takes, both for the buggy to arrive and for it to take you to your next destination.
- Cam Ranh International Airport is the closest international airport to Amanoi, and it services both Nha Trang up north and Vinh Hy down south, where Amanoi is located. There are multiple flights a week from Hong Kong to Cam Ranh International Airport, with more flights and carriers scheduled to open.
- Cam Ranh International Airport is naturally well connected within Vietnam – so for long-distance travelers from North America or Europe exploring the region for the first time, we would recommend an itinerary that covers Hanoi (and Halong Bay), Ho Chih Minh and Hoi An/Danang among other destinations.
- The resort is a 60-90 minute drive from Cam Ranh International Airport.
- The best time to go is from March to October when the wind generally tends to be calmer.
HOTEL FACT SHEET
- LOCATION: Vinh Hy, Ninh Hai District, Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam
- OPENED: 2013
- HOTEL ROOMS: 31
- RESIDENCE VILLAS: 5
- RATES FROM: USD 950/night++
Rates are only an approximation and subject to change and availability
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