Walking distance from an age-old seaport that looks today much as it was 400 years ago, Anantara Hoi An Resort stretches along the Thu Bon River’s northern bank. A grassy esplanade punctuated by palm trees fronts a river flowing with sampans and dragon boats, and the temptation is to do no more than sit and contemplate. It’s no wonder why Condé Nast Traveller’s readers last year deemed this boutique property among Asia’s top 25 resorts.
The resort’s French colonial-inspired two-storey buildings showcase hints of Dutch, Chinese and Japanese influence. The 93 guest rooms are split-level affairs. Featuring a sunken spa and king-size bed with arguably Asia’s most comfortable mattress, the upper layout of the ‘Premium River View Suite’ gives way to an L-shaped sitting area. Dark timber doors open up to a shaded porch with daybeds and Peace Lily plants, white flowers reaching for the midday sun. The balcony overlooks fushia bougainvillea and the Thu Bon beyond.
After settling into the elegantly demure suite, it’s time to get hands on -- chopping, simmering, slicing and dicing. Guests learn how to whip up authentic Vietnamese fare step by step at the resort’s Spice Spoons cooking class. Located adjacent to the resort’s swimming pool fringed by the ‘Reflections’ pool bar and sunbeds, the cooking station brims with fresh vegetables such as broccoli, tomato and bok choy. They are sourced from the nearby Tra Que farming village, an organic vegetable and herb farm run by the people and owned by the people, supplying not just the resort’s fresh produce but much of Hoi An’s. Dried corn, onions, chili and garlic are strung up near the frying pan.
Over a two hour-stretch, toques and aprons are donned under the direction of Chef Le. Like many of the resort’s convivial staff, Le has worked at the resort for more than a decade. Vietnamese food is famous the world over for its freshness, variety and balance of flavours and the three-course feast, of crispy corn and mung bean spring rolls, green mango salad with vegetable loaf, and Hoi An’s distinctive Cau Lau noodles with vegetable loaf, mix herbs, and roasted peanut and rice cracker, is no exception. You can have your cake and eat it too, dining on your creations for lunch, set upon a white linen table under a pavilion looking out over that sublime river. Mementos include a pack of recipes, an apron, wooden chopping board and certificate.
In such a land of contrasts with such a vibrant people, sensory overload is part and parcel of a sojourn in Vietnam. Yet Anantara Hoi An allows you to slip into Vietnamese culture thanks to cooking classes and other activities that include lantern making and scenic river cruises.
Departing from the resort in a boat fashioned by talented local carpenters at Kim Bong village, the five-kilometre sunset cruise opens up the Thu Bon in a whole new way. The cruise invites travellers to explore the contemporary appeal of an age-old icon, offering sweeping prospects of the locals’ fascinating way of life on a river that fueled Hoi An’s rise in the 17th and 18th centuries as a powerful trade link between Europe, China, India and Japan.
The city’s Ancient Town is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shophouses built by Japanese and Chinese merchants in the 15th and 16th Centuries still totter over streets flowing with pedestrians, not vehicles. Its Chinese Assembly Halls, filled with red-faced deities and goddesses in flowing robes, are no less compelling, and central to the spell conjured by one of Asia’s great destinations.
Back at the resort at close of day, a buffet of Vietnamese cuisine awaits on the Riverside Café’s terrace with a stunning vista of the river by night. Upstairs at Lanterns Restaurant the following morning, a remarkable breakfast of Asian and Western fare is served up. The do-it-yourself juicing machine proves to be a hit with the guests looking to start the day on a healthy note, before they indulge a massage, facial or body scrub at Anantara Spa or take a complimentary bicycle to nearby Cam Nam island or through the Ancient Town out to the beach.
Unwinding on the Riverside Cafe’s sprawling terrace one last time, overlooking that grassy esplanade studded with palm trees, yet another sampan putters by along the Thu Bon River. After partaking in a host of activities including Vietnamese cooking classes, lantern-making and river cruising, not to mention rummaging through the nearby Ancient Town and feeling all the more culturally enriched as a result, there’s nothing more to do than sit and contemplate.
For more information on Anantara Hoi An Resort, please visit www.anantara.com.