Vietnam is an enigma in the modern age, one of the last remining Marxist states with an ancient past that still shapes its society today. But if the present is all that matters, Vietnam is clearly catching up fast with its neighbours with an impressive list of handsome attractions that stretch north to south. TNA compiles the country's inaugural FAB from Hanoi, Da Nang and Saigon.
Newness is in the Air
There have been fabled names in Vietnamese hospitality stretching decades and that list is still expanding in a new age where the defining qualities of luxury keep morphing. Having an enviable coastline means some of the region's best luxury resorts like the incomparable InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula and Four Seasons The Nam Hai have long taken root there and been thriving for years. Across the Vietnamese cities luxury hotels also have a strong presence, with the newest openings some of their comeliest. In the South there is a riverside beauty, Mia Saigon, that appears like a sublime vision right out of the French Riviera. There is also a new Autograph Collection hotel inhabiting the highest floors of the Vietnamese Babel Vinpearl Landmark 81 that is taking hospitality into the country's new age with physical and technological heights. In the North the Capella Hanoi was raised with such astounding details and stunning finesse that it is currently the most enthralling hotel in the country and beyond.
North to South
A bowl of pho may be the most quintessential Vietnamese dish but even between the varieties of pho from the north, central and south, much can be made of their subtle differences. Add to that a myriad of regional staples and there is really ground for a lot of culinary explorations across the country. In Hanoi, a good place to start is at breakfast where locals would head out for a bowl of lightly flavoured pho at their favourite joints. Our discovery is Pho Thin on 13 Lo Duc Street where the beef pho with a light broth and plentiful herbs are served simply with poached eggs, dough sticks and chilli and lime. Nearby at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street is Giang Cafe where its signature Hanoi-style egg yolk cream coffee can be relished amidst a very local ambience. For a spectrum of flavours from across the country one can head to Quan An Ngon at 18 Phan Boi Chan Street where traditional dishes like spring rolls and roasted pigeons are capably rendered. In the UNESCO Heritage town of Hoi An there are plenty of distinctive local dishes to try including Cao Lao, a pork noodle dish where the noodle is made with ash, Com Gai, Vietnam's version of chicken rice and White Rose, a fish dumpling purportedly produced by just one Hoa family in the whole town. Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An is also one of the most tasty version of the Vietnamese sandwich we have tried. In Saigon the flavours are more plumped up and the phos here are more flavoursome and tend to be better received by foreign visitors. Old establishments like Pho Minh and Pho Le are good spots to enjoy authentic southern pho but even the ones at popular chain Pho 24 aren't too bad. Broken rice with pork chop and Banh Xeo are the other Saigonese classics that are must-try dishes in the south.
In a Class of its Own
Club lounges are traditionally city hotel installations but in Vietnam some of the country's best belong to resorts that cater more to the leisure crowd with more 'on holiday' appeal. At Hyatt Regency Da Nang, its Regency Club Lounge sizzles with a tropical chic with resort interiors and warm service where staff reach out with uncommon focus and efficiency. Sharing the seafront haven's focus on impeccable service are the Pacific Club Lounge at Pan Pacific Hanoi and Club InterContinental at InterContinental Saigon. The former boasts of an enviable view of the picturesque West Lake in Hanoi whilst the latter looks out to the evolving cityscape of downtown Saigon. All three wonderful lounges provide breakfast, all-day drinks and snacks and evening cocktails to guests with club lounge benefits. However, for a truly unforgettable club lounge experience with luxurious trimmings like three-tier afternoon teas, gourmet ala carte menu breakfast and a stunning visage of Vietnam's handsome central coastline, one must head to Club InterContinental at InterContinental Da Nang. This Bill Bensley designed black and white confection with lavish Egyptian pillars, dramatic chandeliers and vibrant furnishings was recently launched and is a most welcomed addition at the stunning resort indeed.
Haven for the Senses
The mood for holistic treatments is largely enhanced by resort elements so it is unsurprising that the best spas in Vietnam are tied to the country's best resorts. At the InterContinental Da Nang one can be treated to royal level mani-pedi sessions at Bastien Gonzalez, international podiatrist to the star. After a bout of diamond dust polish and mother of pearl buffing, one can enjoy hours-long wellness sessions that harness the power of vibration and sound at the resort's secluded Mi Sol Spa within treatment cabins that come with private terraces and plunge pools. The Spa at Four Seasons The Nam Hai, another serene haven for wellness nearby, similarly explores the potential of sounds for healing with each massage session ending with the chimes and vibrations of synchronised quartz bowls. Another spa to note in Vietnam is The Akoya Spa at Vinpearl Landmark 81, Autograph Collection in Saigon. Currently it may not be on the same level of service and sophistication as the other 2 spas on this list but given its lofty perch (level 48) and new management it may in time realize its potential and rise to higher aspirations.
The Sky is the Limit
Vietnamese cities are dotted with a bewildering plethora of bars that range from alley holes featuring homemade beers to flashy sky bars harbouring billionaires' cellars. The consensus is try all if you must but the following are the must visits. There are 2 spots to linger for a sip at Capella Hanoi, the most accessible being its Diva's Lounge where the stage is set to live it up and make an impression in the Vietnamese capital. For a gourmet discourse on malts and mollusks, head to The Hudson Rooms for its oysters and whiskeys pairing that is really quite as experiential as it sounds. If affinity presents itself, you might just find yourself granted access to a certain secret chamber amongst these rooms so few even know about. At the older part of Hanoi The Summit Lounge is more about a good drink in hand pondering over a good sunset. In plain view of the dreamy West Lake, this is a setting that has worked for most part of its 20 years in business. Down south in Saigon The Muse also has a glorious view configured into its charms as it is one of very few establishments to offer an alfresco sitting within such proximity to the Saigon River with a faraway view of the city. But if view is the desired quench, there isn't a better perch than The Cloud, a sophisticated sky bar with an outdoor patio installed on level 48 of Vietnam's tallest building Vinpearl Landmark 81.