Creative Writing

A lovely mention on La Residence Hotel & Spa by Eat Stay Love's Writer Devanshi Modi in the publication's latest issue, May 2014

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  Text: Devanshi Modi STAY | Cities Vietnamhideaways C olonial Indochina, erstwhile pleasure retreat of the European elite, ceded to unimagined atrocities in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Vietnam’s fabled green paddy fields literally turned red during the Vietnam War and remained red symbolically during years of cruel communism. Cambodia was perhaps more bloodied under the horrific Khmer Rouge genocide that exterminated arguably two million Cambodians. Whilst Indochina agonised, Thailand gained renown as a glamorous destination. However, both Vietnam and Cambodia have vehemently cast aside the budget tag, the dowdiness they have so long and unfairly been robed in and are baring anew the exotic enchantment they were once legendary for. Embellishing colonial aura is a concerted modernity. Ultra luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, destination spas and efficient infrastructure are making Indochina’s exclusive new holiday addresses the prerogative of the discerning few. Tropical jungles, coral reefs, unspoilt perfect beaches — Vietnam has it all. Not to mention stunning new resorts and a newly acquired glam quotient. A   clutch of haute luxe launches has taken Vietnam to posh pinnacles. Then there are the hush-hush boutique retreats tucked away in obscurity. Vietnam’s exotic landscapes and waterways, blond beaches and blue-eyed seas are slowly emerging from oblivion, making it the glamorous new beach destination. Gateway to all this, Ho Chi Minh City is blaring sound and colour and I gladly settle for premium French Dammann teas at the Sofitel Saigon Plaza ( . The Boudoir Lounge’s sweet temptations apart, this hot city leaves me unmoved. Except when I’m dodging the onslaught of six million motorbikes.I escape to Six Senses Con Dao ( on Con Son, arguably Vietnam’s most beautiful island. The naturally beautiful require few adornments and here, bare minimalism accentuates the resort’s natural assets. The beach, with its white sand and sloping dunes, lazes alongside turquoise waters while hills dressed in veloured verdure cascade towards the resort. The spa’s elevated open-air relaxation area captures the Elephant Head Mountain kneeling reverentially. EAT STAY LOVE |   85   84 | EAT STAY LOVE The langorous romance of  Indochina       C      O      R      B      I      S  EAT STAY LO VE |   87   The island is better known for being Brangelina’s Vietnamese hideaway than for its historic significance as the site of French and American prisons, notably the brutal Tiger Cages where at least 20,000 Vietnamese prisoners were exterminated. I’m oblivious to these atrocities, enveloped in tranquillity that seems unimpregnable. Until nature decides to have her way — then sheets of sand come at you like a flying carpet, the ocean devours the sand, seemingly swallows up your private pool too (the one you’re paying $1500/night for) and almost lunges onto your villa’s white-clad bed. Captivated, I replace the pre-arranged ‘Prison Tours’ with a nature walk. But my butler Phi Anh persists: any visitor to the Con Dao islands must know of their horrifying history. At the cages and the prisoner cemetery lotus ponds shimmer in the rain evoking a Monet painting, and I wonder how such perversion was possible in paradisiacal exotica. I’m on a boat cruising to Six Senses Ninh Van Bay (   which sits on a dramatic bay overlooking the East Vietnam Sea. The resort lazes on the impressive rolling rocks making it seem embedded on a slumbering dragon. My butler Trang, like Charon of Greek myth ferrying souls across the river Styx to the world of eternal repose, plies me between resort jetty and my rock pool villa cradled on boulders with a blue pool sculpted into the rocks. Morning unveils the rugged romance of an almost masculine seascape. No blue-eyed waters and frilly white waves purring coyly. The serenity is maybe monkish. The Vietnamese lady chef’s herb garden lunches include pineapple soup. Vietnamese-coffee ice-cream, however, is potently manly. Anantara Hoi An ( ) , in the historic port town of Hoi An and with a UNESCO World Heritage Site at its doorstep, is no ‘destination’ spa. Yet their four-hand Vietnamese massage, with fingers in a flurried and fervent dance of synchronised rhythmic movements and elbows pirouetting on pressure points, is unchallenged. Vietnamese Chef Vien masters Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines at the French-chic Riverside Café; at Lanterns, his Vietnamese noodle soup pho is phenomenal. His ‘Dining by Design’, the ultimate in tailor-made private dining and Anantara’s elaborate signature specialty, is a thread of compositions knotted around tender tofu, clay-potted curries and ‘pork and chicken’ preparations, which happen to be startlingly vegetarian. Nam Hai ( , again in Hoi An and alongside a seemingly endless pristine beach, is where the groomed and the gorgeous go. Three immense tiered pools by the sea are fluid fantasies. The spa floats on stretches of water. ‘Designer design’ complements designer guests who strut in the glitzy al fresco restaurant. They even dress for Chef Richard’s breakfasts, among the world’s best. Chef Richard has vast herb gardens and a German deputy Florian with Michelin-starred training whose salad serenade has the precision of a Bach score. Villas in dark wood and stark white are splendid with each bedroom pavilion centring around an elevated platform with a king-sized bed, a sunken writing desk and a unique eggshell bath. By the bed sits a TV. But who needs it when the glassed panelling plays a live typhoon (happens in Vietnam) unleashing outside — unless turn-down has your bed within white curtains from which you can see swaying palm trees and beautiful waves. Missing only are the sound effects.  Fusion Maia ( in Da Nang City fixes me some classical music. Nothing too dramatic just Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in post-typhoon mellowness. The music is on the house, as are the spa treatments, inclusive in the room rate here at Asia’s first all-spa inclusive resort. Spa junkies, book therapist Be who gets our A+. Fusion Maia’s racy new ‘raw food’ is all about C-squared: creativity and colour. Stunning exhibits include a white plate chequered with shocking pink beetroot squares sliced to a nanometer on which cubed almond paté presides or vibrant avocado sherbet reeled in screaming yellow lemon peel. Exec Chef Dung’s Vietnamese ‘Home Kitchen’ serves a lovely coconut crème brûlée in a coconut shell, the turmeric-tempered Hoi An noodle soup and velvet-lipped Vietnamese coffee mousse. Of the stunning InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula ( ) , staggered downhill to the ocean, celebrity designer Bill Bensley declared, “I can make something that pleases everyone. But I want to make a statement.” He makes one worth a stupendous $200 million with décor that’s witty and fancy. Perch is a pervasive theme — metallic monkeys perch on outdoors rails; the reception teeters precipitously on the resort’s pinnacle; the rooms are the heights of luxury where bathrooms and wardrobes come with mini bird perches to hang things on; and from zingy lime-lemon restaurant Citron levitate balconies shaped like overturned Vietnamese hats offering thrilling sea views. Vietnam’s only Lady Master Chef’s local cuisine has me flying while Russians whiz in for Michelin-starred French Chef Michel Roux’s $120/head Chef’s Table at La Maison 1888.  Banyan Tree Lang Co (  ) , 40 km from Da Nang, is no design sensation (save sexy Monte-Carloesque Mediterranean restaurant Azura) but establishes that real luxury is in the service. Winnie and Tam alight like fairies when required and vanish magically when their duty is done. I arrive at the resort following a personal misadventure. As I attend to a call that lasts 30 minutes, Winnie waits patiently outside, watching the outdoors jacuzzi gurgle, bearing a tea tray. I’ve not wearied of Vietnamese food. Can one? But Thai restaurant Saffron’s pad thai has me inextricably bound in its savoury strands. I advance to the imperial city of Hue, a UNESCO World Heritage site. At boutique hotel La Résidence (   Chef Hai’s culinary symphony plays on languid riverfront terraces even as the hotels’ GM, Mr Minh, the sole Vietnamese GM I encounter, feeds me Hue’s fabled culinary history, telling me about Nguyen Emperor Minh Manh who had 300 concubines (and 142 children). Satisfying all his harem regularly was a daunting task even for the Nguyen dynasty’s mightiest emperor, for whose affections the ladies combatted. It was resolved that the concubines would prepare desserts and she who produced the finest would have the emperor for a midnight feast, so to speak. La Résidence exclusively serves Minh Manh wine ice-cream. “Is this royal food I’m having then?” I ask. “I leave that to your imagination,” Mr Minh replies. I sincerely hope it is not — since srcinally the wine (which enabled the emperor to help himself to six women per night) comprised bear’s claws and elephant...My Vietnamese voyage culminates at Hanoi. The suites in the heritage wing of the Sofitel Legend Metropole ( , in the opulent Opera quarter, have been erstwhile receptacles of Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene and Charlie Chaplin. Mine’s a spruced newer suite, full of finery and finesse, marbled bathrooms and Hermès toiletries. The suite threatens to imprison me with its seduction, but I escape, unwillingly, to the hotel’s brasserie Le Beaulieu ribboned in Parisian-style terraces. There is also the Vietnamese specialty restaurant Spices Garden that exudes the languid aura of a bygone era, imbibed over multiple helpings of homemade Sapa honey and fresh ginger ice cream.The Mövenpick ( , Hanoi, with its colonial facade and stylish interiors is a refreshing dash of modernity blending unobtrusively with the city’s colonial architecture and aura. My plush suite in sober hues with an enlivening spot of colour here and there contrasts neatly with the rustic, chic and effusive hotels I’ve sampled around Vietnam. The Mövenpick’s location provides convenient access to some of the finest gourmet addresses, notably celebrity Chef Didier Corlou’s La Verticale. Prefer food for thought? GM Bill Jones recommends you head out to the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature in the city which hosts the Imperial Academy, the country’s first national university. Besides the Po Nagar Cham Towers, Nha Trang is well known for its beaches and scuba diving  At La Residence, Chef Hai’s culinary symphony plays even as I am fed on Hue’s fabled culinary history 86 | EAT STAY LOVE The balconies of Citron restaurant at the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula, shaped like upturned  Vietnamese hats, offer thrilling sea viewsSpa treatments at Fusion Maia are included in the room rateThe villas at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay have luxuriant bathrooms with handcrafted bathtubs       C      O      R      B      I      S


Aug 3, 2017
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