Instant charmer: Vietnam's Anantara resort in Hoi An
Pleasant and easy to reach, the Anantara resort makes for an inexpensive getaway, writes Tessa Chan
The hotel pool at the new Anantara resort in Hoi An is blissfully quiet. A few couples sit on loungers drinking Vietnamese iced coffee shakes from tall glasses, and giant blue cushions sit on the manicured lawn under palm trees. The only disruption is the chugging of boats on the river behind.
As quick weekend escapes go, it doesn't get much easier than this. The flight from Hong Kong to Danang is so short that I almost complain about not being given enough time to finish my second coffee after breakfast. Then it's a quick transfer to the resort, on the edge of the picturesque old town, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Formerly known as the Life Resort, the new Anantara is still in the process of transformation when we stay. We're greeted by general manager Stuart Murphy, who takes us on a tour of the hotel. All the rooms are deluxe rooms and junior suites, except for one Anantara suite, and are decked out in modern colonial style with traditional dark wood Vietnamese furniture.
The green tiles and warm salmon pink walls in the corridors, giant wooden banisters lend a warm glow to the resort. Most rooms have a little porch with comfortable day beds looking over the river. These lack privacy, but it's quiet enough during our stay that it doesn't bother us.
We return frequently to the pool, as the midday heat becomes pretty relentless in the colourful, chaotic old town streets. Here, you can eat a picnic on the lawn, either from the barbecue or try the à la carte Vietnamese favourites such as the beef salad with herbs and peanuts or the fresh spring rolls.
There's the usual Western comfort food and a generous children's menu, while the main restaurant, Lanterns, serves local fare with a river view. There's also a Parisian-style coffee shop, Reflections, with Wi-fi, a patisserie and black-and-white tiles.
But the real food happens at Dining by Design - when Murphy's team sets us up a private podium in the garden, with billowing white veils and lanterns, and leaves wrapped around pillars and twisted into origami-style birds - a scene fit for a marriage proposal.
Although our dinner gets off to a less than auspicious start - my husband somehow manages to spray mosquito repellent into our seven-year-old son's eyes when we're leaving the room, and a sudden thunderstorm explodes above our head just as we're clinking glasses - the waiters manage to keep us all dry, cheerful, and extremely well fed.
The storm soon passes and we're digging into a banquet that includes a private Vietnamese barbecue (fresh red snapper, Nha Trang lobster, king tiger prawns, beef tenderloin), as well as a variety of delicious small plates, such as seared scallops with shallot purée and caramelised tangerine, fresh papaya salad with shrimps, peanuts and chilli sauce.
Other welcome details include complimentary yoga every morning in the garden by the pool, "guru programmes", such as lantern-making, "street guru" local walking tours, language classes, Vietnamese cooking classes (these are offered in most hotels and several local restaurants) and private cruises on Thu Bon river.
The Anantara is only a quick bicycle or taxi ride away from An Bang (less touristy than Cua Dai), although, upon arrival, you'll be approached by staff from the local restaurants, which offer free umbrellas/loungers in return for a food order.
If you're after a beach holiday, you're better off in one of the swanky Danang resorts. But driving past these on our way back to the airport, we have no regrets at all.
Anantara Hoi An Resort
1 Pham Hong Thai Street, Hoi An City, Quang Nam province, Vietnam anantara.com
Deluxe rooms start from US$135 a night for two, including breakfast.
Dragonair flights go direct to Danang in less than two hours. Economy return tickets cost from HK$2,100. Then it's about a 30-minute drive to Hoi An (the hotel can arrange a pick-up).