PLACING yourself in a scene of perfection - backstage at a fashion show, for example - has implications for personal insecurities. Similarly, pulling up to a hotel where the endless lawns are being trimmed by hand - with scissors - and the verdant foliage looks like a mobile phone screensaver, has the potential to make you feel, well, a little scruffy. Thankfully, the minute my scruffy sandals entered this hallowed scene at The Nam Hai, my old suitcase disappeared out of sight aboard a golf buggy, a cooling cup of passion fruit tea was placed in one hand and a rosewater-scented cold towel pressed into the other. And, somehow, I didn't feel the least bit out of place.
The exacting lines of slate and grey stone, the mirror-calm pools of water and toned-down, pan-Asian design here will be familiar to anyone who has stayed in another GHM hotel before (The Datai in Langkawi or The Chedi hotels in Muscat or Chiang Mai, for example). The organisation choruses that it's a "style to remember" - and indeed it is.
The enormous pavilion that ushers you into the resort and wields its might atop a series of stone stairs ought to look menacing, but then a phalanx of staff in white uniforms breezes past, bidding you xin chao (hello) with genuine warmth to put you at ease.
While the Nam Hai's design is broadly Asian, the architects responsible have also worked on a couple of Vietnam's newest luxury beach resorts, the Six Senses Con Dao and the forthcoming Alila Villas in Mui Ne. And in the Nam Hai, they have made sure that local accents keep the resort rooted to its location. Ruler-straight avenues of palm trees that contour the main swimming pool are strung with lime-green lanterns, alluding to the silk lanterns that decorate the enchanting nearby town of Hoi An. Materials are locally sourced: black marble, terracotta roof tiles and balau wood.
The design imprint comes into its own at the spa, which meanders alongside a large, lotus-dotted pond - a scene so serene that you could get away with just sitting down and listening to the chirrup of the wildlife instead of indulging in the traditional Vietnamese or Himalayan hot stone massages.
If there were ever a time to feel insecure though, it would be at breakfast. Among the well-behaved younger guests evidently at ease in this sort of environment was a child sporting Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses, while the buffet proffered rabbit stew and chilled champagne, alongside fresh fruit, baguettes and cao lau - the local fiery dish of noodles, pork, croutons and herbs better appreciated with a cold beer than hot coffee. If the piquant flavours tickle your tastebuds, the Nam Hai offers cookery classes that visit a local market and the resort's (perfectly trimmed) organic farm.
The resort opens onto Ha My beach on Vietnam's central coast; I barely saw another person here during my stay. One of the Nam Hai's biggest assets is its proximity to the enchanting town of Hoi An. A free shuttle bus makes the 10-minute journey four times a day, taking you to the Unesco-listed town famed for its tailors, colonial architecture and fairytale lanterns. The bus doesn't operate at dinnertime, so instead take a taxi (120,000 dong/(pounds sterling)3.70) and try cheap and authentic white rose dumplings and cao lau. Da Nang airport is 30km north.
The Nam Hai comprises 60 one-bedroom villas and 40 pool villas that range from one to five bedrooms in size, arranged so discreetly that even after four days I still hadn't worked out where they had put them all. My one-bedroom villa formed part of a crescent that arched back from the beach, giving all an unencumbered sea view.
Inside, the huge space lay under a pitched roof and rose through three levels, from the sitting room that opened onto a neat little garden; to a six-poster that enveloped the bed and behind it, a sunken stone bath and floor-cushioned sofa; and finally a bathroom that opened onto a tropical garden with outdoor shower. The stepped layout means that wherever you are - bed, bath or sofa, you can see the sea (and the sunrise if you're up early enough) through the floor-to-ceiling windows. At night, muslin curtains and fragrant citronella candles transform it to an intimate space.
The palette is made up of dark hardwood, white walls, dark rattan ceiling panels and stony-hued fabrics. Finally, the iPod put mine to shame, with an exhaustive library that spanned Frank Sinatra to Fatboy Slim.
For reservation information visit www.thenamhai.com
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