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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:45 pm   #1
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Amanoi (Vietnam) - Trip Report

OMG! Unbelievable.
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:46 pm   #2
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Transportation

I received the Amanoi opening announcement while in Saigon (HCMC) on business so I shot off an email to Aman to ask how soon they would actually be open. On September 2, I got back a "How about mid-October?" email to which I replied "How about tomorrow?" A few hours later, Aman came back and said that would be fine. Great!

I booked a Vietnam Airlines (VN) flight on the web for the next morning. There are a few flights a day from SGN to Cam Ranh (CXR) which is located just south of the city of Nha Trang. You can also fly from Hanoi and Danang, which is convenient if you're visiting other parts of the country. It's a short flight, 45 minutes, and the domestic air system in Vietnam is quite good (no worries) and very cheap (SGN>CXR $50 in Y and $100 in J).

A lot of my travel is short last minute trips so getting somewhere quickly and easily is high on my list of my priorities. It's nice to have convenient flights, but I wasn't really looking forward to the 90 minute drive to the resort noted on the Aman website. (And BTW, unlike other some other Aman resorts, airport transfer is not complimentary).

An Aman representative met me at the airport with a Toyota SUV. I was expecting a German sedan, but as it turns out that would not have been very practical.

The first part of the drive is south down the main National Highway (1A) through CamRanh and adjacent towns. It's pretty typical Vietnam...shops and houses. The "highway" is an undivided two lane road with a lot of scooter and truck traffic and not a lot of attention paid to being in the proper lane.

After about 30 minutes, the driver announces we're taking the "shortcut," and turns off the highway. We drive through some scenic paddy fields and a small village along the coast on very narrow, occaisionally paved and often very rutted roads before heading up into the mountains on a new half constructed very bumpy and rocky "road" that made me wonder whether the Toyota Fortuner was going to be up to the job.


View as we head off on the shortcut

Fortunately we soon hit the section of the new road that's been completed and runs all the way down to Vinh Hy. It's about 40 mintues to Vinh Hy, and the drive is spectacular. It's a brand new very good road along the shore and cliffs overlooking the ocean. The scenery is beautiful and reminds me more of the Mediterranean or California coasts than it does of SE Asia. The whole section of coast there is pristine and completely unspoilt. No farms or houses, not a single shred of litter, and we didn't see another car the whole way down to Vinh Hy. It's worth the trip just for the drive alone.


View driving down the coast


Shortly before arriving at Amanoi, you pass through Vinh Hy, which is a very quaint and scenic little fishing village.


The town of Vinh Hy

I'm headed to the beach now, but will add some photos to this post later and also update the other sections of the report as I have time.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 7, 13 at 6:55 am
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:47 pm   #3
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First Impression

The place is stunning from the moment you arrive, and the photos don't do it credit. A few things struck me.

The setting is incredible. It's in the middle of a National Park surrounded by nature. You don't get the sense in the photos, but the moutains are quite high and covered with big rocky outcroppings which gives it almost a majestic feel. The views up and down the coast are spectacular... much more like Carmel or the Amalfi coast than SE Asia.


View from high in the resort showing Lotus Lake, many of the pavilions and the ocean beyond.

Because the climate is very dry, the flora is unique and varied. It's very different than other resorts in Asia and very lovely.

The main lobby and restaurant are architecturally very beautiful and exceptionally well done. There's definitely a wow factor.


Central Pavilion from a distance

The weather is great. Hot, but very little rain, low humidity, and frequent gentle breezes. It's the first time, I've ever felt really comfortable in Vietnam.

In the Amanoi website photos, the pavilions looks sleek, modern and very sterile. In reality, the attention to detail, the decorations, the diversity of materials and texture give them an extremely comfortable and relaxing feel. On top of that, the ergonomic design is very well thought out. The views from the pavilions are incredible. it literally took my breath away when I walked into my pavilion. Until now, the nicest pavilions/villas I've seen were at Trisara, but Amanoi beats that by a long shot.

Since it just opened, I expected a lot of problems, bugs, ongoing construction, torn up grounds, etc. Not at all; the place looks great, the landscaping is fantastic, and the staff is wonderful. Some of them are still a little green, but they're all really friendly, helpful and well trained. Susan, the GM, did a great job getting this place ready

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 6:51 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:47 pm   #4
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Accomodations

I'm staying in an ocean view pool pavilion. There's not too much say except that's it's nearly perfectly executed and probably the nicest resort accommodation, I've ever seen. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm a great fan of the Trisara villas, but this is even nicer. The photos on the Amanoi website and brochure make the pavilions seems a little cold and stark, but the actual pavilion is not that way at all. A lot has to do with the details, decorating and lighting. It's an extremely modern and clean design, but the finishing details, material and overall design give it a very warm and serene feel.



The layout is really well thought out. There's a closet/changing/bath area at one end of the pavilion, which can be closed off with sliding doors. This provides a good degree a privacy... which is sometimes lacking in other similar open layouts. The shower has two sliding doors one opening into the changing room and the other out onto the deck so you can enjoy the views and the breeze while showering.

They've managed to get all the details right. Sufficient electrical outlets and in the right places. Good WiFi and phones. Easy to use lighting controls. Tables where you want them. The furniture and beds are very comfortable. The only nits I have is that the WiFi logs you out after a short period of inactivity so you need to keep logging back in. I'd also like it if they had screens in some of the windows or doors so you can sleep with open windows and enjoy the fresh air and breezes. (This is a defect shared with Amanpulo).


Looking out the pavilion window

The pavilion opens out onto a teak deck and pool with a gorgeous view of the ocean, Vinh Hy bay, and the rocky cliffs across the bay. The landscaping around the pavilion is done with local vegetation which is very attractive although some people might prefer a more manicured look. The trees and shrubs provide complete privacy, but from my pavilion you are able to see a bit of the roof of the neighboring pavilion. Many birds flit around the pool and deck including what I think is a species of Babbler, which is quite talkative and and for the first two days had me regularly stepping outside wondering why there were people out on the deck talking.


View out the pavilion of the pool and the bay

The pool is not huge but long enough for swimming laps. Unlike some pools that are either too hot for swimming or too cool for lounging, the temperature is just right and there's a submerged ledge in the pool where you can lie stretched out with your head on the edge and forget about everything.

At nights hundreds of squid boats head out from Vinh Hy and the lights from the boats illuminate the ocean like a thousand floating lanterns. If you didn't know it was the ocean you'd think you were looking out onto a small city. It's really an exquisite site.

I also had a chance to look at four other pavilions and the beach villa. The pavilions and the individual bedroom units in the villa are all the same design but each has a unique setting and view. I don't think you can go wrong no matter which unit you stay in. The beach villas are down by the beach club...maybe a one minute walk... so much more convenient to the ocean, but slightly hotter than the pavilions higher up where the air is a bit cooler and there's more of a breeze.


Sunrise from the pavilion

The resort spreads out over quite a large area and it's close to 200 m of elevation from the ocean up to main building and most of the pavilions so you need to call a buggy to get around the resort.


Map of the property

Overall, just really, really beautiful and exquisitely done.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 22, 13 at 5:10 am
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:48 pm   #5
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Beach

Let me start this by saying I'm a beach bigot.

The Amanoi property faces on to the South China Sea (or East Sea to be PC in Vietnam) and wraps around into Vinh Hy bay. There are really three beaches on the property. The main beach is on a small cove off the Vinh Hy bay. There is also another very small beach, which I call Beach 2, located in another even smaller cove off the bay, and a third Beach (Beach 3), located in a larger cove, which faces directly onto the South China Sea.

The South China Sea is very calm with almost no waves, although I gather it can have some waves depending on the weather. The Bay is even calmer with only a very light chop in windy conditons, and the coves off the bay are calmer still. So this is not the place to go for boogie boarding or riding the waves. The water temperature is warm but not hot..... perfect to my way of thinking. (Note, however, I spent a fair amount of time at Lake Michigan growing up so my idea of perfect water temperature may be a little different than other people.) That said, you can spend a long time in the water without getting in the least chilled. The water is very clean, much cleaner than Phuket or Bali, but there is some, but not a lot, of litter (plastic bottles and wrappers) that I assume gets discarded from the fishing boats. Also when the wind comes up, the chop stirs up the bottom creating a little turbidity and reducing visibility.... but still very, very clean.

You get to the main beach by buggy and it's about a 5 minute downhill ride from the Central Pavilion and most of the guest pavilions. There is no public access to the beach. It's located in a small cove, with high steep rocky hills on either end. It's a beautiful setting. The beach itself is probably 25 or 30 meters wide. The sand nearer the ocean is a very nice coral sand. The sand further from the ocean is coarser, probably as a result of runoff from the mountains. The ocean drops off steadily so it's over your head by the time you get 20 to 30 meters into the water. It gets deep quickly enough so it wouldn't be a good place to leave small children in the water without some very proximate supervision.

Along the entire beach the first 3 to 5 meters of ocean bottom is all sandy. Along parts of the beach the sandy bottom extends further out, but for most of the beach the sandy bottom turns into broken coral and shells. It's been ground down and smooth enough so you can walk on it, but it's not as nice as a sandy bottom.


Shot of the main beach

When I first arrived there was a fair amount of litter and driftwood on the beach and none of the beach furniture had arrived so that was bit of a disappointment. They cleaned up the beach today and it looks much nicer, but there is still a fair bit of broken coral and shells on beach. The beach would look even better if they raked that up as well. I assume they will. I also think it would be possible to very easily dredge up some of the broken coral and shell on the ocean bottom and either cart it off or run it through a crusher/grinder. If they did this, it would go from being a good beach to a great beach. Not as nice a Pulo but certainly on par with Puri. It's a really beautiful setting.

They also have some Hobie cats, kayaks and paddle boards and I understand there are some windsurfers and zodiacs on order. As I said, it's not a beach for riding the waves, but there is plenty of fun stuff to do. Also because of the water temperature and calm water, it's a great beach for swimming. Much nicer than doing laps in a pool.

The Beach Club is also located on the Main Beach. It's a really nice facility with showers, a restaurant and a great infinity pool overlooking the bay. The pool has a large area that is only about 20 cm deep, which is a great place for lounging in the water. The water temperature is perfect in the morning but a little warm by the afternoon. The only thing I would change is to perhaps put a few shrubs and bushes in between the pool and beach. Overall it has a very nice vibe. The only knock on the Beach Club is that the indoor shower/changing rooms are a little spartan.


View of the Beach Club pool

The main beach faces mainly east so gets it gets a lot of sun directly in your face starting very early in the morning. It's a bit too sunny for my taste, but by mid-afternoon it's ideal and the light on the rocks and cliffs is just beautiful.

From the main beach, you can kayak over to Beach 2 and Beach 3. I kayaked over to Beach 3 first along with Richard who's running recreation. (Some of you may know him from Pulo. He's a great guy and always a lot of fun.) It takes about 20 to 25 minutes so you need to be somewhat fit. You can also walk down to Beach 3 from the Central Hall. It takes about 10 minutes. There's a fair amount of vertical but it's a fairly easy walk and very scenic. For those of you who are familiar with Kila, there's more vertical at Amanoi but it seems easier than going up and down the stairs at Kila. Once they get the zodiacs, it will be much more accessible for small kids and older guests.

The beach at Beach 3 is not as nice as the main beach....not as much sand but I understand they'll be putting in some platforms and beach chairs so it should be a nice spot. The snorkeling off Beach 3 is quite good. There's a lot of coral and lot of interesting fish. The only problem is that with all the fishing and no fish feeding tourists until now, the fish are a bit reticent.

They kayak trip from the main beach to Beach 3 runs along rocky cliffs. It's very beautiful and we saw quite a few herons as well as a White Bellied Sea Eagle.... a majestic bird with a 7 foot wingspan. On the way back, we explored a bit and paddled into some small caves in the cliffs. Just before getting back to the main beach we paddled into Beach 2. It's only accessible by boat and is a gem of a beach..... very small but extremely beautiful. The ocean off Beach 2 is almost perfectly still and the ocean bottom just off the beach is sandy and very shallow so you can just sit in the ocean and totally forget about civilization. It's an easy 5 minute paddle from the main beach. A perfect spot to get away from everything and everyone. (Also a great spot for kids to play in the ocean.)

In addition to the pool at the Beach Club, there is another pool at the Central Pavilion called the Cliff Pool. It's not as iconic as the Kila pool, but to my way of thinking more beautiful. The views are different in every direction and part of the pool is surrounded by trees and huge rocks. It's spectacular and at the same time incredibly serene. You could spend your whole time here at the Cliff Pool and you'd be completely happy.


The Cliff Pool

Bottom line, there's still some work to be done on the beaches, but if they do it right they'll have some of the best beaches in Asia.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 6:58 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:49 pm   #6
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Dining

I'm going to try to keep this one a little shorter.

There are two main dining facilities: the Beach Club and the main dining room at the Central Pavilion. Both are beautiful outlets. The Beach Club is outdoor dining and you have choice of indoor or outdoor dining at the main restaurant. The main restaurant has a great outdoor terrace with beautiful views, which is great place to eat.


Outdoor terrace of the main restaurant

I've mostly done breakfasts and lunches at the Beach Club and dinners at the main dining room.

The food choices are either western or Vietnamese, and since I'd been eating so much Vietnamese food before coming, I've mostly had western food. A couple of the meals have been outstanding and the rest have been very good. In general I would say the food is on par with most of the other Aman resorts, but not yet as good as the best Aman resorts. Also at this point, the menu selection is still very limited.

The staff is extremely friendly if still a little inexperienced. They've done a good job of getting people trained. I'm sure it's been a huge challenge getting wait staff and cooks hired and trained when no one within 100km of the resort has ever heard of an omelette, a club sandwich or a martini to say nothing of knowing what they're supposed to look or taste like. I was really expecting inconsistent and slightly awkward service, but the service is very good (more on this in a separate post).

Overall, the dining experience is very solid, but I would not put it in the inspirational or sublime category. Given though that they have just opened and are so far off the beaten tourist track, I've been very impressed and pleasantly surprised with the dining.

QUICK UPDATE - Tonight I had a fantastic dinner: lobster and pomelo salad (one of the best things I've ever tasted) followed by snapper steamed in a banana leaf with herbs and then wrapped in rice pancakes and dipped in a chilli sauce. It was one of the best dinners I've ever had anywhere.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 6:59 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:49 pm   #7
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Spa

The spa is very nice, but not nearly as nice Amanpuri or Trisara. I think the main problem is that the treatment rooms lack the expansive feel and nice views that you get at either of those resorts. I think one of the treatment rooms has a nice view of the lake, but the ones I saw had trees and shrubs growing right in front of the front of the room so there's no sense of openness and it felt a little dark. It's too bad, because with the setting they have it certainly would have been possible to do a better job. The hydrotherapy rooms on the other hand look out onto the lake and are very attractive.


Treatment Room

The therapists are very good, but in my experience Vietnam does not really have the same long history of massage treatments that Thailand does so I would have to rate the quality not as good as Amanpuri or a lot of other Thai resorts. That said, it was much better than what I've experienced elsewhere in Vietnam (Metropole, Park Hyatt, Nam Hai).

I've also attached a picture of the gym with great views of the lake which is very, very nice. The only problem is that my frame of reference is the gym at Amanpuri and that totally spoils you for every other gym anywhere for the rest of your life.


Gym

There is a separate Pilates studio in the spa compound and that is very nice as well.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 7:04 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:50 pm   #8
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Activities

Next time I go to Amanoi, here's a list of what I'd like to do:

Watch the sun rise.
Hangout at the Cliff Pool in the morning.
Kayak over to Beach 2 and lounge in the water and on the beach.
Wander around Vinh Hy.
Eat at one of the floating restaurants in Vinh Hy bay.
Go on a guided bird watching tour.
Play tennis.
Use the gym.
Hike in the national park.
Sail on the Hobie cat when there's a good wind.
Go wind surfing.
Hike along the moutain ridges overlooking the ocean.
Snorkeling
Scuba diving
Take a cruise down the coast and have a picnic on a secluded beach.
Go out at night on a squid boat.
Listen to a lecture on Vietnamese culture, history, etc.
Take a guided tour of the property with a botanist.

(Some of these you can do now. Some are in the plans and some are just my my personal wish list.)

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 6:40 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:50 pm   #9
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Service

I'll try to be brief here. A lot of the staff are brand new to the hospitality business. A lot of them have never spoken English before. I'm pretty sure, for many of them I was the first real customer on whom they waited or actually tried out their English. I could feel just a slight hesitancy and anticipation as they were anxious to see if what they had learned would actually work. All I can say is that it's obvious the staff have put a huge amount of time into training and learning English. I was amazed by the quality of service and professionalism. Already much better than most 5 star hotels, and by the third or fourth day here, I could sense the increased confidence.

Management is fantastic. They've done an incredible job here, and they're the nicest group of people imaginable. Having a chance to spend time with them was one of the best things about the whole trip.

The Aman spirit is alive and well here. I was swimming at the Cliff Pool early one morning so I thought maybe I would have breakfast at the pool rather than going to the restaurant so I asked one of the staff working at the pool if it was possible. It was pretty obvious from the expression on his face that this was not something anyone had anticipated, but he said "Let me check" and ran off. A few minutes later, I got the answer... "Of course you can have breakfast here. It's your home so you can have breakfast anywhere you like."

Finally and most importantly, the service here is the friendliest by far of any Aman I've been to (and that's saying a lot). I'm sure they're all on their best behavior for the opening, but everyone from the gardeners to security to the wait staff to the entire management team always has a smile and a warm greeting.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 7:08 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 9:51 pm   #10
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Final Thoughts

Amanoi is a very special place.

For me, it's by far and away my favorite Aman. On a scale of 1 to 10, Pulo is a 10, Puri is an 11 and Amanoi is a 15.

Pulo has a nicer beach. The setting of the main pool at Puri is one of the most serene places you can imagine and I love the Thai food there, but overall Amanoi is just incredible. I've never felt so at a home anywhere and the Pavilions and Villas are just spectacular.

The thing that makes Amanoi really special is the setting. The combination of sandy beaches, mountains and spectacular views of the bay and rocky cliffs along the ocean makes it one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. It's an unspoilt and pristine part of the world.

If you want to visit temples and old buildings, Amanoi is not your spot, but if you're looking for soul candy this is the place to go.

Last edited by 5khours; Sep 8, 13 at 7:31 pm
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Old Sep 3, 13, 11:56 pm   #11
  
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Originally Posted by 5khours View Post
OMG! Unbelievable.
Glad to hear it, but that great?

The pictures didn't inspire me in all honesty.
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Old Sep 4, 13, 7:48 am   #12
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Originally Posted by ainternational View Post
Glad to hear it, but that great?

The pictures didn't inspire me in all honesty.
I've learned not to put too much merit into the pictures (especially the pre-opening pictures on the website). Most recently when they have been underwhelming (Amanruya: Those cottages and that furniture are ugly; Amanzoe: It's Greece, where's the water), my stays and the properties have been fantastic. And when they have been great (Amangiri: Wow, that looks AMAZING) my stay and the property was wildly mediocre.

So chalk me up as another who is looking forward to this report. Especially since the resort was not going to be fully opened until October (per the GM), I am curious to see how they are handling this with guests...

Last edited by xracer; Sep 4, 13 at 3:18 pm
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Old Sep 4, 13, 12:26 pm   #13
  
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Originally Posted by xracer View Post
I've learned not to put too much merit into the pictures (especially the pre-opening pictures on the website). Most recently when they have been underwhelming (Amanruya: Those cottages and that furniture are ugly; Amanzoe: It's Greece, where's the water), my stays have been fantastic. And when they have been great (Amangiri - Wow, that looks AMAZING) my stay was wildly mediocre.

So chalk me up as another who is looking forward to this report. Especially since the resort was not going to be fully opened until October (per the GM), I am curious to see how they are handling this with guests...
Totally agree about the Aman photos. Bit like the pre-opening shots of Aman Venice - once you're there, it is extraordinary. I'm waiting until October to stay at Amano'i, when everything is up and running. I hear they are still doing spa training.
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Old Sep 4, 13, 1:17 pm   #14
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I have never been to an Amanresort where I had the feeling that the pictures really do the resort justice. It is just so much better once you are there, even the best pictures cannot capture the whole atmosphere. Still I love looking at pictures or videos or to read reviews of the resorts that I have booked or consider booking, as part of looking forward, and I just cannot wait to hear first impressions from Amanoi.
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Old Sep 4, 13, 3:11 pm   #15
  
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judging by the photos, this is one of the nicest Aman's now! really beautiful design
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