HO TRAM, VIETNAM — Sometimes in your travels, you find a place so beautiful, so special, so charming, so unique that you never want to leave. That place for me is the Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort, a lovely little oasis of calm stuck away in this laid-back seaside community about 120km northeast of bustling Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Tram Boutique Resort is a jewel wrapped in a simple package. It has 5-star good looks and 3-star prices.
To describe this property as a Garden of Eden would not be an exaggeration — more an understatement. Adam and Eve would feel right at home here surrounded by trees flush with fruit — mangos, coconuts, durian and jack fruit, to name just a few. The gardens overflow with tropical flowers that perfume the salty air that blows in off Vietnam’s East Sea with a robust scent. The manicured lawns drift off onto a sugary beach that that stretches 1km along a coastline void of high-rise condos and even people most days.
Above: The resort's ponds are filled with lotus flowers and koi and the the air is spiced by rare flowers.
I spend lazy mornings watching local fishermen launch their odd-looking round boats into the choppy surf in hopes of finding the catch of the day. In the evening, those same fishermen return on motorbikes and cast their nets at low tide to snare some tiny fish that become part of the evening meal at the resort’s excellent Al Fresco dining room Gecko.
Ho Tram Boutique Resort has become a weekend getaway for those who work and live in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. And while the resort is located a bit off Vietnam’s well-worn tourist routes, word has spread of its beauty and now Germans, French, American, British and one lucky Canadian have found our way here.
The traditional — even historic — teakwood pavilions that house the resort's well-appointed rooms and villas have all been reassembled here from different parts of Vietnam — north, central and south — so visitors can enjoy a true Vietnamese “home” experience.
The resort’s five villas are most in demand. They come with a private swimming pool and occupy a secluded section of the resort where the lotus ponds, filled with delicate blossoms that awake each morning, are located. Three of the villas offer two-bedroom accommodation, while the others are single-room masterpieces. A large day bed on an open-air terrace next to the pool invites guests to enjoy lazy afternoons away from the blistering sun that canopies Ho Tram most days. The villas’ open-air bathroom, where you can shower outdoors, is a delightful way to start a day.
Above: The secluded villas, left, and sea-view rooms are the most popular at Ho Tram Beach Resort.
Sixty-three bungalows fan out around the rest of the resort and the sea view and beach front rooms are favoured by long-stay European guests. The Garden View rooms are set up for family stays and are rarely empty.
Despite the resort’s remote location, every villa and room comes with free WiFi and luxury bedding and toiletries.
The family-run resort is staffed by 200 locals, who greet you every morning with a shy smile and spend the rest of their day catering to your every whim. The resort features two large pools, one with a children’s slide that overflows with laughter, and an adult saltwater pool that is cleaned out every day to make sure guests are treated to the freshest water.
If the resort’s environmental splendour and luxury trappings can’t get you to wind down, the six-room spa certainly will. Staffed by experienced therapists, who perform traditional Asian massages in a facility equal to any 5-star hotel, I enjoy 90-minute treatment that cost only $58 (Cdn), but I feel like a million dollars afterwards.
For those looking to experience a bit of local life, the nearby town of Bato should satisfy your curiosity. Ho Tram Resort’s free shuttle delivers me there early in the morning and I mingle with the farmers and fishermen, who display their products on narrow, crowded streets. By 9 a.m., the sun hangs high in the sky over Bato and an oppressive heat envelopes the little town, so it’s good the shuttle returns a few hours later to collect me.
Above: Resort staff is friendly and efficient and there's lots of reminders of Vietnam's ancient past.
There’s plenty of other attractions in and around Ho Tram and the resort offers excursions to:
Minh Dam Mountain: It served as a military base for the Viet Cong during their wars with the French and Americans and features lots of natural caves where the liberation troops waited to pounce on their enemies.
Monkey pagoda: Located on nearby Ky Van Mountain, the old pagoda is home to over 200 monkeys that are not camera shy and love being fed fruit.
Dinh Co Temple: It’s located in Long Hai town and is sacred to the people living in this area.
Phuoc Hai fishing village: Here you can buy the fish plucked from the East Sea a few hours earlier and meet the lovely people who count on the sea to survive.
Jesus Christ statue: The 32m-high statue is a holdover from Vietnam’s colonial days and sits 136m above sea level at the top of Small Mount.
Leaving the environmental splendour that surrounds this paradise, though, even for a short time, will be difficult to do.
Above: Fishermen comb the resort's pristine beach looking for the daily catch to wash ashore.
JUST THE FACTS
• Rates at the Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort are very reasonable and start around $190 (Cdn) a night in high season. For information, go to http://www.hotramresort.com
• The resort offers transportation from Ho Chi Minh Airport direct to the property, a drive of 2.5 hours.
• Vietnam Airlines offers direct flights from Vancouver to Ho Chi Minh City.
• Tour East Holidays (http://www.toureast.com) offers many tailor made tours to Vietnam.