Set on a shaded bank overlooking the Thu Bon River, just a few kilometers inland from the South China Sea and a 30-minute ride from Da Nang, the nearest airport hub, the Life Heritage Resort Hoi An is an outpost of French colonial serenity set beside the vibrant bustle of modern Vietnamese life. Each tableau, exhilarating in its contrast, enhances the other. A five-minute walk from the resort gate lies Hoi An’s Old Town, a 16th century trading port that has retooled itself for 21st century commerce. Along narrow streets and inside ancient shop houses, skilled tailors (famous for quick turnarounds and low prices) vie with various and sundry woodcarvers, cobblers, restaurateurs, and jewelers for consumer attention. The place fairly well crackles with capitalist intensity. And some of the best bargains in Southeast Asia.
Inside the resort gate, just minutes from the whirl of downtown, the pace instantly goes languid amid tropical garden paths and riverside vistas. Each individual accommodation in the 94-room compound is a sanctuary unto itself, spacious and split-level with sleeping quarters above, lounge area below, and private veranda just outside the door. The bathrooms provide still another level of retreat with sunken terrazzo tubs and discreetly positioned windows for maximum natural lighting.
Lost charm, found
The rest of the resort exudes Old World elegance that is far from contrived and, quite frankly, difficult to manufacture. Although the resort had undergone a massive renovation in 2008, the rework of the interiors, undertaken by top hospitality designer Pisani Designs, only sought to recast the property in a more authentic light and allow for more space in the rooms, more light in the baths, bespoke furnishings, and an upgrade that transports the Life Resorts visitor to a more genteel era.
Life Resorts Hoi An’s Heritage Bar celebrates the history of the most exquisitely preserved 19th century trading port in Southeast Asia and provides an outdoor perch on one of the town’s most quaint streets. A series of archival prints explores the town’s past, and cigar aficionados hold court in segregated spaces, seasoned by the finest imports and Life’s commitment to a wine list that does justice to the finest New York hotels.
“Life is what you make of it, and we’re making the most of it on the Thu Bon River,” declared Chris Duffy, general director of the Life Resorts.
In the rooms themselves, the furnishings and design scheme take on a “Tropical Asian Moderne” aesthetic. Life Hoi An’s’s superior rooms, junior suites, and grand suites are adorned in warm shades of oranges, rusts, and browns, all set amid a backdrop of white or light-colored walls, high ceilings, polished wooden floors, and comfortable tropical furniture.
The resort’s signature sunken terrazzo tubs are done in golden brown, a color that accentuates the warm hues of the contemporary Asian art decór.
“These rooms are at the very forefront of Asian style, and our European guests are bound to be remarkably impressed by the contrast between what they’ve left behind and what they’ve slipped into here,” Annette Pisani, managing director of Pisani Designs, had said about the resort’s interiors.
Life Hoi An also invested heavily in discriminating modern Asian art –as well as in the finest beds available and in sofas that, as they say, “look great and feel even better.”
“The scintillation is something else altogether,” Chris Duffy says of the updated Life Resorts experience in Hoi An. “We’ve taken a very popular resort to a whole new level, a whole new dimension of experience.”
Everywhere else outside the resort’s well-appointed rooms, luxurious enjoyment is encouraged out-of-doors. The spa, for instance, is located beside the Horizon Pool at the Thu Bon River’s edge, with al fresco massage and treatment rooms. The superb Senses restaurant, without walls or windows to impede the confluence of evening breeze and soft light, offers a delectable fusion of Asian and Western cuisines that’s sure to tickle even the most discerning palate. The open, riverfront exposure remains the same, but custom furnishings have redefined the ambiance.
At Vienna Café, the ground-floor pastry and light-meal eatery, Old World aesthetics conjure a remarkably different dining experience. But, like the rest of the resort, its tiling and furnishings are fresh and stylish. It’s these little things that leave the lasting sensory impressions: the red-tiled roofs jutting above verdant palms; the inventive cuisine, making optimum use of local produce and culinary traditions; the impossibly wide, impossibly smooth teakwood banisters in the open-air stairwells.
A feast of activities
However tempting Life Resorts Hoi An makes it to stay within the resort’s open but warm embrace, it is certain that the traveler to Vietnam will wish to stay anywhere but indoors. The Life brand’s immersion in Hoi An heritage and culture has made it possible for the resort to offer superlative experiences that are as authentic as they are varied.
Outdoorsy types will enjoy different walking tours through Hoi An’s immortal landmarks—the Cham Imperial City of My Son, the Imperial City of Hue, Marble Mountain, and others. For the more athletic, the resort has made available bicycles that may be used to explore the bustling town, the charming Vietnamese countryside, and even enjoy a “Life” picnic!
To travel in style, take a boat tour from Life Resorts’ own jetty to the beautiful and rejuvenating Cua Dai Beach. For a hint of romance, choose from between the resort’s sunrise cruise, with breakfast, or its sunset cruise, with cocktails, afloat on the tranquil Thu Bon River.
Culture vultures will feel especially at home here, as Hoi An itself plays host to a wide range of activities that are uniquely, authentically rooted. For something a bit more soothing, complimentary Tai Chi classes are available at the resort. More adventurous arts and culture lovers can also try their hand at Vietnamese painting, or in learning some key phrases of the melodic Vietnamese language, tiong Viot.
To the uninitiated, Life Heritage Resort Hoi An offers a delightful surprise to the senses, an intimate entry point into a charming world long lost, now found. To those who have always known and loved this portside town’s many charms, it is an expression of Hoi An’s vibrant, multi-cultured past; its warm and embracing attitude; and its openness toward the future. Very few places offer the happy contradictions that Hoi An does—and for the bargain hunter, the exotic culture vulture, and the indolent poolsider in all of us, it’s all part of the heady mix that has seduced global travelers for centuries.