Historic Hoi An, the Vietnamese town famed for its 300-plus tailor shops, had hovered on the fringes of my awareness for years. It’s been there for centuries, but was the type of secondary destination you’d tag on to a bigger one, like Ho Chi Minh City. So when direct flights between its sister city Danang and Bangkok were launched recently, this quaint little fishing town suddenly became an easy weekend trip from Bangkok.
The top choice to stay here is the fabulous Four Seasons Hoi An, which I’d heard of for years under its previous name The Nam Hai. I’d also recently heard someone gush over it in slobbery tones – a promising starting point when deciding where to go. By coincidence I came across a random travel article highlighting the fabulosity of the Four Seasons Hoi An, also in slobbery tones, and reader, I was halfway there.
We landed at Danang airport to find that it was very new, very modern, and looked a lot like Bangkok airport, with less people and traffic. It felt weirdly as if we’d left Thailand only to arrive straight back at Bangkok airport again 90 minutes later.
Thankfully the landscape changed as we headed towards Hoi An, and after passing through the well-ordered, tidy city of Danang, a majestic marble mountain, and rows of teeny tiny Vietnamese roadside cottages, we arrived at the resort’s imposing gates. The hotel limo glided into lush grounds where curvy paths wound through thick hedges. The guest villas nestled quietly among the gardens, all facing a vast, pristine beach.
Four Seasons is all about understated elegance and fantastic service, and here everything is so subtle, the luxury slowly unfolds and coddles you in a series of layered experiences.
If you’re looking for privacy, this is the place. The villas are so discreet, with room numbers placed in the garden, low to the ground, and barely visible (especially at night). The gorgeous, red silk tassel keys are so understated, they don’t even have room numbers on them. All the villas and manicured paths look exactly the same. So if you aren’t paying attention, awkward things could happen. One day I was struggling to get into my room, when a frowning man opened the door from inside to glare at me jostling my keys in (his) door handle. Oops.
Our first experience on arrival was a crystal singing bowl session at the Heart of the Earth Spa. We lay in the open-air pavilion while the practitioner rang the bowls and sang a soft, slow lullaby. Crystal bowl vibes wafted all around us and outward, merging with the birdsong and whispering leaves in the surrounding garden. We lay in the sound bath of crystal singing bowls and nature. It was a simple and lovely way to unwind.
Next was the mysterious Good Night Kiss To The Earth at sunset at the spa. We didn’t know what to expect and were curious. We were told to each write a thank you letter to the earth and then float our letters onto the lake, where they would later sink to the bottom and into the earth. I emptied my mind and started jotting down the things I felt thanks for (my loved ones, my home, my garden), and suddenly became a gushing well of gratitude for everything good in my life.
I was still scribbling away when the spa manager told us time was up. I was even surprised to see Mr. Barefoot scribbling as much as I was (he is not the type who does Feely Stuff like write Thank You Notes To The Earth).
We launched our notes on the lake in festive little candle-lit paper boats, and the spa receptionist brought us snacks and a blanket to sit on as we watched them flicker away on the dark water. It was surprisingly fun, and reminded me of the Thai festival Loy Krathong, when we float candle-lit floral offerings on the river at night. I really did feel connected to a Universal Spirit or Something Out There, and felt more light-hearted afterwards. (because positive actions generate positive energy!).
We started each day with a beach walk from our villas to breakfast at Café Nam Hai, whose polished black interiors were a welcome respite from the bright sun outside. Along with the international buffet we eagerly sampled traditional Vietnamese breakfast, discovering local noodles like the famous local chewy noodles Cau Lau and the ever popular Pho.
The beach here is stunning. There aren’t many places you can find a beach so vast, and so gloriously unsullied like this one, and were usually the only people on the entire beach. From here we could see the distant cityscape of Danang (the third largest city in Vietnam after Saigon and Hanoi!), and appreciate how very pristine our beach was.
Next day was the hotel’s guided tour of Hoi An, starting with first things first – the Banh Mi Vietnamese sandwich shop made famous in Anthony Bourdain’s travel food show, and mentioned in every guide to Hoi An.
The unpretentious shop was tiny and cramped, the queues flowed into the street, and the service was incredibly fast. We were in and out with our fresh, delicious Banh Mi sandwiches in minutes, and munched on the delightfully crisp French bread and savoury meats on the street, among the tourists taking selfies brandishing their sandwiches beneath the photo of Anthony Bourdain. Later our guide showed us the original shop, a market stall that was completely empty compared to the clamouring throng at the newer, famous shop.
Hoi An town was much bigger than I expected, packed with herds of Chinese and Korean tour groups who roamed the streets in rickshaw caravans and snapped selfies of themselves in Vietnamese cone hats. Colourful street lanterns made for a festive atmosphere, but eventually the heat and my bad knee became too much for me. I was starting to limp, so we ditched our plan to have dinner in town, and stocked up on more tasty Banh Mis to take back to our nice, serene villas.
Next was a day of wellness at the Heart of the Earth Spa, with its myriad spa treatments and holistic healing therapies, based on the nature-connection teachings of Vietnam’s world-famous monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has a global following of millions.
I happily surrendered to the signature Nam Hai Earth Song, a luxurious 90-minute treatment featuring a luscious a rose petal bath in a lake pavilion, followed by an aromatherapy oil massage and vibrational healing with a tuning fork and crystal bowls.
Four Seasons hosts a yearly roster of visiting holistic practitioners at its various resorts, and I was recommended the Intuitive Reiki session with visiting practitioner Shaylini from the UK. I was hoping the energy healing might help ease the knee pain that had been bothering me. After the session I asked if she’d sensed the problem with my knee during her Reiki scan.
To my surprise, Shaylini said she’d found energy blocks in my throat, rather than the knee, and asked if there was something I wasn’t expressing or keeping bottled inside. It made me realize that yes, there were things I wasn’t voicing with certain people in my life, which was giving me huge stress. I held all my tension in my neck and jaw. (Massage therapists often told me my neck muscles were extremely tense). Shaylini said she had released the blocked energy in the throat, and that I might feel less tense after this. Wow. I was fascinated by her insightful observations.
Next day the knee pain seemed slightly better, and back at home a week later, I suddenly noticed that the chronic knee pain and limp that bothered me for months had gently dissipated and was gone! Amazingly, I could easily walk and bend my knee normally again!
I’m sure it was the total holistic effect of the massage, vibrational healing with crystal bowls and tuning fork and Shalini’s Reiki energy healing that brought about the full and rapid recovery, and I’m very thankful for the healing.
On our last morning we joined the cooking class, starting at 8 a.m. with a trip to a local farm where our chef instructor led us through the fields, showing us herbs and vegetables. Chewing herbs plucked straight off the plant, I marveled at how pungent and even spicy they were, compared to the bland greens I usually ate that had been packaged, shipped, and refrigerated for days before arriving on a plate in the city.
After learning the ancient art of making fresh spring roll wrappers on a clay oven, it was back to the elegant Nam Hai Cooking Academy to chop, dice, mix, cook, and eat our lunch of spring rolls, Vietnamese papaya salad, sautéed morning glory, pork meatballs and noodles.
We noticed that Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings were integral to the resort experiences. His books were placed in the villas among the Tibetan singing bowl and aromatherapy oils, and his quotes were on the turndown gift bookmarks placed on the beds each night.
I came out of my long spa session to find Mr. Barefoot lounging among silk cushions on the fabulous opium bed in his room, listening to Thich Nhat Hanh on YouTube. Mr. Barefoot (who is not a woke guy and normally shows zero interest in monks) was captivated with the teacher’s simple wisdom and philosophy of ‘Inter-Being’, and especially with Thich Nhat Hanh’s soothing manner of speech.
“His voice is amazing! So soothing and calm! Listen, this is what he sounds like!” enthused Mr. Barefoot, and started reading the spa menu to me in a whispery, stilted voice.
“Lym. Phat. Tic. Drain. Age. Ma. Ssage”, he cooed, in dulcet tones.
For the rest of our stay, we tried to be mindful of Thich Nhat Han’s Inter-Being teachings, becoming more aware of our connection to earth and nature and other living beings in our daily activities. We talked to each other in the whispery, flowery tones of the Zen Master, quoting him whenever we came across something especially beautiful, like a stunning beach sunset.
“We. Are. Here!” we murmured into the ocean wind, communicating with the earth forces around us.
“We. Are. One. With. Youuuu”, we whispered haltingly at the glorious sunset, standing like tiny dots on the magnificent, deserted beach.
We left feeling very One with the resort (or feeling ‘Inter-Are’, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say). I love how we came away with an unexpected, newfound knowledge of Thich Nhat Hanh and his teachings. Later I realized we’d only skimmed the surface of Hoi An town and hadn’t even been inside a tailor shop. What a good reason to come back again.
Have you been to Hoi An, Vietnam? What was your favourite thing there?