DOSE co-founder Shara takes a break from the daily London grind for a culinary awakening in Vietnam…
Anyone who knows me, knows about my obsession with Asian food. My Indian heritage means that my freezer is always well-stocked with home-made curries and i’ve never been known to be defeated by a plate of noodles. In search of some winter sun and Saigon rolls, I escape the dreary English winter and board a plane to Vietnam.
With so much to see in two weeks, my partner and I decide to cram in five locations, back-packer style, including: Saigon, Hoi An, Han Oi, Halong Bay and Phú Quốcc. Vietnam is known to be cold in the north with a much warmer all-year round climate in the south, meaning it’s virtually impossible to pack for – especially when you’re confined to hand-luggage. Each city has it’s own charm and unique culture. Highlights include lantern-filled night markets in Hoi An and aromatic egg coffees in Saigon. I take on the challenge to see (and eat) as much as humanly possible in this first week. But touring these bustling cities at such pace is exhausting, not to mention unforgiving on the waist-line. By week two, I am relived to make it to the beach island of Phú Quốc for some sunbathing and wellness.
On touching down we are greeted with 30 degrees sunshine which makes a change from the autumnal temperatures in the North. It’s also much less hectic than any place we have visited in Vietnam to date. We check into Sol Beach House, a mere 15 minutes from the airport, which couldn’t be further from my mind on stepping out onto the balcony to view possibly the best sunset to be found anywhere on the island.
What looks like a built-up modern hotel block in a rural forest, turns out to be a stunning oasis nestled in beautiful gardens that leads onto Truong Beach. The rooms are spacious and clean, with a full timetable of active offerings. Now we’re talking. In true healthy hedonist fashion, I pour a Saigon beer from the mini bar, take a seat on the balcony and review the complimentary Body & Sol timetable.
The next three days are filled with sleep, great food and plenty of time relaxing by the infinity swimming pool that is surrounded by hammocks and Bali beds. The hotel offers daily activities in a pick-and-mix format that you can experience at your leisure. From snorkelling and paddle-boarding to yoga and tai-chi, I try everything on offer. There’s also the option to mingle with other guests and create a team for football, volleyball and ping-pong on the beach.
For those that want to work out solo, there’s an indoor gym situated next door to the breakfast buffet. I have no shame in attempting my own personal HIIT session designed and whatsapped over from personal trainer Alice Rickard, just before I hit the buffet for (let’s be honest) a 3-course breakfast (in my sweaty gym gear). This happens most days with or without the workout. I start each round with a Vietnamese breakfast followed by pancakes, eggs and avocado (of course) and some fresh exotic fruit. What is it about hotel breakfast buffets that make you eat three times more than usual – or is it just me?
I usually like to escape a hotel to find local favourites nearby but the hotel food is so good, I find myself dining in one of the three restaurants for almost every meal bar one. I recommend the Summer rolls at the beach restaurant followed by Bun Cha (my new favourite Vietnamese dish). You can enjoy fresh Mediterranean style seafood on the beachfront.
Sol Beach House is a world away from Vietnam’s hustle and provides the perfect opportunity to really relax and reset after a week battling the hectic crowds. If you fancy a real cleanse, this hotel also offers personalised detox programmes combing juice cleansing, holistic treatments, yoga classes and massages.
Back in Saigon, I regret not extending my stay in Phú Quốcc, but I am a sucker for a flight deal. For the final two nights, I check into the Renaissance Riverside Hotel and head up to the deluxe river room on the 15th floor. The panoramic views of the Saigon River do not disappoint.
I decide against running around the city being lured into tourist traps as I did on my way in, and ask a local this time. The concierge soon becomes my right arm and makes it his mission to help me discover authentic local experiences. He knows exactly what to recommend and tells me how to get there via Uber. You can chose from a traditional motorbike (in the madness) or a regular car. I go with the motorbike option that turns out to be a hair-raising experience, but thrilling nonetheless.
Nearby authentic Vietnamese recommendations include Song Ngu, Con Ga Trong and Elisa Floating Restaurant where you can dine alfresco under the twinkling stars and glittering lights and take in some of the best city views from a wooden sky deck. I head to Cục Gạch Quán, one of the more popular Vietnamese restaurants in the city.
For a sun-downer back at the hotel, you can choose between the relaxing Atrium Lounge, the open air Liquid Sky Bar with rooftop pool or the trendy Rbar on the ground floor. After a few weeks in Vietnam, I am very happy to swap a beer for a glass of delicious Malbec. It’s very difficult to get good wine in Vietnam (FYI) so this comes as a pleasant surprise.
Back in London, my obsession with all things Vietnamese leads me to a hidden away supper club in East London. Along with Jamie Oliver, I have been a regular ever since.
Sol Beach House
Duc Viet Tourist Area Zone 1, Bai Truong Complex, Duong To Commune Phu Quoc, Phú Quốc, tỉnh Kiên Giang 920000, Vietnam
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Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon
8-15 Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
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