By: Beate Baldry
Life is full of paradoxes. You’d like to holiday somewhere exciting and non-touristy, yet easily accessible. You’d like to take a break from everyday life, hide away from social media and escape work emails, yet you’d still like Wi-Fi access, just in case. You’d like to go somewhere child-friendly where you can also escape them once (okay, twice) for a spa treat in the knowledge they are being entertained safely. This place does exist…
Con Dao; an archipelago just far enough away to deter the crowds and feel like a bit of an adventure. And once you’re there, the Six Senses resort sweeps you up in its Robinson Crusoe island meets luxury hideaway ambience.
Tip: Catch a flight to the capital Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) and then another 45-minute hop to Con Dao with Vietnam Airlines. As flights leave first thing in the morning, you’ll need to spend the night in Saigon.
Con Son is the largest island of the Con Dao archipelago off the southeast coast of Vietnam. It is also where the Six Senses resort hides. Bag yourself a window seat for the flight and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of what will feel like your own private island. The lush green hills of Con Son are ringed with sand and blue-green waters. Con Dao is a protected national park, so its beauty is fairly intact; and Six Senses supports sustainable eco-tourism.
When to go
The rainy season is at its wettest from July to September, so the best time to visit is from November to May (it’s hottest in April and May). Between May and October you can take a boat trip to Bay Canh Island (Turtle Island) to watch endangered hawksbill turtles lay eggs, or to see baby turtles making a dash for the sea.
The villas are set along the beach, with more further up on the hillside, their silver bark blending with the beach rocks. All villas have sea views and their own private plunge pools. The rooms are beautifully eco-designed and made from local teak. The hilltop villas are split-level, with stunning bathrooms downstairs complete with huge tubs overlooking the sea. The single-storey ocean villas on the beach are similar in design, but are better if you have little kids.
At 80-percent occupancy while we were there, the resort still had a wonderful feeling of calm and quiet – the main swimming pool was often deserted. Being this spread-out calls for comfortable walking shoes, or you can use the complimentary bikes provided at each villa – book ahead for a child’s bicycle seat, as there is only one at the resort. Or call for a buggy to get from your villa to the restaurants and main pool.
Each villa comes with its own butler who can organise trips, make sure you have everything you need (the correct pillow, pool toys, fresh milk for small kids) and help you book special dinners on the beach to earn some brownie points with your other half.
On the far side of the resort under the jungle canopy and looking out to sea is By The Beach where dinner and breakfast are served. And what a mighty fine breakfast it is. Order yourself a Vietnamcino – a cappuccino made with Vietnamese coffee, and survey the market-style cooking stations, each with a chef cooking up a storm. The chicken pho – probably some of the best pho we’ve ever had – has a sweet broth, slippery, springy rice noodles, organic free-range chicken, a bundle of fresh Vietnamese herbs, a squeeze of lime and fresh chilli. The buffet spread includes homemade pastries and breads, a cool-room devoted to freshly cut fruit, cold cuts, cheese, cereals, yoghurts and Bircher muesli. Plus, there’s an à la carte menu offering eggs Benedict, waffles, pancakes or hot oatmeal – a wonderful concoction of rolled oats cooked with soya milk and topped with hazelnuts, currants, freshly cut fruit, yoghurt and brown sugar. Yet another little nook houses a sugar cane pressing machine, and there’s an ice bucket crammed with freshly squeezed juices – pomelo, or a healthy and delicious combination of cabbage, carrot and apple – as well as mango and strawberry smoothies, and the must-try Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk.
There’s a deli for quick bites for lunch and a complimentary ice cream buffet that beckons daily, plus a small restaurant by the bar which serves Vietnamese meals cooked at live stations.
Get a babysitter and enjoy the stunning dinners at By the Beach, under the stars. These are themed and include appetisers, mains and often a dessert buffet. One night there was an impressive sushi spread; another, an international barbecue with trays of lobster, crab, lamb and beef.
What to do
A tantalising variety of trips are available, from an early morning market tour to fishing expeditions, snorkelling, kayaking or diving.
Try a two-and-a-half-hour uphill trek through the forest to the 1883 Bay Canh lighthouse. One of the highest points on Bay Canh Island, the summit offers spectacular views of the archipelago and the South China Sea.
The Con Dao historical prison tour gives a glimpse into the island’s chilling past. It was first established by the French government in 1861 as a penal colony. Prisoners were kept in horrendous conditions, the most notorious being the tiger cages which were kept secret and still used until 1970.
Feed-the-fish golf? Golf pros can practise their swing by taking a hit at special EcoBioBalls from the pier platform. The balls dissolve into fish food within 24 hours.
For cooking novices, there’s a basic cooking course where you can cook alongside a Vietnamese chef, making and eating tasty food like Vietnamese hand rolls.
And then, of course, there’s the spa, where you can while away a good afternoon enjoying holistic and relaxing treatments.
A play room for the kids features giant bean bags, arts and crafts like sand painting and drawing, a large chalk board and some toys for toddlers. Complimentary workshops are run for four-to-12-year-olds, ranging from making paper lanterns to designing T-shirts or kites. Kids aged six to 12 will enjoy pizza-making, beach-critter hunting, volleyball, body-boarding or evening camping (which includes dinner, games and a movie.).
Free stuff you get!
- Morning yoga and meditation
- Homemade ice-cream buffet (11.30am to 4.30pm)
- All meals for children under six
- Kids’ activities
- Kayaking and snorkelling
- Wi-Fi, resort-wide
- CD and DVD rental
Reader offer: Valid for Six Senses Ninh Van Bay and Six Senses Con Dao until 31 October 2014. With a minimum three-night stay, receive a 30-minute complimentary massage, to be taken within 24 hours of arrival. Blackout dates: 30 January to 9 February and 18 to 21 April. This offer can be combined with other standard offers. Booking code: LFEX2014
Lightfoot Travel helped us narrow down the huge array of destinations in Southeast Asia and planned a trip to suit our family needs. This included talking through pros and cons of each option using their first-hand experience. They can cater your trip to your interests for both long and short breaks, including destinations, hotels and restaurants, plus extras like Vespa tours and cooking courses. Lightfoot Travel can also organise skiing holidays and source villas for group holidays. No service fees are charged; instead, they take a commission from the hotels. Call them on 6438 4091 if you fancy it.