Inspired by luxury

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The Nam Hai resort is inspired by old northern Vietnamese houses..

The Nam Hai, the luxury beach resort in Hoi An, was inspired by old northern houses.

Last Friday I checked into a large villa there in the late afternoon.

The 100 villas there reminded me of the opulent houses of wealthy merchants and mandarins of the past. Two sides comprise almost entirely of tall doors that open on to a private garden and the beach, and their roofs are made of coconut thatch with tiles atop them.

Inside, it has the typical coolness of a traditional house made of natural materials. There is a fine selection of handmade products from around Vietnam - such as dark wooden walls, stone floors, wooden carved screens, a lacquer and eggshell bathtub, silk cushions, and decorative bamboo bowls.

The vibrant colors of bronze lamps and candleholders and eggshell-lacquer decorations provide a counterpoint to the dark shades of the wood and stone and the villa's Zen-like atmosphere.

With many windows to go along with the doors, guests can enjoy nature from anywhere inside the villa. The sun and surf are pervasive.

But when you close the doors and draw the bamboo blinds, you are transported back in time.

A latticed wooden screen on either side of the sleeping area diffuses natural light, creating resonance a mysterious atmosphere of light and shade.

The Nam Hai has 100 villas, of which 40 overlook the pool, with one to five bedrooms. It has won a number of awards including the 2010 Top Dream Business Destinations from the Lonely Planet and BBC Travel, the 2011 Top 20 Resorts in Asia, The Readers Choice Awards from Conde Nast Traveler US, and Travel "A" list from Harper's Bazaar UK.

The Nam Hai
Hamlet 1, Dien Luong Village, Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province
Tel: (0510) 3 940 000

It is not as if there are no modern gizmos. At night, an automatic light comes on whenever you pass by a sensor; a large flat screen TV next to the bed in the middle of the villa can be maneuvered 360 degrees.

The bed itself, set high on a stone platform, is surrounded by while silk curtains hanging from roof to floor. It would not be out of place in a royal palace.

There are two bathrooms, one indoors and one in the garden, next to a stone Hindu-Buddhist Apsara statute from the Champa era.

I dragged myself out of the luxurious villa with its plush sofas to check out the spa located in the center of a small lotus lake, a vegetable garden, and a library.

There are classes to teach guests how to make Hoi An lanterns, conical hats, kites, traditional embroidery, and Vietnamese cuisine. For wellness, the resort offers meditation and yoga.

And flavors

The next day, I spoke to Florian Eberhardt, the executive sous chef of the resort's Beach restaurant next to the beach and outdoor pool.

This German came to Hoi An four months ago from Bangkok where he worked at the Ma Maison restaurant which serves the Thai King.

He said Beach serves Vietnamese and Mediterranean-food, two cuisine cultures that promote the richness of natural ingredients and flavors.

Florian says he always uses local ingredients. The Nha Trang lobster is even better than its renowned Boston cousin, he says. He likes the concepts of Vietnamese cooking with its varied use of herbs, Ngu Vi Huong (five spices), and interesting dishes.

For lunch I opted for chilled gazpacho (tomato, capsicum, onion, cucumber, garlic) from Spain; Mediterranean, or Italian grilled vegetable (kalamata olives, artichokes, feta cheese, hummus, smoked eggplant, pita bread); and the grilled catch of the day (salmon with rocket salad and lemon).

The best was the Mediterranean, which was really four different foods on one plate.

Sated, I hurried back to the villa to bask in some more luxury.

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