A brief sojourn at the Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh

No 3, Vol.10 , September  -  October 2015

Photos: Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh

A dreamy river hugging the base of towering limestone shards of mountains. A bamboo boat drifting through reed beds and pink lotus with father and son casting a fishing net. The blue and orange flash of a kingfisher skimming across the waters. Rice hay strewn out to dry across country lanes. Lines of ducks wading among verdant rice paddies. Then, a resort hotel that pays homage to the traditional architecture of this region and may indeed, with its woodwork, tiling and brickwork, be helping to keep it alive. The moment you see the magnificent reception area in the form of the lofty gates of the Hue Purple Forbidden City at the Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh, you know you have arrived at a place oozing with traditional Vietnamese culture. It was only an hour and forty-five minutes’ drive south of Hanoi to find this five-star getaway set in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Photos: Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh

The rooms at Emeralda from the outside look like country cottages. They are arranged with their own verandas in courtyard clusters; some around a small central swimming pool. The entrance to each cluster is a replica of a village gate. Each room has its own small private garden, but outside each cluster is a separate themed garden, such as bamboo and jackfruit. Whilst everything inside is as modern and luxurious as one can get, the Tonkinese flavour is maintained with wooden rafters and beams above, red tiled flooring and an oriental tapestry above the bed. My 50-square-metre Superior room was luxury enough, but if you need more space and a larger outside walled garden with an open-air shower and doors with wooden latches, try the Deluxe Room. There are also family duplexes with, as the name implies, two floors with separate sleeping areas for Mum and Dad and the kids as well as a private balcony and terrace overlooking the lush gardens and spectacular mountains.
A large building holds a spa and fitness centre as well as something I never thought I would see in Vietnam-a heated indoor swimming pool. There is an outdoor pool, too, but the throng of Vietnamese families I saw were happier indoors, although my visit was on warm summer days. Sensibly, they try to keep out of the sun. Only mad dogs (if they were allowed) and Englishmen like me would swim outdoors by preference. The kid's play area has facilities housed in gaily-painted, thatched rondavels. Maybe there is a Tonkinese minority which lives in such houses, but I thought they looked distinctly African. Completing the leisure facilities, there is a games room and library.

Photos: Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh

I can testify, too, to the sumptuousness of the food at this hotel. Breakfast in the Sen Restaurant with a décor of wooden furnishing and wooden carvings was a lavish affair, with all you could imagine from Western or Tonkinese morning cuisine. Being a southerner in Vietnamese terms I have to say, however, I was missing my ‘Hu tieu’ soup.
In the evening, I found myself at a table in the ‘Organics Restaurant’. This serves both Western (particularly French) and Asian dishes a la carte. For company, there was General Manager Mr Eric Hardinsyah, Front Office Manager Mr Khanh, and the chef who had prepared a special meal, mixing choice elements of both Vietnamese and French cuisines. The table was set with bread rolls and butter. For starters were crispy brown spring rolls. Main dishes were mouth-watering, pan-fried sea bass and succulent pieces of tender chicken breast. There was also a Vietnamese omelette which, fluffy and with herbs, looked for all the world to me like a French omelette. I remarked so. Mr Khanh explained there was no danger of breaching European food labelling here, as the eggs had been laid by a Vietnamese hen, making it a genuine Vietnamese omelette. All was quaffed down by glasses of draught beer.
If you are here on weekends, another eating option is the Vietnamese Market. This replicates the atmosphere of old-time markets where hawkers sold their traditional specialty dishes such as sweet soups, noodle soups, grilled pork and sticky rice. Elegant vendor ladies will serve you from countrified booths made of wood, bamboo and thatch.
The resort occupies a very large piece of land. A fishing lake and eighteen-hole grass mini-golf course is around the same area as that of the gardens and buildings. However, getting around is easy, as there are buggies and the free use of bicycles.
It was by bicycle that I had a wonderful experience which I can heartily recommend to you. An hour or two before dusk, accompanied by management, I rode out to explore the countryside. A young lady from reception who is a native of the nearby village acted as our guide. After a few hundred metres, the road ends at the embankment that borders the Van Long nature reserve. There is a wharf here with bamboo boats at anchor. You can hire one which will take you out to a cavern. Early morning is perhaps the best time and they typically charge VND100,000. If you are lucky, you may see deer or the endemic and critically endangered Delacour langur monkeys. Take your binoculars if are an ornithologist. We rode along the dike for several kilometres, soaking up the views of river and limestone cliffs on one side and rice paddies on the other. We stopped to look at a couple of picturesque lone pagodas on the way. Then our guide led us into her village, where we stopped by the church for refreshment of ‘bia hoi’ (draught beer) and sugar cane juice. Then it was back to the resort, completing a full circle. It was an exhilarating experience both for the eyes and for the spirit.
At times, most feel the need to escape to the peace of the country. The Emeralda, redolent as she is with Vietnamese art, architecture, and history, really relaxes you, taking you back to an idealised Vietnam of former, less-hurried times. You can just laze by the pool or be active in leisure pursuits that cater to the entire family. This is no isolated tourist trap resort. Some of Vietnam's most stunning scenery is all around it. You can readily get back to nature here whilst still enjoying five-star luxury and fine dining both Asian and European. My recommendation to dear readers who may be tired of the madding crowd is this: get on your bike and get down to Ninh Binh and for a place to stay there it would be hard for sure to beat the ‘Emeralda’!n

Emeralda Resort Ninh Binh
Van Long Nature Reserve,Gia Van Commune,Gia Vien Dist.,Ninh Binh Province
Tel: (030) 3658-333
Email: info@emeraldaresort.com

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