Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.
Last April & May, I enjoyed a great holiday in Vietnam, where some resorts far exceeded my sky-high expectations (and rank among the best hotels I have ever stayed at). You can read my trip reports here:
Today (August 9, 2017): Review of Six Senses Ninh Van Bay (Vietnam).
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay enjoys a spectacular setting in a dramatic bay that gives the feeling of being on an exclusive private island resort in the East Vietnam Sea. Impressive rock formations, a coral reef, a golden sand beach, a playful stream and the towering mountains behind, all add to the sense of being luxuriously at one with nature. The spa resort presents the reality of the destination, with an architectural style incorporating traditions of Vietnam. The 59 superb accommodations – done in Six Senses signature eco-chic design – are all personal villas with private plunge pools. The restaurants at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay serve international and local favourites plus East meets West specialties complemented by the best local seafood.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay features in my top 10 lists of the most spectacular hotel bathrooms in the world, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and the best luxury hotels in Vietnam.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Six Senses Ninh Van Bay enjoys one of the most magnificent hotel settings on earth. The resort is located in a dramatic bay, at the end of a lush, mountainous peninsula, across the water from the busy holiday-resort town of Nha Trang in southern Vietnam. The crescent-shaped cove features a long stretch of gold sand beach and is backed by towering mountains clad in jungle vegetation, giving the feel of being on a private island and adding to the sense of being intimately at one with nature. Impressive rock formations on both sides of the beach overlook the East Vietnam Sea.
- The resort provides the ultimate seclusion as it is accessible only by water. Getting there is not difficult, although it does require a bit of a journey. From the nearest international airport (Cam Ranh), it takes 60-minutes by resort car – which has onboard WiFi – to the Six Senses jetty. Nha Trang – the closest town to Ninh Van Bay – is only 15 minutes away from the jetty. From the boat dock, it is a 20-minute scenic boat ride to resort itself with snacks being served onboard. The shared speed boat ride departs according to a fixed schedule, but you will never have to wait very long and the resort has a small lounge near the jetty where you can wait in all comfort for the boat departure.
- Despite being massive in scale, the resort has a simple and convenient layout. The central area on the beach near the jetty features a bar (which also functions as the welcome pavilion upon arrival), the activity center, an open-air lobby, several boutique shops, one of the 3 restaurants (‘Dining By The Pool’), and the main pool. The southern slopes of Six Senses Ninh Van Bay are home to the resort’s main dining venue (‘Dining By The Bay’), which is an enormous, fairytale-like, ocean-front, wooden complex that also houses a sunset bar, kid’s club and play room. Hidden in the northern hills and only reachable by 100+ precipitous steps, you’ll find the resort’s signature restaurant, Dining By The Rocks. The villa accommodations are tucked away in various locations along the rocky peninsula.
- The resort is a mind-blowing masterpiece of eco-friendly design, reflecting Six Senses’ signature chic style. The rustic, understated and elegant interiors blend perfectly with the subtropical outdoors and exude an ambience of tranquility and a Robinson Crusoë-esque lifestyle. All hotel buildings, including the villa accommodations, are built using local materials (e.g. wood, bamboo and stone), topped with a palm-leaf roof, decked out in stylish bright cushions, and decorated with simple but chic and sometimes funky furniture. This is barefoot luxury at its best, albeit in a low-key and environmentally conscious way.
- There are 59 beautiful thatched and spacious villa accommodations that will take your breath away. They all come with gorgeous wooden interiors and private outdoor plunge pools. There are several villa categories according to the location: some are set on the hill with views across the bay, several are dotted along the beach, while others are built into the rocks with steps straight down into the sea. During my holiday, I stayed in a two-level beachfront pool villa, which provided generous personal space with its own garden, plunge pool and direct access to the sandy shore. The ground floor featured a master bedroom with an absolutely stunning en-suite bathroom (more on that below). The upper floor featured a shaded, open-sided living area with brightly cushioned sofas. The villa embodied the perfect Robinson Crusoe hideaway, albeit a modern version with all kind of technologies present to meet the comforts of nowadays travelers, such as flat-screen TV, DVD player, coffeemaker, minibar, wine cellar, A/C (bedroom only), complimentary WiFi, and safe.
- The stunning bathrooms at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay deserve a separate mention as they rank among my favorite hotel bathrooms in the world. Most bathrooms are semi-open-air spaces, with both indoor- and outdoor showers, and feature a rustic, somewhat antique decor with bamboo railings, whitewashed walls, thickly cushioned teak day beds, and two separate copper sinks on wooden vanities. The bathrooms’ eyecatchers are the freestanding, beautiful handcrafted wooden bathtubs. In line with Six Senses’ ecofriendly policy, plant-based natural toiletries in ceramic jars are provided to all guests.
- Set amidst the luscious greenery and granite stone synonymous with the Ninh Van peninsula, the three-bedroom ‘hilltop reserve’ is most exclusive villa in the resort, providing families and groups with an unparalleled 180-degree westward view of the bay, Nha Trang city and the adjacent mountains. Arrival at the villa – which comes with a large living area and dining room – is along a winding path through granite boulders and jungle. The villa’s oversized, climate-controlled infinity pool is the resort’s largest offered in a villa, at 818 square feet (76 square meters) stretched beside the sun deck designed to welcome up to 10 sunbathers.
- The expansive resort grounds behind the beach are well maintained yet retain a wild feel reminiscent of an untouched virgin jungle. Winding paths, roped walkways, and small bridges over picturesque creeks invite you for some exploration of the thick forest, with the sound of the emerald ocean and birdsong as a constant backdrop. Because the resort grounds are so spread out, guests get bikes for the duration of their stay, or can make use of complimentary buggy service.
- As already mentioned above, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay features three excellent restaurants, which offer memorable dining experiences. Located alongside the main swimming pool, the barefoot Dining By The Pool restaurant features an open kitchen and serves international and Vietnamese dishes during the day, while it occasionally opens at night for themed buffets. The hilltop Dining By The Rocks, which specializes in contemporary fusion dining, is the resort’s special-occasion eatery; it features an outdoor space with a wooden deck offering breathtaking sea views, in addition to an intimate indoor space that can also doubles as a wedding chapel. The main restaurant, Dining By The Bay, features a varied menu and spans over two levels with open views across the bay. The ambience downstairs is cozy with a bamboo ceiling, whereas the upstairs with its high thatched roof offers an al fresco dining experience. Adjacent to Dining by the Bay is a cozy bar, furnished with an assortment of relaxing daybeds and bar stools, that offers stunning views of the sunset and remains open until the last guest leaves.
- The delicious buffet breakfast is served at Dining By The Bay and offers a wide and impressive spread of fresh tropical fruit, cereals, juices, sparkling wine, breads, pastries, and local specialities in addition to a temperature controlled room with cheeses and cold meats, plus live food stations where hot dishes (e.g. eggs, pancakes, waffles) are freshly prepared.
- The fantastic spa – a sanctuary for all the senses – is tucked away in the jungle up the hills and features an all-wood interior design. It is accessed via some step stones over a lovely pond. Traditional Vietnamese therapies and Six Senses signature treatments and customized detox programs are available to suit every individual guest’s needs. In addition to the eco-rustic treatment rooms where you will feel at one with nature, the spa is equipped with yoga pavilions, a gymnasium and spa retail gallery. This is thé place to have a massage since the Six Senses brand is word-famous for its spa treatments (the company manages 28 luxury spas around the globe).
- The resort’s crescent-shaped, one-mile long (1,6 km) beach is composed of fine, gold-coloured sand. It’s perfectly safe to swim here in the delightfully warm sea. The narrow strip of sand is lined by thick tropical vegetation, so most of the beach villas are out of sight. In addition to the sunbeds that dot the beach and which belong to the beachfront pool villas, there’s a small beach club near the private wooden jetty, with a couple of loungers under natural thatch parasols; towels and sunscreen are provided. Behind the beach club is a large swimming pool that’s surrounded by padded sunbeds and wraps around the Dining By The Pool restaurant, although you will never find many guests here since each villa is equipped with its own private plunge pool.
- The resort is managed by Six Senses, a hotel and spa management company that currently comprises 11 resorts and 28 spas under the brand names Six Senses, Evason and Six Senses Spas. Six Senses was recently awarded the title of world’s best hotel brand by the prestigious Travel & Leisure magazine. The company operates resorts in far-flung locations of incredible natural beauty that are known for their distinctive design and wellness programs. The brand was founded by Sonu Shivdasani, the CEO of Soneva (my favorite hotel brand in the world), and although Soneva and Six Senses now flourish independently, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay’s design and setting resembles the Soneva resorts in the Maldives (Soneva Fushi) and Thailand (Soneva Kiri).
- Besides Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Six Senses also manages two other resorts in Vietnam: Six Senses Con Dao, which is located in a gorgeous archipelago a 40 min flight south of Ho Chi Min City, and Evason Ana Mandara, which is the only beachfront property in downtown Nha Trang. All three properties are highly recommended (although Evason Ana Mandara is not as luxurious as the other two), but if you are short on time, then put Six Senses Ninh Van Bay on top of your bucket list since it is the best resort among the 3 Vietnamese Six Senses properties.
- As with every Six Senses resort, each villa has its own Guest Experience Maker (GEM) or butler, who is on call 24 hours a day. This guarantees an exceptional level of service during your stay.
- Sustainability is on top of the resort’s agenda with numerous practices to minimize negative and embrace positive impacts. The eco-friendly policy focuses on energy efficiency, water and waste management, social commitment, protecting natural surroundings, air quality and noise control. For example, the resort has its own organic garden that grows herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers, for use in the incense-fragranced spa as well as the restaurants.
- There’s a deli corner next to the Dining By The Pool’s open kitchen, which features an ice-cream parlor with unlimited and complimentary scoops for all guests (during daylight hours only).
- Outdoor movie screenings can be enjoyed on the private beach. The cinema operates twice a week (weather permitting).
- Six Senses Ninh Van Bay not only offers the perfect location for relaxation, but its proximity to Nha Trang and its prime position in a calm and sheltered bay, means that you can enjoy many activities and excursions on water and on land. The Experience Center near the arrival jetty offers activities which range from scuba, paddle boarding, hobiecat sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, wake boarding, fun tube, fishing trips and boat charters. There also a nice reef in front of the resort which is great for snorkeling.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is without any doubt one of the most exclusive and magnificent resorts in Vietnam and Asia. The low-key but high-style resort features an incredible setting, fabulous villa accommodations, wonderful spa, amazing restaurants, and top-notch service. It would be very hard to dislike to the exceptional resort, but there are a few things you need to know when booking a stay here:
- The transfer by road and speedboat to the resort from Nha Trang’s international Cam Ranh Airport takes around 90 minutes, and although it’s convenient (with even WiFi onboard the car), the transfer is not included in room rate. At the moment, Cam Ranh Airport transfer fee to/from the resort by shared minivan or car and speed boat is charged at $45 USD per person per way.
- Due to the architecture and the set-up of the resort, with many stairs to negotiate in certain areas, stays for very young children and physically challenged people are not recommended in hill top pool villas, water pool villas, rock pool villas, and the rock retreat. If you have difficulties walking, I advise you to book a single level, beachfront villa.
- The resort grounds are very spread out and the ultra-secluded hill top villas are a fair way out, but bicycles and golf buggies are always available.
- The food and spa treatments are expensive for Vietnam, but not expensive when compared to other 5 star hotels in the region.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 9,5/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting best deal at a luxury hotel like Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Book a room at the cheapest price and/or receive many free perks!
- Save money: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD food & beverage credit).
- If you have difficulties walking, I advise you to book a single level, beachfront villa, since most other villa types can only be accessed via stairs.
- The resort’s most expensive villa types, water pool villas, have with wooden steps leading directly to the sea and are an excellent launch pad for snorkelling enthusiasts.
- Booking one of the 35 Beachfront Pool Villas is a good choice since these accommodations were refurbished in 2016, with refreshed interiors sporting lighter toned furnishings for a more modern and lighter feel.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Like most of Southeast Asia, Vietnam varies from warm to very hot throughout the whole year. There are four annual seasons: cool and dry between November and February; (very) hot and dry between March and May; hot and wet between June and August; and cool and wet between September and early November. The best time to visit is the cool and dry season, when the weather usually benefits from a pleasant dry heat and the surrounding countryside is still green from the rains. In general, autumn travel in Nha Trang is not recommended as heavy rain, tropical storms and typhoon may occur.
HOW TO GET THERE
Upon arriving at Cam Ranh Airport (CXR), which serves Nha Trang (the closest town to Ninh Van Bay), guests with reservations will be met and transfer arranged. It takes 60-minute by car to the Six Senses Lounge in Nha Trang City. It is then a 20-minute boat ride to Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Cam Ranh Airport transfer fee to/from resort by shared minivan or car and speed boat is charged at $45 USD per person per way. Click here for a list of airlines that have direct flights to Cam Ranh Airport.
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