We all like a little luxury, but for most of us, it comes at a price we can’t afford. Except in this one destination, where mass tourism has not returned quite as it has in Europe. So if you’re looking for luxury places without the crowds of Bali, then Vietnam is your country, and in particular, its hottest new beach destination, Quy Nhon. And in this case, getting there is really half the fun.
And luxury resort brand Anantara has created a new way to transport guests from their new resort in Quy Nhon to another in Hoi An. Based on Emirates’ business class cabins, the brand has had the idea of a first-class train carriage with six cabins that can accommodate 12 people, with a sit-down bar and onboard spa. They presented the idea to the Vietnamese government who accepted the plan and “The Vietage” was born, hitched to the Reform train as it traveled from north to south and back between Hanoi and the city of HCM.
Transportation to the train station from the hotel is provided at both ends, making the journey relatively smooth and in air-conditioned comfort.
I experienced the trip on a recent trip to Vietnam after a few nights at their beautiful French Colonial resort on the banks of the Thu Bon River, a five-minute walk from UNESCO-listed Hoi An. We leave early and while I wait for the car to arrive, I am handed a glass of fresh prosecco flavored with dried hibiscus: it may be 9 am in Vietnam, but it is noon in Australia. Our car is ready to board in 10 minutes and I am installed in my “cabin”, elegantly separated from the others by rattan and bamboo partitions. It includes two seats with wide cushions around a table, which can be unfolded into a bed for sleeping when the carriage resumes its journey back to Hoi An in the evening. Passengers even receive slippers, pillows and blankets for the return trip; there are also charging stations at your seat and Wi-Fi on board. Everyone has a window seat with aisle access.
A whistle and a wave from the station guard and off we went, panting past the backyards of Da Nang as we were served a breakfast of pastries and coffee (I chose Vietnamese iced coffee, that addictive blend of coffee and condensed milk).
The next five hours are among the most relaxing I have experienced in Vietnam. There is no panic to arrive on time at the airport; no need to wait in long lines at the airport and take off half your clothes at security; no delay. No, for the next five hours we can finally cast our eyes over the Vietnamese countryside (another thing you can’t do from an airplane).
For about the same amount of time it would take to fly from city to city, I sit down and enjoy a three-course meal and as many cocktails and glasses of wine as I choose. Lunch is served around 11am and there are three options, which you choose before boarding. I have a vegetarian salad of green beans and quinoa, with lemongrass and chilli, followed by a French-inspired salmon with chilli beurre blanc. For dessert, a rich creme brulee with local dark chocolate. The wine list is well thought out and I particularly appreciated the light rosé from Provence. If you’re looking to party or have a blast, you can pre-order bottles of champagne and other bottles of rare vintage wine; caviar and cheese platters. The cocktails, too, are works of art.
There’s also a good mix of non-alcoholic options, including mocktails and lightly flavored specialty herbal teas with Vietnamese mint, ginger and lemongrass and a range of coffees, as well as a regular supply of water – sparkling or still – poured into crystal glasses. The Vietage also has its own spacious and clean bathroom.
After lunch, I am ushered in for a spa treatment: a relaxing 20-minute head, shoulder, and back massage.
As the train rolls along at the blistering speed of 60 km/h, I watch the fascinating life of rural Vietnam pass by. There are verdant green landscapes dotted with white storks; corn plots alongside grazing water buffaloes. The backyards of houses in rural towns are stuck against the railway tracks. In the distance, craggy mountain peaks are so steep they almost match the tilt of the conical hats that rise and fall in front of them. Cemeteries spring up in the fields: small, richly decorated shrines of remembrance. There are expanses of bright pink water lilies. And in the last hour of the trip, a flash of blue sea and pristine white sand marks our approach to Quy Nhon. The imposing Cham ruins reveal that we have arrived at our destination.
The dedicated train crew (all part of the Anantara experience, excellent service throughout) prepares us for disembarkation as the car needs to be disconnected from the rest of the train as it continues its journey south towards Ho Chi Minh.
We drive to the resort and check into our private villas, which are right on the beautiful beachfront. Quy Nhon is about 200 kilometers north of Nha Trang, but it has yet to be discovered by tourists. The only sign of life I see is from locals paddling in basket boats to the lobster stations out front, close to the two uninhabited islands that lie offshore.
My beach villa has its own private pool, complete with a daybed with sun shades and a fan, and plenty of cushions to easily doze off to the sound of the waves lapping along the beach .
Anantara Quy Nhon Villas Photo: Antal Gabelics
There are 26 spacious one- and two-bedroom villas; there’s also a large infinity pool with a swim-up bar, an excellent hilltop spa, and a restaurant, sea.fire.salt. In my room, a platter of tropical fruits, macaroons and chocolates await me; but dinner that night is something special. Originally from the “island of the gods”, the Balinese chef prepares an Indonesian banquet with local seafood (avoiding meats that I don’t eat) and we enjoy Indonesian flavors with prawns, lobster, okra , tempeh, gado gado and chicken curry. Dessert was an unusual roasted banana with condensed milk, cheese and chocolate (and yes, it totally works). For breakfast, I feast on local rice cakes served with a surprisingly good savory dip, tropical fruits and matcha yogurt.
We take a short tour of Quy Nhon which includes visiting these ruined Cham buildings and drinking Vietnamese coffee. There are spectacular views of the city that sits along a curved, narrow peninsula like Cancun, without the crowds; In addition, we enjoy a local street food, consisting of rice pancakes with prawns and squid, which we savor with BYO champagne.
Quy Nhon – like Cancun without the crowds. Photo: Getty
The afternoon is left to savor what little time we have in these luxurious villas before departing for Hoi An on the train, which departs around 6pm. This is the perfect opportunity to savor the seated bar and browse the cocktail list, or take a siesta as the sun dips below the horizon.
Seats start from US$486; the price includes two nights accommodation in Quy Non. The best time to make the trip is during the day when you can watch the scenery go by (to the south); but there is a second trip up north that leaves Quy Nhon at 6pm for Danang, with private transfer to Anantara Hoi An. Anyone can book a seat; passengers do not have to be hotel guests. .thevietagetrain.com/
See also: Anantara Hoi An Review: Serene, Affordable Luxury in the Heart of a UNESCO Heritage Town
See also: Anantara Quy Nhon review: Vietnam’s new hidden hotspot set to attract luxury travelers