Food enthusiast and travel consultant Dom travelled to Vietnam, where the local delicacies he has been savouring at the lavish Six Senses resorts have left a bittersweet aftertaste lingering on the tip of his tongue long after the trip ended. He travelled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, cherry-picking a wide variety of culinary treats along the way. Join him on a journey to savour the tastes and senses of Vietnam.
We flew on the new Vietnamese Airlines Dreamliner, which offers direct flights from Heathrow in and out of the country. Flying to Vietnam used to be a chore, given the interminable stops in Paris or an Asian hub en route, which didn’t exactly provide the most pleasant flight in my books, especially for nomad families.
The first stop of our trip was the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. We flew from Hanoi down to Nha Trang, which brought us to a small private dock in a resort town. Upon our arrival, Six Senses welcomed us with a neat spread of fresh towels, ginger cookies, and water. We moved on and took a 20-minute boat journey on a small speedboat to the peninsula of land where the heart of the resort is located.
We were flying fish as we rode full-speed ahead, atop the bumpy waves on our speedboat until the dense jungle and the hotel’s mysterious shape emerged. The motors slowed to a halt and the concreteness of the villas and jetty started to form before our eyes as they sat proudly on the golden arc of sand in the hotel’s isolated bay. We honed in closer and beheld the Maldivian-style mesh bed that overhung the waves, decorated with the distinctive Six Senses cushions familiar to anyone who has been to Zighy Bay or Llamu in the Maldives.
The two-storey villa I stayed in was located on the beach with the bedroom and bathroom built on the ground floor while a huge open plan living area and terrace occupied the top floor. The villas are nestled deep in the jungle, yet when you step up to the top floor, you can witness the vast expanse of sea and the fishing boats berthed there.
The ensuing night did not disappoint. We enjoyed a scrumptious dinner at the main restaurant in the hotel—Dining on the Bay. The new general manager of the resort, Hilton, kindly explained to us that dinner was made with the best produce from the organic vegetable garden, in the form of a delightful salad made with house-grown vegetables, paired with a flavourful tofu dish. The main course—a fresh Nha Trang grouper steamed in a banana leaf—left us awestruck, and the dessert of fresh fruit sorbets, made from fruits picked from the garden, tantalised our tastebuds.
When we awoke the next morning after the healthy but satisfying dinner to torrential rain and chilly wind, it only made sense to warm our bellies with a hot dish. We settled for a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of phở. The rice noodles, bathed in steaming hot beef broth and topped with thinly sliced beef and fragrant herbs, was a hug in a bowl, helping us face the dreary weather.
As the pouring rain made outdoor activities impossible for the day, we chose to partake in a cooking class that afternoon to learn how to recreate the delicious phở from breakfast this morning. The staff prepared a table of assorted ingredients, woks, and gas stoves to kickstart the class.
First, our chef and instructor guided us through making our first dish—Vietnamese summer rolls. A mix of noodles, thinly sliced vegetables, and slices of meat, wrapped in a delicate rice paper sheet, the process of building the summer rolls brings to mind the complex and artful process of constructing an origami.
Creating the next dish was even more challenging—a seafood dish cooked in a special clay pot. As we were all amateurs in this cooking business, the sous-chefs helped us restore order in our chaotic attempts at the dish. We pulled through with gritted teeth and created a delicious masterpiece. We couldn’t have done it without their help. The final dish we made was a hot and sour soup accompanied by the most excellent wine from the hotel’s cellar. This is a fulfilling rainy day in.
In the next phase of our trip, we travelled southwards from Nha Trang down to Ho Chi Minh. The climate in the southern part of Vietnam was tropical and a lot warmer than the weather at its best during winters. We had a day to explore the city, which we spent scavenging for local street food.
I particularly wanted to try bánh mì, a medley of sweet and tangy grilled pork with pickled vegetables sandwiched between French baguette slices. This traditional sandwich is the epitome of Vietnamese cuisine, as it merges the flavours of different cultures in one dish. We also bought the perfect portable lunch from the “Bánh Mì Man” and his rolling kitchen with the help of our tour guide.
With a belly full of street food, we went to the second and newest of the Six Senses Resorts—the Six Senses Con Dao. It was situated on a tiny archipelago of islands off the southern tip of Vietnam. It takes around 40 minutes to reach its nearest local airport—Con Ong. The area is largely serene and secluded with only fishermen, farmers, and a few cattle inhabiting the space.
While the resort is breathtaking, constructed with wooden decking turned grey due to years under the sun, the surrounding salty sea breeze was comforting. In the main hub of the resort houses were two restaurants, a pool, and recreational centres, as well as an ice cream parlour. I sampled most of the flavours in the parlour—the most important task of the job, obviously.
On the last night of our trip, we went for an in-villa barbeque, which the hotel artfully arranged for us in one of their private residences. We had a huge space to relax in and an incredible pool within it. We played a fun game or two of beach football and frisbee before dinner was served. We had gourmet salads to start with, followed by six courses from the grill, from gourmet chicken to seafood and beef. Dessert was a rich and mouth-watering cheesecake.
This trip exceeded my wildest expectations, and I only have the expertise of the staff in Six Senses resorts and its world-class chefs to thank for. They made my dreams of experiencing authentic local Vietnamese food an incredible reality. I carried the knowledge back home to London, allowing me to preserve a piece of Vietnam with me even as I’m half a world away.