Donna Beaufoy explores Vietnam’s natural and cultural bounty from her luxurious base at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, nestled in the pristine beach of Bai Khem…
The first international luxury hotel brand on Vietnam’s ‘pearl island’, JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay opened its doors to the public on 25 January 2017, with the irreverent style of renowned architect Bill Bensley evident throughout this fantastical resort.
Bensley’s design narrative for the site was a fictional academy of learning, ‘Lamarck University’, inspired by French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. This vision is carried throughout the resort, giving it a truly harmonious aesthetic. An evolution in the architectural style, from its supposed beginnings in the 1880s through to the 1940s, ensures that resort feels like a collection of individual boutique hotels, rather than a large resort, and each building is modelled after an academic department. For budding mixologists the best spot would be The Department of Chemistry, where I learnt the fine art of cocktail making; those wanting to test out their sporting ability should head for the Department of Physical Education; and the imagined Mushroom Mycology Wharf has been transformed into a tranquil Alice and Wonderland themed Spa by JW.
JW Marriott Phu Quoc enjoys a spectacular, unrivalled location on Bai Khem – which means ‘ice cream beach’ – with its own pristine white beach, overlooking the rugged Vietnamese coastline and neighbouring islands.
The resort offers 244 beautifully appointed rooms, suites, and stand-alone villas all modelled on the early 20th century style of the fictional Lamarck University. To enhance guests’ voyage of discovery, which begins as soon as they drive through the resort’s entrance gates, flanked by enormous ridgeback dogs, accommodation has been artfully decorated with authentic artefacts and unique pieces that reflect the academic department it is based within. These characterful features blend harmoniously with modern comfort and JW world-class service to make for an exceptional stay.
A serene landscaped resort village setting surrounds the various tiers of accommodation, which are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, spacious bathrooms with a pair of vanity basins and lavish amenities, and other luxurious facilities such as 24-hour room service. For me the massive shower head fixed high up in the ceiling took showering to a luxurious new level. Music played from the discreetly hidden speakers while I stood in the middle of my en-suite bathroom feeling like I was being rained on by the most gentle of tropical downpours… Bliss.
The variety and quality of dining options at JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay is unrivalled in Vietnam, and as with the rest of the resort there is a story to each. Whether guests are looking to enjoy flavoursome, freshly caught fish while overlooking the ocean, tastebud-awakening local specialities that have been given a modern twist, or classics inspired by the University’s purported origins under French colonial rule, the offering is tantalising.
The resort boasts 5 restaurants and lounges. Tempus Fugit is an all-day dining restaurant, showcasing Vietnamese cuisine with locally sourced ingredients alongside a contemporary Japanese kitchen and classic French dishes. Pink Pearl serves up authentic Cantonese cuisine in a splendid beachfront mansion, while Red Rum specialises in an elaborate selection of fresh local seafood in a more relaxed beachside setting. If French patisserie is more your style, head to French & Co – you won’t be disappointed!
If you’d like to indulge in a more immersive gastronomic experience, guests can take part in mixology classes in the Department of Chemistry, the resort’s sleek cocktail bar, where ‘chemists’ don lab coats to mix up an enticing menu of elixirs and small bites for guests to enjoy with a spectacular view of Emerald Bay. At French & Co you can learn the secret art of patisserie; or if wine’s more your thing, why not explore Pink Pearl’s wine cellar during an oenology master class.
Chanterelle – Spa by JW
As legend has it, the building where the Alice in Wonderland themed spa is now based was the department of mycology. Now the spa is a bright and invigorating space for all the senses with characterful beams and angled ceilings. Highly-skilled therapists use a synergy of natural products to provide a comprehensive range of signature treatments and journeys for a rejuvenating experience.
With Phu Quoc fast emerging as Vietnam’s playground, JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay offers a wealth of exceptional leisure and sports facilities ‘on campus’ as well as a variety of ‘field trips’ that give guests a true taste of this enchanting island.
The resort boats three outdoor swimming pools, all of which offer unobstructed views of Emerald Bay, as well as a private beach on which you can sunbathe, snorkel and swim.
Pick up a unique souvenir of your stay at the Rue de Lamarck – a small, bustling boulevard where traditional local crafts from artisanal boutiques are waiting to be rediscovered. It’s also the resort’s social hub, where traditional entertainment and culinary delights can be found, ending at the Department of Chemistry which houses the destination cocktail bar. The boulevard is open to guests and visitors.
As well as boasting world class gym facilities, The Department of Physical Education offers lessons in many traditional Vietnamese activities such as Vo Viet Nam (Vietnamese martial arts) and Thung Chai (learn to manoeuvre a traditional Vietnamese basket boat). These all run alongside activities such as Sunrise Hatha Yoga, Hydro Fit, Paddle Boarding, Beach Volleyball and a weekly ‘Sports Day’ held at the running track.
The resort also offers experiences such as stargazing walks, Den Long (traditional lantern) making lessons and Vietnamese language classes. Along with the opportunity to learn about Vietnamese dance and costume during an engaging workshop and Non La (traditional Vietnamese hat) making classes.
Further afield, immersive trips from the resort include guided visits to the Phu Quoc Bee Farm and the Vinpearl Safari, and treks into the forest surrounding the resort to learn about the native flora and fauna, ending up at a viewpoint overlooking the resort and sipping tea made from offerings of the forest. The more hands-on survivalists can discover the hidden waterways of Phu Quoc’s National Park via kayak and explore beneath the enchanting rainforest canopy, or learn the delicate art of Vietnamese fishing and even catch their own dinner! By bike, you can travel to Coconut Prison and delve into the dark side of this beautiful island’s history. And at night, experience a real taste of life in Vietnam with complementary transfers from the resort to the local night market – something not to be missed!
Staying in such a unique resort, with rooms that each cost upward of US$1m to create, is an incredible experience. Place that hotel in a setting that unrivalled culturally or naturally and that experience genuinely does become once in a lifetime – I can’t recommend it enough!