International travel has been temporarily relegated to the back-burner for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream of a future beyond “staycations” when we once again venture further afield to more exotic destinations.
Clearly, health and safety is still going to be a key consideration whenever the world re-opens to a new tourism normality. So those countries that have especially stood out for their successful coronavirus response will be prominent among travellers’ plans. All the more so if they were already on our bucket lists.
Like Vietnam, for example… The South-East Asian country has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world in recent years, and in 2020 it has been at the forefront of those countries most successfully combating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Latest official World Health Organisation figures show that, in a population of nearly 100 million, Vietnam had registered 1,145 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths since the start of the outbreak.
No-one, especially those contemplating a trip overseas, takes anything for granted these days, and even Vietnam’s relatively low number of infections compared with other countries is still cause for concern – and sadness, as it is for all patients and grieving families around the world.
However, for anyone keen to start thinking again about holidays abroad, Vietnam does present a reassuring picture of vigorous control by health authorities. And, specifically for couples planning a wedding anniversary getaway, the Mango Bay “back-to-nature, rustic resort” on Phu Quoc offers all the delights, tranquility and seclusion of a blissfully safe island haven.
Seamless Natural Setting
Two decades ago, Phu Quoc was essentially hidden from the public glare, known for its fish sauce, seafood and pepper, and only reachable across the Gulf of Thailand by a long ferry ride from Rach Gia on the mainland or one of two daily flights into its small airport. A few bungalow complexes were located to the south of the main town, Duong Dong, but not much more – other than white sandy beaches and jungle.
Then two Englishmen and an Australian had the idea of buying some land and building a holiday retreat. “But not just any old concrete, terra cotta tile and swimming pool kind of place,” they recalled. “Something a bit more rustic, something in touch with nature, and something that merged seamlessly with the surrounding environment.”
They based their bungalows on the fishermen’s traditional island huts, friends came to stay, and eventually they bought more neighbouring land and expanded what had been essentially a modest hideaway into a resort – culminating in the inauguration of Mango Bay in 2001.
Today, set on 20 hectares of beachfront land 10 kilometres north of Duong Dong, the ethos of Mango Bay is described as “to create something close to nature, an unpretentious resort that is the antithesis of luxury”.
The resort comprises 44 rooms and villas, each hidden away from the beach and built with either rammed earth or acacia, ensuring they blend seamlessly with the surrounding environs.
They nestle under trees that are native to the island – tropical almond, acacia, ficus and fishtail palms – and are enveloped by foliage including local crape myrtle and red-flowering hibiscus.
The only “swimming pool” is the sea, no sand has been imported, the rocks have been left as they stood, and guests will not find any heavily manicured flower beds or perfectly paved paths. “Instead, the land, while loosely landscaped, has been kept natural – the only testament to the words ‘holiday’ and ‘resort’ come in the form of the banana-leaf-roofed bungalows.”
Serene Privacy and Relaxation
Built eight to 12 metres apart to enhance seclusion and solitude, each bungalow comes with its own wooden veranda that is isolated enough to offer a peaceful refuge yet sufficiently visible to provide guests with views out to their natural surroundings.
The veranda rooms made up the original accommodation, and over the years the resort has added different grades of accommodation: rammed earth, family and plantation bungalows, reef houses and villas.
Unlike the other fan-cooled bungalows, the villas come complete with a low-electricity usage air-conditioning system, soon to be extended to the whole property. In addition to four-poster beds with mosquito nets, wooden or terracotta-tiled floors, banana-leaf roofs, shuttered windows and simple yet comfortable wooden furniture, another key accommodation feature are the outdoor showers. Mango Bay is, they say, the first resort in Vietnam to add this component but “despite the lack of a roof, the showers and bathrooms offer complete privacy”.
Sumptuous Sunsets and Pampering
The main restaurant rests on a small rocky promontory that separates the property’s two beaches. It includes a fan-cooled indoor area and an outdoor wooden deck overlooking the sea – especially sublime when the sun is setting.
Logically (and reassuringly) much of the cuisine is Vietnamese, including such street food favourites as pho bo (beef noodle soup), bun ga xao (rice noodles with fried chicken), bun cha (rice noodles with fresh herbs and barbecued pork), banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes) and nem cua (Hanoi-style crab spring rolls) – while the cooler Gulf of Thailand waters around Phu Quoc produce such exquisite seafood as squid, anchovies, prawns and mackerel.
Local delicacies are complemented by a diverse range of international options, including Thai curries, Cambodian fish amok, Australian steak, vegetarian and tapas menus, and “simple comfort food”… pizzas, burgers, tacos, grilled seafood, club sandwiches and salads.
Mango Bay’s Activity Centre offers snorkeling among the coral reefs, paddle boarding, canoeing, yoga and tai chi, while other activities include taking a traditional, wooden-style fishing boat out to sea, free bicycle rental, and scuba diving through the Flipper Diving Club.
At the spa located in the original main house, guests can enjoy treatments “designed to maximise the need to relax and re-energise”, provided by both international and local masseuses, with therapies including head massages, aromatherapy massages, manicures, pedicures, body exfoliation and facials.