Long celebrated for its wellness credentials, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, on Vietnam’s east coast, is also putting sustainability at the forefront of its considered approach
There is a sound system that plays meditation music in the afternoon. That’s not surprising, I suppose. I am at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam, part of the resort chain renowned for its commitment to all things wellness. But I am not in my villa. And I am not in the pavilion. I am in the chicken coop and yes, the music is for the chooks.
It’s more of a chicken palace, truth be told. There’s a playground, obstacle course, perches galore, and even a chicken bar complete with crystal chandelier. I reach into one of the nesting boxes and grab a couple of still-warm eggs, place them in a woven basket and hop on my bicycle to deliver them to the chef for my breakfast. Forget about meditation and yoga, I think this might be the best morning routine ever.
Accessible only by boat, Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is just north of the popular tourist resorts of Nha Trang, but you would never know it. With hectare upon hectare of jungle, 700 meters of white sandy beach and a backdrop of towering mountains, it feels like I have entered Jurassic Park. But I don’t think even Universal Studios could create the stunning scenery that surrounds me here.
The resort’s 59 villas, all with private pools, have an opulent Robinson Crusoe-vibe with thatched roofs, ruggedly hewn timber walls, an outdoor shower, giant wooden soaking tub and bamboo accessories.
Along with the 160 happy chooks (and 20 roosters to keep order), there are 1800 square metres of organic vegetable gardens that produce more than 40 varieties of edible plants for the kitchen. Next to the garden stands an oil distillery, which produces organic lemongrass, cumquat and eucalyptus oils for the spa. Four solar panel stations provide hot water, and a wastewater treatment plant produces grey water for the gardens. Then there’s the water filtration system, fed from a nearby reservoir, that uses reverse osmosis for the glass-bottled drinking water. Energy and water use, vegetable production, even the crown-of-thorn starfish numbers are monitored and posted on a large sign at the ‘Earth Lab’ for resort guests to see. Transparency is a significant part of Six Senses’ sustainability game.
Impressed by these efforts, I scour my villa for anything off-brand – single-use plastics or anything that isn’t ‘zero waste’ – and the only thing I can come up with is one shower cap. Bravo.
Riding my bike along the dirt paths surrounded by ancient boulders, I half expect a dinosaur to emerge from the lush, dense jungle. Cruising around on the bike, complete with a personalised name-plate, is a highlight for me, but if biking is not your thing, you can always call for a buggy.
As with all Six Senses properties, nature takes centre stage at Ninh Van Bay, and my trek to Bai Nho is by far the best resort hike I have ever done, despite stiff competition. For two hours, my guide Ninh and I traverse hilltops, walk across the top of narrow stone walls, clamber over giant boulders, and scurry backwards, rope in hand, down steep ravines. We end up on the top of Hon Heo Mountain overlooking the bay before joining a family of langur monkeys on a private beach where we are picked up by boat and taken back to the resort. I highly recommend it if you enjoy a bit of a challenge and are reasonably fit. It was absolutely incredible and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Not a hiker? Not a problem. There are dozens of activities on offer from romantic sunset cruises on traditional wooden boats to temple and shopping excursions back on the mainland. Your ‘Guest Experience Maker’ is on-call around the clock and can arrange everything during your stay.
Of course, wellness is important at Six Senses and the spa has recently been renovated, adding a new gym and several extra treatment rooms, along with a steam room and sauna that overlook a waterfall. Whether it’s trying an aerial yoga class in the new yoga pavilion (more challenging than I thought), indulging in a relaxing massage, or meditating to the sounds of the singing bowls in the glass meditation space overlooking a stream, I kept finding reasons to return to the spa.
After meeting with on-site naturopath Dr James Aravind from India, I decide to add a wellness program to my stay. My consultation begins with a non-invasive health screening to measure key physiological biomarkers of health, including metabolism, cardio fitness, circulation, hydration and oxygen distribution, and the results are used to prepare an individualised program. I was a bit skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure how putting my hands and feet on a tablet-type machine for a few minutes was going to produce the information I normally get from a blood test. But after going over the results with Dr Aravind, it was amazing to see that the health issues identified were the same problems my GP at home had previously highlighted, although they were explained to me in far greater detail than my doctor would ever have time for.
Eat with Six Senses is another initiative focusing on good health. Head chef Alex has been with Six Senses for four years and explains the three guiding principles: food should be local, seasonal and sustainable; cooked from scratch using natural ingredients; and uphold the idea that ‘less is more’ in terms of how far ingredients have to travel. Most choices on the menu fall under this program, which make it easy to stay healthy and still enjoy fabulous food. Meals are fresh and flavourful and can be enjoyed at four different venues (along with in-room dining). The main dining area, Dining by the Bay, has a focus on Vietnamese specialties like pho, and local seafood, but there are also favourites such as grilled Australian beef, duck and braised pork belly. For something intimate, reserve the candlelit wine cave, an authentic hillside rock cavern that is bound to heighten the senses. Dining by the Rocks is the signature restaurant, its clifftop location overlooking the bay making sure of that. To reach the fine-dining, adult-only venue, you’ll need to climb 163 stone steps, but both the view and the meal will make the effort worth your while. For casual all-day dining, check out Dining by the Pool, and don’t miss the complimentary ice-cream bar and coconut-water station next door.
As for my new health regimen, Dr Aravind advises I stay away from excess sugar (goodbye ice-cream), drink more water and take up meditation to relieve stress. The good news is my cholesterol is fine, so those visits to the chickens for fresh eggs each morning continue. And so, too, the beautiful state of calm the simple daily ‘chore’ inspires.