As I take my first dip into the warm sea off the coast of Vietnam, I look back and observe the cluster of traditional timber houses that sit in the serene bay.
I am at the Chen Sea Resort & Spa on the island of Phu Quoc…and it’s beautiful. A large Banyan Tree sits at the heart of the resort and from its branches, two rattan seats swing in the breeze, waiting to be accommodated. Luckily some new guests have just arrived and looked more than happy to oblige.
Phu Quoc is situated off the south-west coast of Vietnam and although relatively small at just 48km long, it is still the country’s largest island. Its location off the border of Cambodia and in the Thai Gulf means that it benefits from some of South East Asia’s most stunning beaches. It is also almost 70% national park providing a magnificent backdrop of the dense tropical jungle.
My husband and I are staying in one of the resort’s Jacuzzi villas. It is, without a doubt, a honeymooners dream. These romantic abodes were once timber houses located in the Vietnamese port city of Hoi An. Their relocation to ‘The Chen Sea’ (as it is so affectionately referred to by its family of staff) has seen them being rebuilt into six luxurious and secluded villas, big enough for a family of four but much more fun for an amorous couple in search of peace and privacy. The thatched villas are full of character and combine traditional raw materials with contemporary design.
Alongside the carvings and sculptures that decorate the space; a walk-in wardrobe, comfortable of the most comfortable king size beds (I didn’t want to ever get out) and a bathroom the size of a small flat in London are simply what make the Jacuzzi Villas.
Pots of bath salts, complimentary loofahs and orange and lemongrass scented scrubby soaps will make you feel like you are in your own mini spa but beware, you can get lost in the comfort of this bathroom and not see your partner for hours – I did. Likewise, days can be spent without leaving this villa where you can chill in the outdoor lounge overlooking the sea, flop out in the sun on the extra large sun loungers or of course take a dip in the villa’s namesake outdoor Jacuzzi.
If and when you do finally decide to venture out, you will be greeted by the warm and smiling Chen Sea staff ready to help you relax just a little bit more. The pool is a good place to start – a proper infinity pool – melting endlessly into the ocean.
Make sure you position yourself comfortably on your sun lounger because you’ll need little reason to move thereafter, with ice cold orange scented flannels and bottles of water being offered throughout the day. As we laze in the sun listening to the gentle ‘put put’ of a distant fisherman’s boat, it is true to say that we have more than relaxed into this little emerald of Vietnam.
If you’re planning a wedding and sunsets are your thing then you won’t be disappointed with this spot. In our five nights here, I can honestly say Phu Quoc has delivered some of the best sunsets I have ever seen. As we get talking to The Chen Sea’s manager, Olivier, he tells us how the stunning setting has attracted some of Vietnam’s biggest movie stars.
Weddings are organised on a bespoke basis with couples being able to choose from booking out the entire resort or simply an intimate corner dependant on the size of the wedding party. “No matter what, everyone is guaranteed to have the best time,” Olivier says, as he describes a recent wedding in which 90 guests ended the night dancing on the beach. They then awoke to an amazing buffet brunch referred to by one of the guests as “the buffet of all buffets”.
I can quite easily believe this by the delicious selection of fresh pastries and croissants alone – unrivalled and no doubt largely influenced by the French Olivier. Similarly, I suspect The Chen Sea’s Italian owner also has something to do with the resort’s outstanding pizzas. I am usually against eating anything other than local dishes abroad but these thin biscuity based pizzas, the seafood, in particular, were irresistible.
The Chen Sea is also the perfect place to recover from a night of wedding indulgence with its Spa Cenvaree inviting tired guests into its outdoor treatment pavilions overlooking the sea. The spa is of course how it should be – a haven of tranquillity. Its organically grown Lemongrass and Pandan Leaf welcome elixir is worth the visit alone and ideal for those in need of a detox.
My afternoon is spent with Tien – a small girl with very strong hands who after an hour of expertly massaging away my accumulated knots, then takes me to the beach for a further 45 minute Tai Chi session.
I emerge feeling rejuvenated, energised and ready for Sunset Happy Hour at the resort’s Ghe Bar. What is so nice about The Chen Sea is that everyone is relaxed and happy. The staff are warm, helpful and friendly without being uncomfortably subservient and the setting and services available are just right to ensure you want for nothing more.
If you are in search of a tropical wedding or honeymoon that is prettier and less predictable than neighbouring Thailand but still holds an element of sophistication, then The Chen Sea is a perfect hidden gem.