The car ride takes us through inundated rice paddies, buffalos, banana trees and headstones. The picturesque fishermen’s nets hang above lakes and rivers against the slightly misty backdrop of the mountains and the sky. I could as well be in the utopia land of Shangri-la, but I am in Vietnam, in the cultural center of the country where WWII remnants, centuries old heritage and historical opulence mix with 21st century visitors.
Along the roads that lead to the Banyan Tree Lang Co the rice paddies are decorated with numerous headstones from the families’ ancestors. It is tradition, in Vietnam, to bury the relatives close to home so they can be taken care of. The white of the limestone rock and the dust contrast with the neon green of the rice fields and the towering mountain range. Duck chicks, cows and buffalo graze along the road forcing us to stop or swing to avoid their relaxed demeanour. This is very different from the crowds of motorcycle-riding Vietnamese that fill the streets in scary Ho Chi Minh City. Here, an air of calm fills the atmosphere and life just happens at a different pace.
Banyan Tree Lang Co is hidden in plain site, behind a mountain range, on the beach close to Lang Co. The town is not well known but it is in a privileged location, about an hour and a half between the two UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hue and Hoi An. The resort is spread along a 3km premium private beachfront location. The ever permanent mist during April floats gently over the green hills providing a sense of mystery and charm that evokes the splendour of the 15th and 16th century trading successes. The Imperial past and the Chinese influence in the area for several centuries is reflected in the architecture. Red lanterns hang from flowing trees and there is a river that connects the Banyan Tree and Angsana properties, just like the river that brought much commercial prosperity to old Vietnamese dynasties.
Arrival and check in
As soon as we passed the immigration check we were greeted by the friendly staff of the Banyan Tree Lang Co. We were immediately escorted to our private 4×4 car for our one hour journey to the resort. The car was comfortable and we had plenty of water and lemongrass scented towels to freshen up. The Banyan Tree relaxing spa music was playing in the background. As we approached the resort, the driver asked for our permission to give the hotel a call to alert them of our arrival.
The barrier to the property opened 5min before we actually arrived at the doorsteps of the Banyan Tree. This is because the Laguna development, where the hotel and its sister property, the Angsana Lang Co, are located, is a large complex consisting of a golf course, a private beach, private residences for full local ownership and both hotels. There is also a farm project for guests (and their children) to familiarise themselves with animals and gardening as well as two spas, one belonging to each of the properties. The Laguna Lifestyle development also offers vacation membership opportunities to those looking to invest in the property and being a part of Banyan Tree’s vacation club.
The Banyan Tree is at the end of a private road and nestled under the steep hills of Truong Son Mountain Range. As soon as we jumped off our comfortable ride, our villa butler was waiting to take us straight to our villa for check in. Nguyen, possibly the most popular Vietnamese surname, or in this case, first name, had the widest smile and the softest speech. On board the buggy and without even stepping on the reception, we were immediately driven up to our hilltop villa with expansive and breathtaking views over the bay.
Check in was well integrated with our arrival. She asked what fruit we would like our fruit bowl to be refilled with, indicated how absolutely every single detail in the room worked and provided us with directions around the resort. Since me and my friend had made previous tour arrangements and spa bookings, she also ran us through the itinerary and reconfirmed that everything was fine. She advised us on some changes even, trying to recommend ways in which we could improve our stay and eventually, she took a deposit with the portable ATM machine. And there we were, stunned, left to admire the incredible villa we were to spend the next four days in.
Banyan Tree Lang Co is made of sixty villas split into three types. The Lagoon Pool Villas are the entry level accommodation although they are as impressive as the rest. Located around the lagoon between the mountains and the sea, they have their own pools and outdoor areas facing the tranquil gardens and lagoon. As they are away from the beach and the main building, they are also the quietest and most secluded.
The Beach Pool Villas also come with their own swimming pool and are located right on the sand. They have an outdoor jacuzzi along the pool and are private as they are peaceful. Lush trees and plants provide extra romance and the sea is just a few steps away. they truly feel as if you are just in your own private beach home.
The highest category villas are the Hilltop Pool Villas, like the one we stayed at. They provide “Wow” views over the entire beach, the resort, Angsana and the bay. The pools are large enough for a swim and they flow into the horizon. They are impressive and, at 150 sqm, very spacious. As opposed to the Lagoon and Beach Villas, the Hilltop Villas have three separate rooms. A huge living room provides all sorts of indoor relaxation options with a corner L-shaped sofa from where to observe the sea and a dining table for intimate dinners. The bedroom is in the middle and its balcony door opens into the infinity pool that covers the length of the bedroom and bathroom. From the bed you can see the first rays of sun reflect on the still water and the beach down below. The bathroom has the perfect his and hers basins with their own personalised amenities that are expected of Banyan Tree, and a free standing bathtub with views over the infinity pool and the bay. There is a bath menu to order from for that special something more.
The outdoor terrace and lounge area is as long as the three indoor spaces providing a true feeling of island in the sky. Indoors, the decoration and wall paintings match Vietnamese history and tradition. A sense of Hoi An is taken into the room and imperial style furniture fills the space. There is also a small kitchen for light cooking in case of longer stays, and a separate guest toilet. Every single detail is taken care of. From the perfectly marked light witches indicating which one works for what light, to the tidied away pool towels located where you need them, next to the sun loungers. There are mosquito coils, mosquito repellent and insect spray. i could not find anything missing and everything was to be found where it was most logical. There is this simplicity of a well-thought out hotel that I have to praise the Banyan Tree Group for. I noticed it at Banyan Tree Bintan and it was reconfirmed in Lang Co.
Some of the Hilltop Villas are still under construction as they are being finished for residential ownership but there was no construction to be seen or felt. Seclusion and privacy are as high as their location, at least 25m above the sea level. As access is mostly via a buggy through the very steep path, there is no other guest to be seen.
Although the Banyan Tree is relatively small in terms of rooms it covers a very large area and it shares facilities, restaurants and activities with its sister property, the Angsana Lang Co. That means there are twice as many options. Whereas guests of the Banyan Tree can freely roam and explore Angsana, the opposite does not apply providing extra exclusivity to the premium property. Angsana guests can, however, make a pre-arranged booking for dinner or meals at Banyan Tree. The two properties are located along the same 3km stretch of beach and connected, on the lagoon end, through a river on which boats fetch guests around. You can also walk along the path or take a buggy.
Aside from the wide beach, the Banyan Tree Lang Co has a fantastic rectangular pool. Stylish sun loungers for two are ready to host you for the day. There is a well equipped gym and the famous Banyan Tree Spa. Under the boulders and hills there is a chapel for an enchanting wedding. A library bar and The Gallery, Banyan Tree signature shop, complete the offer. It feels expansive and open air, with most buildings having the traditional Vietnamese architecture of the area with high red tiled pavilions and air flowing spaces.
As opposed to the compact and mostly empty Banyan Tree pool, Angsana’s pool snakes through the sprawling resort and provides many a corner for privacy and peace. As the pool is the longest in Southeast Asia, it manages to achieve seclusion despite the more family-oriented character. There are imperial bridges like the ones found across China and a continuum of flowing water.
Both pools had plenty of floating devices for children (and not so children) as well as reading materials to borrow. But reading was fully satisfied through the magazine app available for download from the resort which provided access to over 2,500 magazines in all languages and from all countries. I could have spent the entire holiday just consuming magazines and newspapers from the free app that Banyan tree had purchased for its guests. This was a clever and extremely valuable detail that means you don’t have to carry a Kindle or, in my case, stacks of heavy books on holiday.
Aside from the obvious visits to the UNESCO sites of Hoi An, Hue and My Son, the resorts offers a number of complimentary activities that will help fill your days if you are looking to learn something new.
We took an interesting Vietnamese Coffee Making lesson where we learned the art and poured ourselves a delicious sweetened cocoa-flavoured coffee, the local variant. There are complimentary yoga lessons twice daily, conical hat painting and lantern making classes, Vietnamese language lessons to help you master haggling in town and plenty more for the children.
As the complex includes a golf course, golf is one of the main appeals and it is located just a buggy’s ride away from both resorts. Other sports include kayaking, parasailing, ATV, water skis, motor skis, tennis, football, volley ball, frisbee, you name it. The resort is fully catered for children, young adults and those with the most active needs. In my case, I chilled by the pool, the main one and the one in our villa.
For the more active, trekking in the Bach Ma mountains, biking along a self-guided path or a cycling tour up the Hai Van Pass are all options. It is fair to say that the area has a lot to offer.
Most visitors, like us, have come here to see beautiful Hoi An or Hue but prefer to do it on their own. For them, Banyan Tree and Angsana offer a complimentary shuttle service, once a day to Hue and twice daily to Hoi An, for either the morning or the stunning night views. Visits to My Son needed to be organised separately with a private guide or driver. Guided tours of both Hue and Hoi An were also available, and we booked ourselves on one with a knowledgeable guide who took us through the imperial past of the cities and their role during the Champa times and up until the 21st century Vietnam War and Japanese occupation.
If you happen to be at the resort on a Friday or Tuesday, the GM throw an evening drinks event by either the pool or one of the resort’s bridges. All sorts of light food and free flow of drinks are on offer as are shoulder massages. I made myself a pretty lantern during that evening, with the help of the very capable staff who had to “fix” my faulty lantern. Jose Luis, the current Mexican GM, was great at chatting to guests and everyone staying at the resort joined for the night. It was a welcoming and thoughtful evening that only increased the feeling of visiting an old friend that the resort provided.
Being relatively isolated from the nearest village, the quality and choice of dining options was essential to our stay as we decided mix in some time at the resort with time exploring the area. There were 7 restaurant options. Both Angsana and Banyan Tree had an international restaurant where breakfast was being served. These were good restaurants with a bit of everything. Additionally, Rice bowl, at Angsana, offered Asian based rice dishes, from Korean to Chinese and Vietnamese and Moomba provided a set of international dishes by the beach. When the weather was nice, Moomba ceiling revealed the starry night.
Banyan Tree’s signature Thai restaurant, Saffron, was located high above the hills with stunning views over the bay and a romantic outdoor terrace. Needless to say, the food did not disappoint. Azura, by the beach and the pool at Banyan Tree, completed the offering with more casual Italian fare. Lighter snacks were also available at The Library bar, on the top floor of the lobby pavilion.
All the restaurants were great. They served freshly prepared dishes with the right amount of seasoning and spice. if you wanted something more special the resort could whip up a private destination dining alternative. The chef could prepare all the ingredients for a DIY barbecue in your private villa, or could also send someone to help you cook. For more formal options, beach dinners in a secluded location were also available, as was pure room service, served on the terrace of your pool villa or indoors. It was difficult to run out of options, even if you stayed there for an extended period.
Perhaps the most satisfying part was the fabulous breakfast spread. Everyone who knows me will agree that I have a weakness for carbohydrates for breakfast and that, while on holidays, I overindulge on pastries and sweets, filling up plates with all sorts of savoury, sweet and all matter of things. Banyan Tree satisfied all of my and my friend’s cravings and, I will shamelessly admit, he had an even more bottomless stomach than I did. Together, we sampled every single dish on the menu, from the spring rolls to the beef pho and other Vietnamese favourites. As a native Korean, he found the kimchi good enough, the Japanese dishes and the various noodle and rice combos were also pleasing. I tried all of the juices, elixirs and pastries. I filled baguettes with some of the cheese from the dozen or so varieties and we both recharged for the day with strong Vietnamese coffee. Breakfast was an incentive to get out of bed, despite the dream-like infinity pool/ beach views. But it is fair to say that the staff probably thought we were not eating anything for the rest of the day. Little did they know that we were again hungry at lunch time and at dinner!
Banyan Tree Resorts has mastered the non-intrusive, heart-felt service that many brands brag about but fail to deliver. The villas, the staff, the activities, the transportation and every single bit of the resort is filled with thoughtfulness and well planned out elements that ensure a comfortable, homely stay. You feel constantly pampered, but at ease. Most of the little things that make a difference are not even noticed, because when you realise that something is missing the hotel did not do a good job. True service is that which guests find natural. A pair of sleepers where you would look for them, a hair drier where it makes most sense to look for it, a new napkin before you even realise yours is on the floor. Banyan Tree does this to perfection.
Every night, the turn down service left some homemade cookies, a note with a souvenir to take home and a cute detail. One night, we got flowers laid on the bed. Another, a pair of very well crafted elephants made with towels. We got a home decoration in the shape of a traditional Vietnamese conical hat, the signature turtle teddy bear, a hand crafted 3D postcard and a hand painted fan on the day before our tours, something which became handy in the midday My Son heat. The amenities in the room included his and hers branded slippers, bathrobes in appropriate sizes and even a set of two beach bags. Aromatherapy oil candles were lit every evening and afternoon Vietnamese tea was served every day at 4pm when we were in the room, delivered by a traditionally dressed staff member carrying the goodies in the much-photographed shoulder pole with two baskets at each end. Delicious local treats were offered with strong tea right in our living room.
Nguyen was attentive, always checking up on us and giving us conversation. She was genuinely interested in making sure everything was great. And it indeed was.
Service at the restaurants was also smooth and breakfast included a prompt visit by the staff to take coffee and hot dish orders as well as to take our piling empty plates.
I debated long and hard whether it was better to stay somewhere in Da Nang or Hoi An instead of away from both but at a beach front luxury resort and I am glad that we decided to choose Banyan Tree Lang Co. Not only was this an exceptional stay, it also provided us with a much more relaxing feeling of holiday and, as it turned out, being located between Hoi An and Hue made for the perfect equidistant place to be based if you wanted to explore both. The free shuttle service to both cities also made for a perfect way to explore the area. Away from the overtly touristy areas of Da Nana, where most visitors tend to base themselves when exploring the area, give yourself a little treat and head to Lang Co, the Banyan Tree will make you feel like the royalty that once ruled this culturally rich Empire.
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of Banyan Tree Lang Co. As always, all opinions are our own.