Vietnam’s Avana Retreat Offers Authentic Culture And Hilltop Serenity

Listiyo Ridawer

Hanoi with its French Colonial architecture, vivid street food scene and sea of motorbikes/death-defying street crossings filled up with tourists again when the country reopened to outside visitors in May. So did other well-known destinations. Three and a half hours west, though, in the off the beaten track Mai Chau Province, the new Avana Retreat is offering something completely different: a glimpse into local culture undiluted by tourism with alluring scenery composed of jungle, terraced rice fields, mountains and waterfalls.

That location was essential to the realization of the 37 acre resort which opened last year while the country was still closed. “It’s one thing to build a resort near the wonders of nature but to build in the midst of all this natural splendor, with a footprint as light and retractable as we have, makes for an immersive experience that can be overwhelming,” said Mr. Vu Huy, the Retreat’s founder. The decision to acquire the property before plans were finalized about what to do with it was driven by the desire to protect it from mass tourism which has overrun other Vietnam destinations.

The 36 villas ranging in size from 1,054 to 2,465 square feet were constructed according to local Hmong and Thai building techniques. The roofs are thatched like the local stilt houses; the walls are fashioned from earth as they are in Hmong homes; the rattan ceilings are made using a Thai weaving technique and the warm wood interiors feature local arts and crafts, including hand-drawn beeswax paintings of intricate ethnic patterns. Several have plunge pools and one placed directly on top of a terraced rice field has the optimum view from the front deck.

Other scenic details are incorporated into the property. Lanterns light walkways that thread through the surrounding forest. The open air yoga platform is extended over the stream and the eight room Orchid Spa, which uses local healing herbs and oils in its treatments, was constructed alongside it. The four infinity pools were positioned to take in views of sunset or the descending cloud layer and the Cloud Pool Bar was located specifically for it, to observe the cloud covering that settles just below the property. Private dinners can be arranged on a platform overlooking a waterfall and a natural spring fed by a waterfall known as the Hidden Spring Lagoon is reserved as a private swimming hole for guests.

The overall tone here is local in everything from the composition of the staff—90% are from local villages-the uniforms influenced from Hmong dress and dishes composed of ingredients sourced or grown on property or nearby. The wide ranging menu in the Green Chili restaurant offers a few international dishes (pizza, pasta, Australian Wagyu beef) but the menu is densely packed with regional specialties such as Mai Chau catfish with dill root, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, herbs, cucumber, green mango, carrot, onion and fish sauce and grilled duck with shallots, lemongrass, Vietnamese herbs and mountain spices. Guests can order either a la carte or in special sets emphasizing one ingredient such as duck, chicken, pork, beef or green fish in different preparations.

To further encourage local discovery, there are tours by Jeep on mountain roads, excursions by kayak in Ba Khan lake followed by lunch in a local’s house, treks through the mountains to Hmong and/or Thai villages past rice fields and bamboo forests with the sound of the bells on buffaloes ringing in the distance. And when they get there, these guests will be the only visitors—no crowds, no tour buses, just typical culture on natural display.

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