Finding Peace In Vietnam With The Four Seasons Resort Nam Hai
The lavish Four Seasons Resort Nam Hai means swapping stress for an elevated slice of solace and luxury healing.
At first it feels stilted, unnatural, a little silly. Trying to focus attention on the ground under our feet, the sounds in the air and the smells of the lush vegetation around us only lead to an awareness of distant traffic and sharp stones. We’re being led in a silent walking meditation on our first morning after arrival, and it would be safe to say we aren’t yet settled into the rhythm of life at the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, in Vietnam’s Hoi An.
But it doesn’t take long. After just five minutes or so, the city-dwelling urge to walk too fast subsides and we start to settle into the sensations, becoming present to the tiny wonders around us: an insect buzzing, smooth rocks, vibrant flowers.
The Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, which occupies 35 palm-filled hectares along a kilometre of prime beachfront, was named ‘Best Emotional Recovery Space’ and one of the top five spas in the world at the 2019 Conde Nast Traveller Spa Awards.
In a world of lavish five- and six-star spas and retreats, what does it take to secure that coveted trophy? Offering a coherent and comprehensive wellness experience, inspired by the teachings of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, designed to truly bring the concept of ‘mindfulness’ to life in many ways throughout the resort.
Hanh is the second most influential Buddhist speaker in the world after the Dalai Lama (yes, he has been on Oprah), and a prolific author, having penned more than 100 books on mindfulness, global ethics, peace and environmentalism. A copy of his Love Letter to the Earth sits in every room at The Nam Hai.
Many guests arrive for their holiday exhausted and stressed – and the 152-room resort itself, with cascading infinity pools, Vietnamese colonial architecture and luxurious spaciousness, is an oasis of calm. The wellness program adds an additional layer of replenishment and the chance to learn tools to take back to the everyday.
The Heart of the Earth Spa, which features eight ‘floating’ treatment rooms around a central lotus pond and a yoga pavilion, is where the concept of mindfulness is most vividly brought to life.
“What we learn from Thich Nhat Hanh is that when you arrive, you are here. You forget about others for the moment and think about your health and wellbeing, taking the time and the space for your soul,” says spa manager Dwi Susanti.
To achieve this elusive state of presence, guests are encouraged to partake in daily meditation and yoga sessions – be it stability yoga, inspired by the first chakra, which aims to create balance and connect to the earth; heart-awakening yoga, focused on generating compassion and acceptance of others; or anti-gravity yoga, giving participants a different perspective on their relationship to the ground.
Spa treatments are also themed around three particular concepts that Thich Nhat Hanh labels “nature’s lessons”: stability, creativity and non-judgement.
The spa’s signature treatment, the Nam Hai Earth Song, combines these elements with local touches in a 2.5-hour indulgence. Agar wood, a local incense, is traditionally used for cleansing and purification during transitions to new phases of life – a marriage, moving house, or during a holiday season. It’s burned during the treatment, which includes an invigorating sea salt, lemon peel, mint and coconut oil scrub, a soak in a bath laced with lemongrass and flowers, a massage that features crushed ginger placed down the spine line to energise and tuning forks applied to the body, and a sonic bath using crystal singing bowls. These bowls, made from gold, quartz and other minerals, are tuned to 432 Hertz, said to be the closest frequency to that of the earth.
Sound healing (vibration and meditation sessions) is also a trademark of the spa, with therapists required to undertake two weeks of training in playing the singing bowls to ensure they understand how the created vibrations affect the body and mind, and to learn to embody the correct intention as they play.
For those more aesthetically inclined, the spa also offers a range of advanced facials, such as the anti-ageing Rose Infinity facial using products from Aromatherapy Associates. These deploy rose stem cells to penetrate the final layer of the dermis, working directly with the telomere – the ‘cap’ that provides protection against damage to the DNA, which shortens as we age.
It’s a supremely relaxing, 90-minute experience, which we’ll testify, leaves the skin looking even better after two weeks than immediately post-treatment.
Locally inspired mindfulness rituals also inform the daily schedule at The Nam Hai. Marble candleholders are a recurring design element throughout the resort and villas, and the daily Candle Lighting Ceremony references the practice of Vietnamese families making offers to their ancestors. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Goodnight Kiss to the Earth ritual, in which guests are guided to write down their hopes and wishes onto paper, then place them in small candle-lit lanterns and gently float them on the spa’s lotus pond.
Reminders of an ancient past
These ceremonies are reminiscent of evenings in the nearby Ancient Town district of Hoi An, where handmade paper lanterns are released from sampan boats onto the Thu Bon River.
As the only major port in Vietnam prior to the 18th century, Hoi An – which means ‘peaceful meeting place’ – was once a trading centre for ceramics and silk, popular with Japanese, Chinese and European traders. Examples of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architectural styles, as well as French colonial influence, are still visible in the
old town, which was World Heritage-listed by UNESCO in 1985.
Hoi An’s famous silk lanterns also reflect the cultural meshing that took place here over centuries – the shapes of Japanese cylindrical lanterns and Chinese oval lanterns were blended by the Vietnamese into a conical shape which became characteristic throughout the country.
It was by a few twists of fate that the historic buildings of Hoi An, some dating back to the 15th century, have survived so well. At the end of the 18th century, Hoi An’s river mouth was affected by silt, and changes in local rule saw exclusive trading rights awarded to nearby Da Nang. This move meant that Hoi An, having no trade significance, was spared from bombing during the Vietnam War.
The My Son Sanctuary, an easy day trip from the Nam Hai, was not quite so fortunate. Often compared to the Cambodian temple complex of Angkor Wat, this World Heritage site of 4th to 14th-century Champa-dynasty ruins shows the remains of a civilisation buried under the earth for centuries. Sadly it also shows the carnage wrought by the Vietnam War, with bomb damage and craters still visible.
A visit here also brings powerfully to life the searingly hot and steamy jungle conditions that the opposing forces were contending with during the conflict.
Travellers looking to have a more intensive wellness experience while still enjoying the surrounds of the Four Seasons can join the three-day mindfulness program, Retreat, facilitated by Dr Buathon Thienarrom, holistic practitioner and creator of the ZenNaTai approach to integrative healing.
The program begins at 6:30am each day and includes a Sitting, Walking and Eating Meditation session, Dharma Talk and Sharing with metal singing bowls, and a daily spa treatment.
“In keeping with our resort-wide mindfulness vision, Retreat will offer guests the place, space and skills to look inward and hone awareness, calming body and mind for a sublime sense of stillness,” explains Susanti.
Additionally, the Visiting Masters program, offered throughout the year, sees healing luminaries offer treatments such as sixth sense readings, chakra balancing and reiki, colour therapy and yoga sound journeys, during two-week residencies.
And as part of the Private Retreats program, guests staying in the larger pool villas can enjoy private yoga and aqua yoga classes, as well as workshops on how to make home remedies such as the spa’s body scrub and ginger tea.
(For the less health-oriented, there are also family-friendly private retreat programs – think giant pool inflatables, face painting and balloon animals, as well as options ideal for sharing with a group of friends, including a private summer cocktail class or ‘house party’ with DJ.)
If all the inner contemplation becomes too much, venturing out on the Streets & Eats tour of Hoi An, run by Vespa Adventures exclusively for Four Seasons, brings the unequalled joy of speeding across rice paddies at sunset on the back of a vintage Vespa, in pursuit of excellent banh xeo and white rose dumplings, made by the same family for 150 years.
If that doesn’t bring you firmly and mindfully into the present, what will?
‘Retreat’ runs from November 28 to December 2; approx. $4600 for four nights single occupancy, or approx. $5800 double occupancy.