A very Six Senses arrival…
We arrive at Six Senses Con Dao after ten long days traversing the north of Vietnam. As anyone who has witnessed the bustling, moped-flooded streets of Hoi An and Hanoi will know, serious sensory overload is the order of the day. Vibrant, eclectic and humming with life, yes. Relaxing? Not so much. Just try crossing the road. Immersing ourselves in the sights and sounds of Vietnam’s busy thoroughfares was amazing, but by the end of those ten days we were in serious need of some space. Enter Six Senses.
Con Dao is a group of 16 islands off the south-east coast of Vietnam, famous for their Robinson Crusoe-like seclusion. The Six Senses is located on Con Son, the largest of the islands, known for its stunning beaches, coral reefs and luscious forests. To get to our destination we board a small, propeller-driven plane that carries us away from Ho Chi Minh City and across the cloud-flecked sea to the island’s tiny airport. We find ourselves, both physically and mentally, leaving the busyness of the city behind.
We’re met at the airport by a Six Senses representative who escorts us to the resort – a quick 20 minute drive along the island’s only road. Staying true to the Six Senses’ philosophy of discovering areas of outstanding natural beauty, the resort is located on a breathtaking piece of land, tucked between rolling hills on its own stretch of private beach. Protected as a national and marine park, it is the archipelago’s first five-star offering. It’s a testament to the hotel’s eco credentials that we struggle to spot it as we trundle along the bumpy coastal road, as the natural, timber-clad exterior is barely discernible against the forested backdrop.
We are given a glass of juice and fresh fruit on arrival, before being introduced to our Guest Experience Manager. Available 24 hours a day, the GEMs are there to see to the needs of each villa. Want to book dinner in the nearby town? Sorted. Fancy a sunrise yoga session? No problem. Our lovely GEM Ngoc gives us a whistle-stop tour of the resort’s main thoroughfare, which is composed of pretty wood-panelled buildings that house a shop, reception, ice cream parlour (free ice cream is served from 11am to 6pm) and bar area.
Made up of 50 highly private villas, the resort exudes the charm of a traditional fishing village with all the mod cons of a contemporary hotel. Our villa, which is a short buggy ride from the reception, is laid out over two floors. Upstairs is an airy, light-filled bedroom with stunning views over the bay, and downstairs, a dressing room-cum-bathroom that leads to an outdoor rain shower. Out front we discover our own private infinity pool, complete with tall bamboo walls that offer total privacy from the neighbours. If you need further proof of the hotel’s private appeal, Brad and Angelina have been known to holiday here with the kids. We kick off our shoes and lean on the balcony as the sun dips behind the hills, casting long shadows across the deserted beach.
It may look languorous but a plethora of activities, for both adults and kids, is available for those who want the full island experience – although rotating from bed to pool to sun lounger is, of course, very much encouraged. With Con Dao considered one of the best examples of marine conservation in the country, snorkelling is a great way to spend an afternoon. From the comfort of our boat (we’re joined by only a handful of other Six Senses guests) we explore the crystal waters and marvel at the colourful marine life and 340 species of coral.
Although you could happily spend a week within the perimeters of this island paradise, the resort encourages guests to experience local life and provides a daily shuttle service and guided historical tour of the nearby town. You can’t wander the streets of Con Son without noticing the looming presence of the 11 derelict prisons which haunt the island. Our tour guide takes us around Phu Hai, the oldest and largest of the jails, which dates back to 1862. They’re hard stories to hear, but it’s an important snapshot of Vietnam’s tumultuous history. The tour finishes at the Hàng Dương Cemetery, a sprawling memorial garden where some 20,000 Vietnamese prisoners are buried. Peaceful and beautiful, it’s an antidote to the harrowing darkness of the cells. We’re shown the famous grave of Võ Thị Sáu, the first woman to be executed by firing squad in 1952.
We return to the resort and enjoy a relaxing dinner back at The Market, one of the Six Senses’ two eateries. With laid-back, open-air vibes and delectable local cuisine, we tuck into a plethora of mouth-watering traditional dishes. Our meal is topped off by a drink at the hotel’s second and more formal offering, By the Beach. Lit by flickering lanterns, the tables spill out onto the beach’s wooden promenade and we relish the stunning panoramic views of the moonlit mountains.
Our last day arrives all too quickly and we indulge in a lingering breakfast at the beach-front restaurant, making the most of the sumptuous spread available – from American pancakes to traditional Vietnamese Pho and everything in-between. Our final stop is the Six Senses Spa, a bamboo-clad sanctuary located at the far end of the resort. The spa houses four treatment rooms and a yoga and meditation pavilion, all overlooking the Lo Voi mountains and glistening bay, and offers a wide range of therapeutic treatments.
We opt for the Herbal Poultices massage, a 90-minute treatment to soothe city-weary souls (guilty as charged). Starting with a foot wash and head massage, we’re treated by two therapists to an Ayurvedic massage using homemade oils. This is followed by another 30 minutes of herbal massage using homegrown herbal poultices soaked in warm oil. A truly indulgent way to end our stay at the Six Senses Con Dao. It is with heavy hearts that we leave our villa and start the long journey back to the city. We catch one last glance of that unforgettable view as the plane takes off, before our Vietnamese island paradise becomes a dot on the horizon.