It may be a favourite destination for backpackers, but it’s also possible to explore Vietnam in style. There’s plenty of culture, history and five-star luxury in Hue and Hoi An.
Lang Co’s fisherman’s village springs into life before sunrise. The fishermen – and fisherwomen – haul in their overnight bounties as traders set up stalls at the daily morning market.
By mid-afternoon the pace is sleepy; the occasional boat rows into shore and a small crew tend their nets, while a gaggle of local grandmas have turned the empty market tables into a convenient meeting spot, gossiping in the shade as ducks roam at their feet. None of them speak English, but cooing at fluffy ducklings is universal.
Children on their way home from school, wearing pristine blue uniforms and curious smiles, come to join us. It’s a simple scene, but experiences like this are what make my first ever visit to Vietnam unforgettable.
This part of the world is usually associated with backpackers but that’s changing.
In the last couple of years direct flights from London to the capital, Hanoi, have made getting there easier - it’s now perfectly possible to combine five-star comfort with history, culture and Eastern charm.
Lang Co, tucked between expanses of paddy fields and jungle on Vietnam’s central coast, is relatively quiet, so visitors here are still a novelty.
A short drive from the fishing village sits a stunning stretch of sandy beach which, until a few years ago, was almost completely remote.
Now it’s home to the newest addition to the Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts – Banyan Tree Lang Co and sister hotel Angsana.
Getting to Vietnam may have become easier, but it’s still a long journey, so the VIP greeting at Banyan Tree goes down a treat.
A large gong chimes to mark my arrival and I’m handed a refreshing drink before checking in (everybody’s a VIP here). Within moments, flight-weariness forgotten, I take in the surroundings.
Anybody familiar with Banyan Tree resorts will know they’re utterly stunning. There’s not a whiff of pretension and it’s all about calm and serenity here.
Flanked by thickly-forested hills, there’s something enticingly James Bond-like about the place, with its grey walls and clay-tiled rooftops and a footbridge - across the river which runs through the resort – leading to the open-air lobby, where the centrepiece is a large square pond with a trickling fountain.
The resort is made up of 49 private villas. Guests are whisked to their rooms on golf buggies.
I’m travelling alone, which seems a bit of a waste when I clamp eyes on my villa and its huge double bed and his-and-hers bathroom with a giant tub and walk-in shower.
I also have my own garden, with a small pool, Jacuzzi, daybed, loungers and table and chairs, and a little path and gate leading to the beach.
Though not exclusively for adults, the resort’s clearly been designed with couples in mind. At night, the river is lit with colourful lanterns and guests can enjoy a romantic boat ride.
Romantic dinners can be set up on the beach, or in your villa, though the resort’s restaurants are top notch.
For me, a walk along the deserted beach at sunrise (5am, if you’re wondering), followed by an al fresco garden breakfast, with birdsong and the occasional butterfly for company, is a total treat.
Ten minutes down the beach, Angsana is the more family-friendly of the two hotels, with rooms ranging from deluxe doubles to a two-bedroom loft suite. There’s also a large golf course and lots of activities, including watersports, a games room and crafts club, for kids and teens.
Lang Co is within easy distance of three Unesco World Heritage Sites – Hue, Hoi An and My Son.
Hue is a scenic 1.5-mile drive away. Roads here are in decent condition and relatively safe, with strict speed limits.
We pass endless rice paddies, dotted with workers wearing traditional Vietnamese conical hats and the odd water buffalo, grazing happily in the sun. “They deserve a rest – they’re the hardest workers in the field,” our guide Tran jokes.
Big blankets of rice are laid out to dry on the roadside, while pink lotus flowers and cemeteries filled with dazzling, ornate graves provide flashes of colour on the journey.
Hue city, with a population of 1.3 million. The streets buzz with scooters, carrying young office workers, couples and sometimes entire families.
A short drive away is the impressive Thien Mu Pagoda. Built in 1601, at seven storeys high it’s Vietnam’s tallest and has an iconic status among locals.
Monks meander peacefully around while visitors snap away with their cameras.
Historical Hoi An is perhaps the region’s most popular tourist hotspot and it’s easy to see why.
Again, a river runs through the ancient town, where a picturesque bridge, lined with brightly coloured lanterns, takes centre stage.
At night, the place dazzles with colour. After exploring the markets, I walked along the river and bought a candlelit Lotus float from a local schoolgirl on the bank.
You launch your candle on the river and make a wish as it’s carried away.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by the locals, many of whom are Buddhist. Despite its heartbreaking history, I’m moved by Vietnam’s sense of peace, and the people are among the loveliest I’ve met.
Banyan Tree Lang Co opened in May but it is already benefiting the local economy. The resort’s shop sells local art and hand-made wares.
A week’s stay at Banyan Tree Lang Co starts at £1,805 per person incl transfers, return flights with Vietnam Airlines from Gatwick and B&B in a Lagoon Pool Villa.
Book through Western & Oriental 0207 666 1234 or visiting www.westernoriental.com