Where to stay in Vietnam: The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa

Continuing my series of Where to Stay, today we’re in Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Phan Thiet is a coastal city in south-east Vietnam, a four to five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City airport – sounds long but it’s totally worth it when you get there. It’s the capital of Binh Thuan Province with a population of around 300,000 and is actually only 200km from Ho Chi Minh City. At its centre is a bustling little fishing port and an amazing market.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is outside the centre in the beach resort area of Mui Ne. There’s a long palm-lined stretch of sand with plenty of watersports and a strip of hotels, restaurants and shops alongside it.

The hotel is laid out through beautiful gardens and is built in the style of traditional Vietnamese country houses. Here’s what I loved about our stay there.

The room

We stayed in one of their beach bungalow. A meander down a winding path through lush tropical vegetation takes you to your brightly painted, welcoming home for your stay. Set right on the edge of the beach – a few steps from the sand – the room was light and spacious with an enormous bed, large wardrobe and generous seating area.

Looking back from the beach to the beautiful bungalows

The bed’s made even cosier at night with the mosquito net

The glass doors opened out onto a large patio complete with two amazingly comfortable sun beds and an umbrella. This is where we spent a lot of time reading, sipping wine and just taking in the marvellous view from our verandah.

The seating area and our view towards the sea

There were good tea and coffee-making facilities, including a range of teas and a fridge which was restocked every day with fresh bottles of water and replacements for anything else you may have drunk. So no issues with in-room refreshments then. Other essentials (for me anyway) included a safe, plush bathrobes and towels, lovely bathroom products and great wifi.

The large bed and its crisp white linen

The bathroom

One of the best hotel bathrooms ever…large with a separate toilet, a wonderful corner bath for long bubbly soaks and – best of all – an outside area with a hammock and powerful shower.

Light floods in from the enclosed outdoor shower

How I love an outdoor shower

The views

The joys of waking up every day and opening the curtains to look through palm trees across the beach to the vast South China Sea.

Looking out across the South China Sea…just awesome

And as the sun set every day the little lights along the beach came on turning our beach view into a twinkling, magical land.

Night comes and a magic falls over the beach

I particularly loved the light at sunset

The pools

As well as the warm, inviting sea to swim in there were two pools, never crowded while we were there. Both had waiter service so you could lie back and enjoy lunch or a cocktail in the sun. The infinity pool at the top of the resort is perfect for getting in your lengths.

Looking through the hibiscus to the pool

Chef Hoang and his amazing food

This is a hotel with food in a league of its own with a genius chef. From the vast breakfast buffets to the amazing dinner menu with a selection of Vietnamese and Western dishes, there are plenty of exciting flavours to discover. Chef Hoang is always on hand making sure things are running smoothly when he’s not cooking in the kitchen.

The first couple of breakfasts took some serious decision making. The range of Vietnamese dishes on offer was stupendous – all on top of plenty of pastries, eggs any way you want them and a tropical fruit feast. I soon established my favourites – and tucked into fresh Vietnamese rolls every morning, filled with prawns, vegetables and herbs and dipped into Chef’s delicious, spicy peanut sauce.

Fresh Vietnamese rolls for breakfast, just delightful

A colourful first breakfast course of tropical fruit

We pored over the menu every night carefully choosing different dishes until we’d pretty much gone through it all. We tucked into delightful salads with Chef’s secret dressing, fresh fish and wonderful pork and duck dishes.

The amazing prawn salad in crunchy baskets

On our last night Chef Hoang made us a special dinner. We started with his special prawn salad served on banana leaves in these lovely bamboo bicycles (love the presentation).

Our prawns presented on the cutest of dishes

And for mains he specially selected a grouper for us from the market that morning. It was baked in a tangy sauce and  parcelled into rice papers with herbs, noodles and vegetables added at the table. A real ceremony.

Our special grouper and vegetable parcels

The beach

Okay everyone knows I’m a real beach baby, so I was in complete heaven here. The whole of hotel life is focused around the beach. You eat looking out to sea, open your curtains to the beach, exercise by walking along the beach…and it’s all rather quiet as the beach is private to the hotel.

At the Victoria life centres around the beach

My favourite time of day was sunset, which happens early in Vietnam – around 5pm. The beach became bathed in golden lights and shades of orange and pink.

Another beautiful sunset turns everything golden

The cookery course

We signed up for a food and cooking excursion. Awakening early we headed into the harbour with our guide, Lam and Chef Hoang. The catch of the day was coming in and the negotiations were in full swing as people heckled over prices – the women take delivery of the catch from the men and do all the bargaining.

The bustling harbour in Phan Thiet centre

From there we headed to the colourful market in the centre of town with it’s beautiful piles of tropical fruit, fish galore and every cut of meat you could need. Plus all those random household necessities dotted throughout. On the way home we stopped off at the local fish sauce factory where Lam explained the vast quantities of fish sauce consumed by the Vietnamese – it’s used in so many of their dishes.

On our return to the hotel we headed for our cookery course in the beautiful thatched gazebo on the beach. Chef Hoang and two of his chefs cooked us a delightful lunch which we ate overlooking the beach. Nothing like having three chefs cook you a private lunch! We left armed with a tasty collection of Vietnames recipes, including one for his secret salad dressing. I really must make that soon, it’s fabulous. And no, my lips are sealed.

Chef Hoang and his smiling helpers

Here’s the amazing prawn and banana flower starter they made specially for us. How exotic is that?

Prawn and banana flower with Chef Hoang’s secret dressing

The staff

The service at the Victoria is impeccable. We were so well looked after by everyone, from the front desk, waiters, chefs, masseurs, cleaners and gardeners. There were smiling, happy faces everywhere and nothing was too much trouble.

The spa

We had excellent massages in the open-fronted spa, with sea breezes and crashing waves providing the background to our indulgent treatments. Vietnamese massages are slightly less harsh than my experience of Thai ones, making it a perfectly relaxing experience while also getting rid of all those long-haul-flight induced knots. I also had a lovely manicure – the staff were expert and prices good value.

The gardens

The beach bungalows are sprinkled through the most beautiful and lovingly tended gardens. Perfect green lawns punctuated by our sunny yellow rooms and tropical trees and flowers including three of my absolute favourites: hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani.

Wash your feet off after a walk through the gardens

Live life surrounded by bougainvillea and hibiscus

The bedtime stories and other special touches

Okay this is a unique one. Every night we returned from dinner to discover cake delights in our little wooden box with a rolled up scroll alongside it – our nightly bedtime story. A truly charming touch and a great way to find out more about Vietnamese folklore.

I so looked forward to my bedtime story every night

Other special touches I loved included the fact that a chilled glass of water was delivered to your bed at the pool or beach as soon as you sat down – why doesn’t every hotel do this?

And the towels were extra large – having been specially made to perfectly cover the cushion on the wonderfully comfortable beach beds.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is the sort of place where you walk around with a smile on your face all day. Its beautiful and relaxing environment is made even more idyllic by the combination of smiley service and wonderful food.

It was a sad day indeed when we had to say goodbye and head off on the next leg of our adventure to Saigon, which you can read about here.

We organised our trip to Vietnam and Thailand with travel experts Eastravel. They are great to deal with and at the planning stage we spent some time discussing where we would visit and stay – with great results. It was a fabulous, well organised trip. You can read more about Vietnam and Thailand soon. Watch this space.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite thing about it? Do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Lovely lunch on the beach at Escuela de Pieter

I love the beach. You will know this if you’re a regular reader! So a fabulous restaurant right on the beach, well, that’s my idea of pure paradise. We try to visit Escuela de Pieter on the La Manga Strip every year. A tasty lunch followed by a dip in the beautifully warm Mar Menor and some relaxation time on one of their loungers (free to use if you eat in the restaurant). When in Spain…

The menu is wide-ranging with a great selection of meat and fish. It’s quite difficult to choose, so we pondered our options for quite some time. Luckily a gazpacho amuse bouche was delivered to help lessen the hunger pangs.

gazpacho

Yummy gazpacho overlooking the beach

This is one of my favourite dishes. Simply three ingredients, perfectly cooked and all the flavours zing through. The baby lamb chops are served with the softest and tastiest of potatoes and grilled green peppers. They are very baby which means you have to eat them with your fingers…even better.

lamb chops

Potatoes, peppers and lamb chops can’t taste better than this

Eggs are much used in Spain cooking. Another simple dish, fried baby whitebait on another bed of softest potatoes with a freshly fried, piping hot egg atop. Cut into your egg and watch the orangeness of the yolk soak through. Totally yum!

whitebait

A fishy delight with eggs and chips?

And then there’s the garlic chicken and potatoes. Okay it doesn’t look that exciting but it’s amazing how bursting with flavour it is. The garlic has a lovely sweetness to it, and again potatoes and chicken are perfectly cooked.

chicken

A garlicky sweet plate of chicken

And here’s the view! Grab a table at the front and settle in for lovely food. Beach life rules.

view1

A table beside the sand with views of blue sea and sky

Pieter de Escuela is on the La Manga Strip overlooking the Mar Menor. It’s a long strip of land (manga means sleeve in Spanish), it’s near the 17km marker on the main road.

Seafood beach-style at Harbour House

There’s something totally magical about eating lunch while the ocean waves crash up against your restaurant. I’m a total beach baby, and as soon as I walk into Harbour House, I feel like I don’t want to leave…ever.

Aside from the waves and the stunning view (the restaurant is surrounded by glass), the whole place is decorated in shades of blue with lovely wooden furniture, such a beach-house feel. It’s what my ideal home would look like.

When you go to Harbour House you simply have to eat fish, as much of it as you possibly can. Seriously, stay away from the meaty menu options as you can be sure the fish will be so fresh and perfectly prepared. Oh, and don’t focus too much on the menu, rather take a look at the blackboard where the day’s specials are displayed. I always end up ordering from there.

To start I had this amazing yellowtail tartare. The yellowtails seem to be jumping out of the ocean at the moment so they are fresh, meaty and just beautiful.

yellowtail tartare

The freshest of yellowtail, a masterpiece on the plate

The tian of prawns (also on the blackboard) offers a tower of aubergine, tomato and avocado, surrounded by tempura prawns.

prawn tian

Juicy prawns surround the tian

Focusing on the fishy side of the menu I decided to go for langoustines for my main. You can order as many (or as few) as you want, two seemed to fit the for me bill today. Beautifully sweet and meaty and served with the most delicious savoury rice.

langos

Love the langoustines

There were three line fish specials today, one of them being…yellowtail. Served with an orange beurre blanc, artichokes and spinach.

yellowtail

The yellowtail’s unbelievably fresh and citrussy

Of course, if you’re in a seafood restaurant there’s always the ultimate dish…the seafood platter. Crayfish, prawns, mussels in a deliciously creamy sauce, spicy calamari and fried linefish. A veritable feast!

seafood platter

Tuck into a feast of seafood

I wandered around snapping happily with my iPad when I arrived to try to capture the beachy feel of Harbour House. How beautiful is it? Just to say it’s empty because we arrived at noon, for an early lunch…it soon filled up.

interior

There’s also a beautiful deck outside where you can chill out before (or after) lunch…again this is for my dream house. Blue and white all the way, it’s the perfect lunch venue!

deck

Soak up the sunshine on the stunning deck

Harbour House is at Kalk Bay Harbour, Kalk Bay, Cape Peninsular.

My Krabi Shake Diary

I love Thailand. One of my missions is to visit as many places in this beautiful country that I can. This year we visited the beach resort of Ao Nang in Krabi.  Pretty much the first decision of every Thailand day is what flavour shake to pick up on the way to the beach. I know, it’s a real struggle. How I miss my daily shake. And this blog gives me the perfect excuse to show you shakes photographed in beautiful settings!

Shakes come in many fruity and vegetabley flavours and are basically the fresh fruit or veg mixed with a dash of sugar syrup and a handful of ice and blended. On my tasting quest I decided to stick to tropical flavours, so no apple, pear, orange or lemon for me – though I must admit to being intrigued to see what they could do with lemons.

First drink on arriving in Ao Nang was a watermelon shake at one of the local coffee shops. My favourite flavour last year in Phuket, after much sampling and deliberation. Wonderfully refreshing, it’s the perfect hot-weather drink that says welcome to Thailand to me.

watermelon

Watermelon shake in the sunshine, and it comes with an orchid. Welcome to Thailand.

Time to explore the beach area and enjoy a pineapple shake at the Golden Beach Hotel with its beautiful outside area under the trees. Krabi is resplendent with many huge fig trees, a welcome place to escape from the heat of the sun.

pineapple

Pineapple shake under the trees

The beach fruit bar where there’s a huge selection of shakes, all for only 40 baht a time – that’s less than a pound. Thailand is such great value.

The fruit bar on the way to the beach

The fruit bar on the way to the beach

Time for spectacularly sweet mango. Oh, and we got free fruit every day on arrival at the beach, pineapple, watermelon or bananas.

Beautifully sweet mango shake on our favourite part of the beach

Beautifully sweet mango shake on our favourite part of the beach

Here’s my papaya shake on the beach where the local kids had a ball swimming and playing in the sand.

Today it was papaya to savour

Today it was papaya to savour

Today we took a boat trip to Railay Bay (more of that later) and it was another chance to tuck into a watermelon shake and photograph it in a different scenario. How beautiful is this?

Watermelon on beautiful Railay Beach

Watermelon on beautiful Railay Beach

Fabulously sweet and flavoursome tomato shake. Was dying to add some vodka and tabasco, but all a bit early in the morning.

Amazing sweet tomatoes

Amazing sweet tomatoes

Loved the flavour of the passion fruit but as ever with this tasty fruit, the pips are a little off putting.

Wonderfully fruity passionfruit

Wonderfully fruity passionfruit

Well, I certainly feel I did some proper research. This year mango was the winner, I celebrated this on my last day with the number one shake of the holiday. If you’re going to Thailand search out a shake bar and get tasting! You feel like you’re drinking health in a glass and the flavours are all amazing.

Beachside at Escuela de Pieter

I’ve got to admit to being a beach baby…maybe it’s because I grew up in a land-locked country, I just love being by the sea! And a restaurant on the beach, now you’re talking – Escuela de Pieter is the place for me! It’s along the La Manga strip, a long sleeve (manga means sleeve in Spanish) of land with the lagoon of the Mar Menor on one side and the Mediterranean on the other (double sea views in places!). This big Spanish beach resort is packed with restaurants and bars and our favourite is Escuela de Pieter at the 17km marker on the strip (just in case you try to find it, the km markers are used as navigation aids and landmarks along this long piece of land).

Sitting under palm trees on a beautiful little beach overlooking the Mar Menor – really, there aren’t many places I’d rather have lunch. And the food’s really good, too. To start off with, bread and a tasty trio of Murcian salad (a surprising good combo of tinned tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, onion, tuna and olives), alioli (garlic mayo) and olives were brought to the table while we pondered our choices on the menu.

Image

Wine ordered, snacks arrived…life is good!

We started with house croquettes and battered cod balls. They were beautifully succulent and the choux-type pastry of the cod balls was quite a revelation. A starter of amazing flavours and textures.

Image

Our fishy starter was perfect…and I just had to get the beach in shot, too!

For main Terry went for the spare ribs in sweet and sour sauce with rice. All perfectly cooked, the rib meat fell away from the bone.

Image

Ribs with the softest meat and luxurious sauce.

And this is one of my favourite dishes ever! Baby lamb chops and fresh garlic, green peppers and potatoes. I don’t know quite how they cook these amazing potatoes, but they’re both soft and crispy and so tasty. The mix of ingredients is quite simply perfect.

Image

The most heavenly of dishes

Image

Could a restaurant look more welcoming?

Image

Sit down, order your wine and take in the view.

How I love our annual trip to Escuela de Pieter. I guarantee if you go there you’ll totally fall in love with the place, both the setting and the food, as well as the lovely service. Next year we’re going for sundowners and dinner, it’s decided – the sunset will be spectacular! Maybe there’ll even be time for lunch, too…