“In the third edition of our Black Book article series, we encourage you to discover lands of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities — where ancient and modern civilisations collide. Wander the ancient cobbled streets in mystical Yunnan, or slow down to the rhythm of village life in exotic Vietnam through our latest collection of fine accommodations and outstanding experiences.”
– By Paulyn T and Loretta T
Yunnan through our eyes…
Hidden Valley Boutique Resort
Nestled in the misty mountains of Shangri-La, the transcendent Tibetan utopia in China’s last frontier, you’ll find the aptly named Hidden Valley Boutique Resort. A glamping boutique resort habitually visited by the odd grazing herd of cattle, this remote, postcard-worthy setting allows you to disconnect and truly immerse in the beauty of the Himalayas.
Here is where one can glamorously camp under the stars in a modern tented villa inspired by nomadic tents, or unwind in a 150-year-old authentic Tibetan residence that once belonged to a village chief. The resort offers an all-inclusive experience, including fresh farm-to-table meals and carefully curated activities; ranging from explorations of ancient monasteries to traditional black pottery-making — all of which are designed to provide a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the Tibetan way of life. For a slower change of pace, go horseback riding on the resident ponies or try your hand at oil-painting. For the rest of the time, we suggest simply tuning out and tuning in to the silence.
Photo credit: Hidden Valley
Sunyata Hotel Dali
Located in the heart of Dali Old Town, Sunyata Hotel is a far cry from the traditional Chinese shophouses that fill the immediate landscape of the city. With an exterior constructed entirely out of concrete and glass, stepping into this award-winning hotel that’s built like a hidden village is akin to entering a futuristic new realm — one so polished and modern that you momentarily forget where you just stepped in from.
Accompanying this stylish façade are beautifully wizened trees and lush blankets of greenery that sprout from the central courtyard, creating a soothing atmosphere. There’s even an intimate Tea Pavilion in the centre of the courtyard where you can enjoy a steaming cup of specialty Pu’er tea at any time of the day. Comfort hasn’t been forgotten either as each of the 14 rooms comes with kinfolk-esque elements in the form of natural materials such as bamboo beams, rustic wood furnishings and textured linens.
After a long day of exploring, this is a place we would gladly come home to.
Photo credit: Sunyata
Jinmao Purelax Mountain Lodge
Wake up to views of snow-capped alpine peaks peeking out of the clouds every morning at the Zen-inducing Jinmao Purelax Mountain Lodge. Each room has original elements inspired by local traditions, and a spacious private balcony offering prime Jade Dragon Snow Mountain views. If that isn’t reason enough to get out of bed, perhaps the rest of the hotel’s impressive line-up will.
Not much cajoling is needed to immerse yourself fully within this heritage-rich setting. One can soothe weary muscles at the spa equipped with a sauna, foot-reflexology suite and whirlpool, or dine at elegant restaurants that deliver an edible education in Naxi culture (yak hotpot, anyone?).
Above all, Jinmao prides itself on authentic local experiences so that guests can gain insight into the local way of life. The hotel often hosts local artisans and villagers to lead classes and activities, with a seasonal calendar of on- and off-site activities. Master the art of traditional crafts such as clay sculpting and paper-making, learn tai chi or calligraphy, or go stargazing with an astronomer.
Photo credit: Trip Advisor
Learn the secrets of artisanal cheese making
A stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Xizhou’s morning market lies a well-kept secret: the town’s legendary cheese-maker. From her well-preserved traditional Bai house, this Muslim cheese-maker milks cows in the back of her nearly 100-year-old home to create limited batches of her distinctive, artisanal ru shan. Produced in thin sheets, it’s a local specialty usually eaten deep-fried and garnished with sugar or sweet rose petal jam, or placed in local tea cups with nuts. She has since stopped selling her popular product at the markets and instead, those in the know willingly travel the distance to her home for a slice or two.
Unravel the mystery of the shamans
In the remote villages of Yunnan, discover the mystical rites and rituals of the Naxi and Yi minorities from shamans who are handpicked for the role at a young age. A shaman, also referred to as “Dongba” (meaning “Wise Man” in the Naxi language), is responsible for the spiritual well-being of his tribe or community — entire villages rely on these religious men for advice, healing and even naming male children. In addition to mastering shamanic practices, these shamans are the few living people who know how to write the fascinating Dongba script — the world’s only surviving pictorial language still in use today.
Azerai Can Tho
Spread over a verdant islet on a river in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Azerai Can Tho is a picture-perfect idyll of calm where a lotus-flecked lake shaded by palm and banyan trees surrounds this island property.
Separated by the Hau river, Azerai is removed from the urban bustle — although a boat can ferry you to the city in minutes where the lively floating markets, sizzling street food and gilded pagodas await. Spend an invigorating day exploring, before returning to The Grill — the hotel’s signature restaurant — for flame-grilled fish and spiced wagyu beef dinners, or enjoy regional comfort dishes suited for every palate.
If downtime is what you’re after, sample a range of massages and therapies, many of which draw on ancient Vietnamese healing techniques. The oils and scrubs are made with local products like Mekong rice, almond oil and coffee, showcasing the richness of the Mekong Delta.
To complete your experience, the 60 airy open-plan two-room accommodations, dressed in warm auburn wood and finished with cream fabrics, are inspired by traditional Mekong design and exude equal tranquility.
Photo credit: Azerai Can Tho
Six Senses Con Dao
A remote sanctuary only accessible by air, Six Senses Con Dao is the first five-star resort cradled within Vietnam’s archipelago islands. This pristine locale, set in a protected national and marine park, lends itself to a plethora of soothing ocean and sea views from every inch of your private villa (including the bathtub!). Delightful seclusion also extends to the main pool, as well as each villa where private infinity pools offer stress-free, private lounging.
As with any Six Senses outpost, the spa is the highlight, with this one set in the shadows of the glorious Lo Voi Mountains and fringed by tropical gardens, with a yoga and meditation pavilion and outdoor treatment rooms to boot. Stargazers can enjoy pleasant evenings in the observatory, while thrill-seekers can look forward to scuba diving, water sports, or even day trips to the local marine park’s turtle hatchery.
Photo credit: Six Senses Con Dao
Amidst an expanse of tropical forest sloping into clear waters, rainbow coral reefs and a vast coastline with miles for days, this jungle retreat sits loftily atop a coastal ridge overlooking Nui Chua National Park.
The park is one of the world’s most biologically diverse protected areas, and makes for exhilarating outdoor adventures. Go wildlife spotting (while rare, sun bears and graceful muntjac deer have been known to visit) or reconnect with nature on a guided walk. Daredevils will appreciate the off-road biking trails through neighbouring vineyards and local pottery villages.
After a day in the wild, return to your serene abode for a healing spa and wellness session set by a lotus-blossom dotted lake, or work on your chaturanga (‘planking’ for the uninitiated) with the hotel’s resident yoga guru. There’s also a private beach overlooking Vinh Hy bay, beach club, pool and tennis court if you want to stay within the compound.
The rooms embody true perfection with glorious timber decks, lake and ocean views, heated pools and 360-degree privacy from curious eyes. Furnished with king-sized beds, dual vanities and the essential accoutrements, the pared-down approach blends beautifully with the straight lines and muted fabrics that make up the space.
Photo credit: Aman Resorts
Tales from the battlefield from an ex-fighter pilot
Let history come to life through the eyes of a former fighter pilot, Nguyen Hong My. In the heat of the Vietnam War, he was the first Vietnamese pilot to bring down an American jet — a considerably unbelievable feat. He eventually shot down two more jets before it came to an end when US airman Daniel Cherry shot him down. With both his arms broken in the crash, he soon left the military to settle down with a family and become an economist. Forty years later, he met with the US Brigadier that shot him down and they are now close friends — a testament to the new era of peaceful goodwill between once warring nations. Stop by his humble home for tea as you peruse old photos and hear stories from the battlefield.
Photo credit: National Museum of the USAF
Championing sustainability one cup of coffee at a time
Since moving to Vietnam from Japan, Reiko Usada has become a pillar in her community. Her U Café Hoi An, built with locally-sourced materials, promotes environmentally sustainable methods and has brought over 10,000 bikes from Japan for reuse. Tucked along the Thu Bon-Hoai river, this eco-café also provides vocational training for underprivileged students and women. Chatting with Reiko will surely inspire your green pursuits.
Photo credit: Vietnam Net