Modern Traveller took a detour to the Mekong Delta, ascending the slopes of Sam Mountain for a slice of paradise on the road to Phnom Penh.
WORDS & PICTURES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Deep in the Mekong Delta, just 4km from the local border with Cambodia, Victoria Hotels’ Nui Sam Lodge sits nestled on a hillside far above the intense humidity of the paddy fields stretching to the horizon on the plain below.
Offering unparalleled views across Vietnam’s watery wonderland, the lodge’s red-tiled roofs slope away in tiers down the side of Sam Mountain, as giggling babes splash in the azure infinity pool, surrounded by sun-baked terracotta tiles.
A 15-minute transfer from nearby the town of Chau Doc – where Victoria Hotels has a second property – Nui Sam Lodge is something of a special place for flash-packers and families alike.
Whilst a three-star property on paper, there’s a secret to Sam which can make any visit so much better: this is where Victoria Hotels sends staff for vocational training, with almost as many staff bedrooms as guest rooms.
Why is this good? Because the service is superb. Besides the beautiful balcony views, cool, Pagoda-esque restaurant and rooms complete with four poster beds, a four night stay at Sam left MT wondering if it had booked beyond its price bracket by mistake.
Staff are unfailingly attentive and, whilst interactions during room service can be a little stilted, nothing seems too much of a stretch for the 24-hour team.
Greeted personally by the Executive Assistant Manager, Modern Traveller felt at home from the moment its bags were – somewhat unsteadily – lugged from the car, up the stylishly ornate front steps and down the terraces to MT’s blissfully air-conditioned double room.
Whilst staff at Nui Sam’s riverside sister property in Chau Doc showed truly four-star finesse, the friendliness of the Sam Mountain team was by some margin the more appealing to MT, perfectly augmenting the lodge’s total tranquility.
In fact, those who detest deep-set relaxation should nay stray here: this isn’t an abode of silent couples staring at the slightest sound, but there’s little the astonishing panoramic vista and accompanying calm cannot soothe in the soul.
An air of perfect peace pervades the steps and slopes of Sam Lodge, from the picturesque poolside bar to the health trail trek around the property’s perimeter, and it’s oh-so-easy to see the day slip by with one-too-many iced coffees and pleasantly refreshing pool dips (the temperature can soar into the high-30s in the summer months).
Admittedly, those in need of a little more entertainment might find Sam a struggle. High-speed internet is available throughout the grounds and every room has cable TV, but the facilities are unquestionably geared to the readers and relaxers. You’ll find no gym here, nor any Yoga classes (despite the meditative vibes), and tours tend to be for trekkers, not tourists.
For the more adventurous, mountain bikes are available to hire, for a foray to the top of the hill, or a hair-rising ride to the bottom to explore the locale – whilst a free shuttle bus to Chau Doc makes for a happy morning spent exploring the sights and smells of a tourist-free market, before a uniquely terrifying xe loi ride back.
Really, though, Sam Mountain is best seen as a tonic for the soul. Whether as a weekend away from the high-volume drama of Ho Chi Minh City, or a stop on the schlep from Saigon to Cambodia, Nui Sam Lodge offers an unrivalled opportunity to kick back, relax and soak in the stunning surroundings of southern Vietnam.
How to get there: Fancy a peaceful weekend at Nui Sam Lodge? Buses run from both Saigon and Phnom Penh to the nearby town of Chau Doc, whilst flights from Hanoi touch down at Can Tho, a three hour ride from the resort. For a truly memorable experience, hop on a boat from Phnom Penh or Can Tho and take in the Mekong at river level.
When to go: Guidebooks will tell you to go in the dry season (October – December), but there’s no reason not to pay a visit in the ‘green’ season (May – September): whilst daily rain is to be expected, the paddies are at their greenest, and the temperatures remain tropical. In summer, the fields can be brown – but the mercury rises to truly toasty levels.