Having gotten used to meticulously mapping out an itinerary prior to a trip, usually cramming it with activities and so much sightseeing there is barely room left to breathe, I often looked down on others who sought relaxation alone visiting Vietnam.
I wasn’t exactly keen on blending in with the crowd of holidaymakers sporting floral dresses and shirts in various floral patterns, fake tan on point as they flocked into the country with one collective goal in mind: lounging by the pool and basking in the sun for days on end, doing nothing.
However, following a wearisome, exceedingly-long train journey from South to Central Vietnam, I somehow found myself grinding to a sudden halt in Cam Ranh, a coastal resort town and one of many stops in-between destinations during my action-packed, month-long adventure.
My next train heading North would only be departing four days later, leaving me no choice but to join the beachgoers in kicking back and unwinding for a change… in Vietnam’s fastest-developing tourism strip at that.
Why not, then, go all out and check into one of the area’s top luxurious resorts to see what the fuss is about? Little did I know that what started out as a personal experiment would lead to a complete re-examination of my idea of a ‘truly’ authentic experience.
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Touted as the ‘most exciting’ resort in Vietnam – though we will get to that further down – The Alma straddles the East Sea coast and is a stone’s throw away from the Cam Ranh International Airport – only 15 minutes driving.
It doesn’t matter if you’re flying into Cam Ranh from other parts of Vietnam, from abroad, or you’re first arriving at the train station in Nha Trang, the nearest major urban center some 28 miles away: you’ll have no issue getting to The Alma.
Contacting your concierge in advance, you can easily arrange a private transfer from the airport or other departure points in central Nha Trang. From the city, the journey takes roughly 40 minutes, driving along a scenic coastline with views of the Nha Trang islands.
My First Impressions
The first thing that caught my eye approaching The Alma was how palatial and immense it looked from the outside, as the chauffeur drove up the road snaking around the resort’s 30 hectares. From the window, I had a glimpse of imposing hotel towers, rows upon rows of private villas, and a water park.
Arriving at reception, my luggage was collected by porters and the van door slid open before I even got a chance to reach for the handle. Stepping out of the vehicle, I was instantly greeted by the staff, who helped me up the short set of stairs leading to the arrival hall.
Even though Vietnam has been open for tourism restriction-free for almost a year now, with Cam Ranh at the forefront of the tourism rebound as a development zone, I didn’t feel like the resort was extremely busy, even though occupancy rates have been climbing steadily since May 2022.
The whole check-in process took place in a heartbeat, with no queues to be seen as attentive staff effortlessly waved incoming guests through, with whatever insignificant amount of waiting required made endurable enough with welcoming refreshers and wet towels to help us cool down from the heat.
Once I was handed my key and a much-needed map for navigating the property, I was shown the way to the buggy car park, where a driver awaited, my luggage already safely stowed. Next stop: my Oceanfront Pavilion.
My Beachfront Oasis
As the buggy drove past the long corridors of villas interspersed with green foliage, I finally got to appraise how big of a behemoth The Alma actually is.
After the fourth turn, I gave up trying to memorize the surprisingly-long route there, and I suddenly became very aware of the map I clutched tightly with one hand along with my own personal belongings.
We made it there eventually, and the sight of my temporary, not-so-humble abode made me automatically break a smile. Unbeknownst to me, I had been assigned a three-bedroom oasis bounded by a lush garden, dubbed the Oceanfront Pavilion.
One feature my attention was immediately drawn to was the fact that my room key came in waterproof, wristband form, making it much harder for it to be lost or left inside the room – I can’t tell you how many times I have locked myself out of my own chambers in hotels.
Hardly note-worthy, but as I would learn later, the wristband has a dual purpose: it can be used for purchases within the premises, being registered to your room and serving as your credit card during your stay. Shopaholics, beware.
Crossing the threshold, I was surprised to find a super spacious living room, daylight coming in from all sides, a dining table in its center, where a basket of exotic fruits and a welcome package rested beside a bottle of Chilean Mapu wine.
Back to the pavilion itself, it is big enough to host an entire group of friends or family, with three rooms and their respective individual bathrooms and TV sets, and an additional fourth toilet for common use.
The kitchen comes with a minibar, supplied with complimentary sodas, water bottles, crisps, and KitKat chocolate bars, though it is filled a single time on arrival only. Although I doubted I’d be cooking, I had a microwave and an electric stove at disposal, and a kettle and coffeemaker with an impressive tea and coffee selection to go with it.
Traveling solo, I could have slept in a different room every night, but I instinctively paced towards the main suite, where I ended up dropping my bags in the end: the bed is impossibly large and soft to the touch, and I was sure it would accommodate three adults comfortably.
The upholstered tufted headboard is lit from behind with a soft LED strip set against a wooden panel reaching the ceiling, easily the most memorable element in the room.
Other than a bedside rug with triangular patterns, it lacks the usual abstract artwork and excess furnishing interior designers love to play with, but it does achieve the desired minimalist elegance as opposed to being just bare or lifeless.
Facing the bed, the TV set displayed the daily program and The Alma’s extensive list of amenities. Still inside the room, I particularly enjoyed the modern walk-in shower and the water pressure, so strong when it hits your back it’s almost therapeutic, as well as the spacious bathtub in the main suite, where most of the aforementioned Mapu would be consumed.
I travel light these days, especially in this post-COVID climate where luggage keeps getting lost, so I don’t carry an awful lot of toiletries around with me. Luckily, The Alma provided me with all the toilet essentials and then some, from a toothbrush and toothpaste to a hygiene kit and even cotton buds.
My favorite feature has to be my private pool facing the beach.
I’m the introverted guy who normally doesn’t go in the water and instead stays by the poolside reading or catching up with work, with both the shouts of children and my peers’ perfect bodies often inhibiting me, but even I couldn’t resist this pool’s gorgeous setting:
Of course, having it all to myself may have played a huge part in my sudden confidence boost, and boy, did I enjoy those precious little moments in complete seclusion and privacy as I bathed in my pool, a sea of shimmery blue for a view.
12 Pools Leading Down To The Beach
Not all pavilions come with a private pool, and surely not the hotel suites, but even guests in lower tiers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to swimming spots.
The Alma boasts a whopping 12 pools distributed along a wide corridor, which gravitates towards the beach from the hotel towers and main leisure complex.
The pools are not exactly distinct in nature, with a couple of exceptions. The first on the way down, the one closest to the recreation zone, is one of the largest and surely one of the most impressive, with sheltered sun loungers sitting on both extremes of the crystal-clear lagoon as if floating on water.
The one closest to the beach, where the largest poolside bar and swimwear shop are, is also bustling with activity.
With so many pools to pick from, besides my own private pool, of course, I never felt the need to leave in a hurry every morning to secure a lounger and a spot in the sun.
I spent the most time in the lesser-frequented pools, where I was able to bathe in peace, listen to the gentle ruffling of leaves against the wind, and busy myself with my book without the usual screaming and splashing on water.
If it’s saltwater you’re craving instead, the Alma encompasses an extensive stretch of sandy beach bounded by an azure, pristine ocean, which, unlike other parts of Vietnam, has been kept clean for the delight of guests.
The way down to the beach is lined with cocktail bars, changing rooms, and plenty of toilet facilities, which I appreciated as rushing back to my room anytime I fancied a quick change or grabbing a refresher would have been in the very least challenging, given the scale of the property.
I have probably never seen a five-star resort as well-equipped and with a range of amenities and entertainment venues as wide as The Alma’s.
It has everything you’d expect a gated community to have: a mini market where guests can purchase beauty products or restock their minibar simply by tapping their wristband card against the card reader, varied restaurants on-site, a cinema, an American-style diner, a karaoke bar, a water park, and even a science museum where kids and adults alike can marvel at optic illusions and other entertaining experiments.
To put it simply, The Alma is the complete opposite of boring, and I found myself struggling at times to narrow down which activities were a priority on my to-do list before checking out.
As a cinema enthusiast, I regret that I could not fit a screening session in between my self-care and sunbathing time, but I had a marvelous time letting my inner child run wild, taking turns going down all five towering slides in the water park.
Once I tired myself of all the water play, I gladly retreated to Le Spa, the ultimate wellness center, for an hour-long deep tissue massage that seemed to release all of those knotty muscles I’ve earned from four years traveling as a backpacking digital nomad.
This was preceded by a 20-minute sauna sesh, and followed by some lounging sound-tracked by soothing, indigenous music, as I sampled freshly-brewed tea and eased into the delicious soreness of my post-massage, twisted-and-turned body.
Other non-clinical rituals I promised myself I would try in a future visit included a rejuvenating Collagen Radiance facial, warm stone therapy, foot rubs, and a Thai herbal compress, among others.
And Then There’s All This Food…
If you consider yourself a foodie, the Alma should definitely be added to your Vietnam itinerary. From the minute I stepped out of the buggy into my pavilion to the checkout three days later, the food basically didn’t stop coming, and it absolutely lived up to my not-so-modest gastronomic expectations.
Every day my basket of fruit was re-stocked, and between nibbling away at the complimentary morsels delivered in intervals to my room to gorging in a hearty buffet breakfast with hot dishes, French pastries, and freshly-picked exotic fruits every morning, I sometimes struggled to make room for whole meals at supper.
There are six eateries on site, though some of those would be clumped together in a single Food Court.
Inside, you can find a French bakery displaying fresh pastries and artsy cakes, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in noodles, a tea shop, a Japanese food truck, and even a ‘Little New York’ where Western-style street food is served.
I sampled a few different things here and there during my three-day sejour, but somehow I kept getting drawn back to the Viet eatery in the Food Court. Once you try their flavorful spicy seafood noodle soup, you’ll understand why.
The two main external restaurants offer Western and Southeast Asian options.
La Casa is headed by a charismatic chef hailing originally from Puglia, and it’s where you’ll find an assortment of fresh pasta and other Italian dishes, while the beachfront Atlantis serves mainly seafood and local specialties.
If you’re staying at the Alma for a long weekend like myself, I would suggest you pay the Atlantis a visit for the first night, as it’s got great ambiance, with tables set in an external patio facing the beach, dimly lit by romantic lights, and the food is traditional Vietnamese with a haute-cuisine twist.
The seafood platter is bountiful and mouth-watering – I can’t tell you how many mini calamari cakes I gobbled in one go – and the accompanying seafood fried rice, made extra crispier with the addition of burnt garlic, was just lovely. Washing it down with ice-cold coconut water felt even better.
On the following evening, you can indulge instead in some classic Mediterranean at La Casa. For a three-course meal, I would recommend a burrata and prosciutto crudo appetizer, followed by a thin-crust pizza – any flavor of your liking – and canoles stuffed with pistachio cream for dessert.
You will probably have a favorite by your third night at the Alma, so you can decide for yourself which restaurant deserves a revisit.
From Our Family To Yours
The Alma is far from being a mere product of unrestricted development: it is giving back to Vietnamese communities and bridging the gap between foreign guests and hard-working locals in a way I couldn’t have foreseen or expected.
They are well aware of the surge in demand for more meaningful experiences and have partnered with local providers to bring guests closer to the local culture, offering a carefully-curated list of day trips and cultural activities.
Keen on understanding the complex dynamics of Vietnamese society, I opted for a cooking class in a traditional family home headed by a Vietnamese matriarch. We set out early in the morning, first stopping in the neighboring town of Cam Ranh, where the narrow streets are busy with trade.
You can find anything on these street markets, from colorful tropical fruits with unpronounceable names to live ducklings.
I was more interested in the fruit than anything else, especially after I realized how cheap dragonfruit is here and how sweet, juicy, and tastier it was compared to the imports we get in Europe.
After picking up a few bargains, we were collected by the driver and journeyed further inland to the rural outskirts of the province, where my cooking instructor awaited.
A stay-at-home mom, Mrs. Sen effortlessly moved around her fully furnished kitchen, reaching for condiments and being quick to fix my cooking mistakes before I got the chance to ruin lunch for all of us.
As you probably know by now, if you followed Travel Off Path during our trip to Israel, I’m not the most skilled cook nor the brightest student in do-it-yourself workshops. Granted, the prawn and noodle-stuffed rice-pacer rolls were quite easy to assemble, and despite being stuffier than usual and having unwrapped within seconds of being rolled in, mine tasted delicious nevertheless.
That’s the beauty of Vietnamese cuisine: no matter how hard you try to spoil it, it will still turn out great in the end.
The Alma’s vastness and its endless supply of attractions is precisely what set its apart from other properties in the province, but it can feel like it’s too big of a property at times, especially if you’re looking for something a bit more intimate.
Unless you’re checking yourself into one of the hotel towers, which sit on both sides of the centrally-located leisure complex, you better pack some comfy walking shoes as you’re gonna need them.
From my pavilion, situated on the northern reaches of the resort, to the food court, bars, and entertainment venues, it took me between 10 to 15 minutes of marching every day. On the other hand, I did enjoy the peace and quiet that came with staying at a private pavilion, away from all the action.
Walking the extent of The Alma and taking in the nature along its stepping stone-laden trails down to the beach and the verdant corridors flanked by villas is indisputably part of the experience, and it turned out to be one of my favorite pastimes.
If the weather’s too hot, or you simply don’t fancy the long walk, you can call reception to ask for a buggy to pick you up or find the nearest buggy point near you and wait for the next one to pass by, though I would advise you to plan in advance if your activity is time-sensitive.
Getting to the water park, on the southern edge of The Alma, will almost certainly require a buggy, as the walk there can take up to half an hour or more depending on where in the property you’re staying. Yep, that’s how colossal it is.
Understandably, the WiFi may not be as stable across the entire property, particularly open areas away from the leisure center, but it is fast and reliable once you’re inside the rooms and main buildings, as well as recreational zones.
Regrettably, The Alma’s mobile app, which keeps you in the loop about relevant updates regarding your stay and any special events that may be taking place, was undergoing maintenance and too glitchy to use, but once those minor issues are fixed, I can see how it will further enhance the experience.
How Much Will An Overnight At The Alma Cost?
I have mentioned it a number of times before across my recent Vietnam features, but I still can’t wrap my head around how hugely affordable the country is – that is, when you’re earning dollars, British pounds, or any stable, strong currency.
Your tourist dollars will stretch the furthest here out of any coastal Southeast Asian destination, and the reasonable rates for overnight stays at The Alma is proof of that. With fares for a suite ranging from USD $127 to USD $212 for upcoming dates on Booking.com, it will hardly break the bank.
You won’t have your own pool, private concierge service, or palatial chambers, but you’ll still get the royal treatment and, of course, access to the resort’s world-class amenities.
If you’re feeling inspired and you don’t mind shelling out the dough now that you’ve traveled this far from home, fares for the oceanfront 2-bedroom Ocean View Pavilion start at USD $441. The bigger 3-bedroom, Oceanfront version sells for around USD $930 per night.
Was It Worth It In The End?
Albeit unexpected, my little detour to Cam Ranh and short-lived, experimental peek into the life of the wealthy, privileged few living it up in Vietnam proved an incredibly enriching episode. No pun intended.
It was a great way to see firsthand how fast-developing Vietnam is, beyond the classic rice paddies and rural areas, and how the bustling resort scene here has not only not proven detrimental to communities and their way of life but actively aided in its development.
Whether it’s arranging cooking workshops in a traditional family home, guided visits to flea markets, or other cultural immersions, The Alma is ensuring the wider province reaps the benefits of the tourism surge.
Although it was a short, intermediate stop on my way elsewhere, I actually wouldn’t have minded staying at The Alma a tad longer, so much so that I spent my entire sojourn dreading the moment I would eventually leave.
Travel Off Path was a guest at the Alma Cam Ranh in March 2023 during a month-long press trip in Vietnam. We would like to extend our thanks to the entire management team, and particularly Mrs. Amon (Mildred), Director of Marketing Communications, for her unconditional hospitality, and ensuring our guest experience was nothing short of remarkable.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com