A smiling waiter dressed in a carefully ironed battle fatigues arrives with our mid-morning coffee in battered enamel mugs.
We are in downtown Nha Trang, in Cong Caphe, a trendy coffee shop chain popular with tourists and students in Vietnamese cities. Communist literature and propaganda posters adorn the khaki-green interior, alongside dusty typewriters, an old military field phone, and other kitsch memorabilia. To me, it looks like a Vietcong hideout from the 1970s, albeit rather sanitized, reminiscent of a war-torn past.
For the local guides who brought us here, both in their early 20s, it’s nothing more than a retro novelty, telling a story now firmly rooted in history.
In a rapidly developing country of over 95 million people, 60% of whom are under 25, they want to be part of a new story of opportunity and optimism, modernization and international integration.
The Vespa tour they organized is my only off-site excursion since arriving at The Anam, a new five-star resort set amid lush tropical hills and crystal-clear waters on the Cam Ranh Peninsula.
Inspired by the bygone days of Indochina and overflowing colonial charm, this is the perfect destination to âfly and collapseâ after a direct flight from Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City.
This is my first experience with Vietnam Airlines, operating the only daily nonstop flights from the UK, and we are enjoying the 13 hour trip with Dreamliner comfort and four star cabin service.
A short internal flight takes us 250 miles north of Cam Ranh, a former US military zone, recently dedicated to tourism by the Vietnamese government to meet the influx of regional visitors from China, South Korea and Russia. .
With 177 villas and 96 rooms and suites, The Anam is the premier luxury property in Long Beach, the 18-mile stretch of pristine coastline on the peninsula, currently under major hotel development.
The ‘no news, no shoes, no stress’ ethic – coupled with fine spa and yoga facilities – is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of neighboring Nha Trang and its hedonistic party culture on the beach. Beach.
The resort’s free shuttle takes us into town, where 1.5million dong (just over Â£ 50) buys a full day with Nha Trang Vespa Tours and a chance to join the crowds of motorcycles lining the main thoroughfare which borders the large public beach.
We opted for visits to Ba Ho Waterfalls, a scenic swimming and picnic area, stopping en route at Vinh Luong harbor and fish market.
After a basic noodle and broth (pho) lunch at a traditional roadside restaurant, it’s time to head back to Nha Trang. The road winds its way through countryside dotted with palm trees and rice paddies, eventually reaching Long Son Pagoda, famous for its huge white Buddha and stunning views of the region.
Night falls and the city’s bustling street food scene draws locals and visitors alike, mesmerized by the wide range of fresh seafood, exotic salads and stir-fries.
We have already been wowed by authentic Vietnamese cuisine after dining at The Anam’s Lang Viet restaurant, where once a week the staff’s mothers and aunts prepare their own “Mama’s Buffet”, offering guests family favorite dishes. such as grilled beef with wild betel. pancakes with leaves and seafood.
The next day, a change of pace and return to Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976.
It’s a high octane city where the crossroads resemble mass-start motocross events; masked runners ready and racing behind red lights.
Our hotel, the Reverie Saigon, towers over French colonial buildings, historic temples and ramshackle wavy structures as a monument to the new age of aspirations. Located in the 39-story Times Square building, it is a lavish celebration of Italian design and the country’s only member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
To capitalize on its vantage point as Saigon’s highest hotel, the 286 guest rooms and suites feature panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Vietnam’s largest city and its meandering river.
Celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, whose family fled the country as boat refugees, eventually settling in Sydney, has also formed a culinary partnership with The Reverie. Vietnam House, its first restaurant outside of Australia and Hong Kong, recently opened nearby on the city’s charming Dong Khoi Street. Its creative fusion menu brings together the different aspects of its heritage to add a local dimension to the hotel’s offering of high-end French, Italian and Chinese cuisine.
Those brave (and agile) enough to cross the roads will find many of the city’s attractions within walking distance of The Reverie. The Notre Dame Cathedral, the Reunification Palace, the Opera House, the Ben Thanh market and the unmissable War Remnants Museum are accessible on foot or by taxi.
Inexpensive tours take visitors to Cu Chi Tunnels – the true hiding places of the Vietcong – about 48 km away. Part of a vast network of underground routes, the tunnels played a central role in resisting US forces and the fall of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War.
To end our tour, we will head to the Saigon River for an early evening champagne cruise on The Reverie’s 60ft luxury yacht. Small enough to navigate the tributaries that lead to mangroves and hidden villages, the yacht can also be hired by guests for longer, catered trips to Can Gio Unesco Biosphere Reserve, nearby golf courses. and the floating markets of the Mekong Delta.
The sunset from the water gives a lasting impression of the city – its evolving skyline is now illuminated against a dark red background. The irrepressible Saigon looms high and proud with all it promises for the future.
Vietnam Airlines operates the UK’s only scheduled non-stop service to Vietnam, with daily Dreamliner flights from Heathrow T4 to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, offering 4-star SkyTrax service in three cabin classes. Round-trip economy class fares start from Â£ 533 per person. vietnamairlines.com
Bed and Breakfast rates for a Deluxe Room at The Reverie Saigon start from around Â£ 264. Suites start from Â£ 600 per night including airport transfers (one way or round trip depending on room category). www.thereriesaigon.com
Nightly rates at the Anam start at around Â£ 150 (depending on exchange rates) for a room with balcony and garden view. Call + (84) 2583 989 499 or [emailÂ protected], www.theanam.com
Private Reverie Yacht cruises start at Â£ 1,675 for a champagne sunset outing for two with full butler service.