Anchor Hocking

Anchor Hocking
Anchor Hocking

Intelligent Design

Darwin would have loved the gardens, but the entirety of the experience is evidence of a master hand at work

As the sun sank behind the western hills, and the fishing boats illuminated the horizon along the South China Sea, the tow-headed British family finally gave up the beach at Ke Ga Bay, plodding reluctantly up from the sands to a pathway that wandered into the resort’s ginger garden.

The immaculate white structures emitted an incandescent glow as the family turned onto a flagstoned lane between the villas. “Home, sweet home,” the man said, echoing a sentiment the resort’s architect mentioned as one of his philosophical touchstones.

“All architecture can do is to enhance the homecoming," said Tan Hock Beng, practitioner of a school of architecture called critical regionalism, which marries geography to design.

As the Brits drifted through their gate, homecoming enhanced, I stepped through my own and onto the wooden deck of my private pool, marveling once again at the journey between the resort’s high style public spaces and intimate private settings. Thematically, the sensibilities veered in different directions, but they managed to merge in a peculiar accomplishment of design.

Four long years ago, the New York Times turned its high beams on Vietnam’s resort scene, hailing the Furama, Victoria Phan Thiet and Evason Ana Mandara as the height of luxury. That was so in 2005. But with the opening of the Evason Hideaway in Nha Trang, and the Nam Hai on China Beach near Hoi An two years ago, the mere prospect of a quality bed, charming environs and ready access to the beach no longer define the ne plus ultra of the resort scene in Vietnam.

With the Nam Hai, and now the Princess d’Annam, Vietnam is matriculating at a higher level of achievement, where organic design and a disdain for the arbitrary and the expedient are the hallmarks.

That’s what drew Jean-Philippe Beghin from the Grand Hotel in Siem Riep to Ke Ga Bay. Beghin had already scored the brass ring in Siem Reap, managing the iconic Raffles-run property. Vietnam intrigued him, but he wasn’t about to become a competitor in Phan Thiet.

“No disrespect intended to my fellow hoteliers, but I’m not competing with anybody else in Phan Thiet  or Mui Ne,” he said. “Maybe there is a resort or two elsewhere in Vietnam that would attract the same demographic. But really I’m looking at Bali, at the Maldives, and at certain places in Thailand.”

Call it hubris, or grandstanding. But don’t try to get into the Princess d’Annam for lunch. Beghin’s barred the door. He doesn’t want the walk-in business, not if it comes at the expense of a carefully cultivated exclusivity.

Every resort in Vietnam vows that it’s a different animal. Its service is better. It’s offering something different. They’re saying the same thing in Ke Ga Bay. Coming around again, I began to believe it.

DISORIENTATION

The resort occupies an archetypal Vietnamese space that’s both long and narrow. But try discerning that from within the confines of the Princess d’Annam. You don’t.

“The idea was to masterplan it in such a way that the scale and orientation of the villas were deliberately disguised, so that guests cannot have a good feel of the site's overall dimensions,” said Beng.

In the midst of the resort itself, a ginger garden sprawls indulgently between the bungalows. So vast is the expanse of garden, and so profuse, that you’re as like as not to become slightly disoriented as you cross the resort. Eighty percent of the 200 varieties in the garden belong to the ginger family. Its pedigree is substantial. Alan Carle, who designed the famed Ginger Gardens in Singapore’s Botanical Garden, also designed these.

“Look at the color combinations,” said the gardener, (name). “The heliconia, the bougainvillea, the desert rose, the French peonies, aloe vera…” she went on and on, exhaling names with infectious enthusiasm until at last, spent, she went for a bit of hyperbole. “This is the only resort in Vietnam with a landscaped garden, or maybe all of Asia.”

The garden isn’t merely a feature. Beng planned the garden to elicit a “pause” from guests and to create a “maze-like quality” within the resort’s rectangular dimensions.

STRUCTURES

Once you’ve navigated the maze, you’ll cross the threshold of either a Mandarin, Princess or Empress villa, generously sized spaces — 75, 100 and 185 square meters respectively — that have fun with expectations. The al fresco bath in the Princess villa, for example, is as expansive as the room, with a sunken tub to the left and shower stall to the right, sinks in the middle. The bath anchors the back of the villa; a private 3.5-meter long plunge pool anchors the outdoor space in front.

Surrounded by walls, the Princess villas trade on intimacy. The public spaces do the opposite. Here are colonnades, expansive views and aspirations of grandeur. Look no further than spa itself, a square, two-storey edifice replete with columns, a courtyard and a pool, set upon the edge of the sea like some ancient, Greco-Roman structure on the shores of the Mediterranean.

“The use of grand public areas (high ceilings, colonnaded spaces) serve to project a sense of colonial grandeur and austerity,” he wrote in an email when I asked about the juxtaposition of the homey villas and the bold constructions at the spa, the restaurant and reception. “This is deliberately contrasted with the humble, gentle architecture of the villas, in tune with traditional Vietnamese architecture of intimate proportions and close proximity in an urban setting.”

The defining image of the resort is a long, square view, flanked by columns, through the reception area to the sea. Framed by Beng’s right angles, the image is irresistible and a fitting herald for the splendor beyond.

After passing the Lounge Bar to the left, you come out onto the terrace and front the shallow bay of Ke Ga.  To the north a 41-meter lighthouse built at the end of the 19th Century by the French wards mariners away from a nub of the Binh Thuan coast. To the south, the strand curls out to sea, climaxing in a giant sand dune that must be inspiration for walks galore. In between there’s the beach.

“We’ve put more than 20 pools on the property itself, from the 32-meter long infinity pool out here by the beach, to the 225-square meter pool in the ginger gardens and the individual pools by the Princess villas,” said Beghin. “But this beach draws the greater crowd.”

Why not? There’s the lighthouse, and the dune, a deserted stretch of beach, the most dependably sunny weather in Vietnam and relatively gentle surf. Indeed, the same British family was back out on it the next morning, setting up another long day likely to result in exhaustion. Which is exactly the point.

About the Author

Can you identify the maker of this glass pitcher? 1960's?

Flower pattern, no markings. Anchor-Hocking? Libby?

http://i108.photobucket.com/albums/n7/lolopryce/IMG_0946.jpg

If there are no markings it could from anywhere.

If indeed it came from the 60's it could be a give away from a gas station or any other number of places.

The 60's and early 70's were big on giveaways.

good luck.


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