It’s all about balance,” warns Fu, our guide in Lang Co, Vietnam. “One sudden move and you’ll be in the water.” Hmm… better choose my fellow-passengers carefully – ones who seem less likely to rock this bucket-boat. The water’s nice and warm, of course; but iPhones really don’t like getting wet, and neither do cameras.
There’s no need to worry; the fisherwoman – fishwife? – in charge of this floating basket deftly paddles us around the lagoon to admire in the mangroves, the big communal fishing nets and the mud-flats where a couple of men are digging for clams.
I’d already stumbled upon the Vietnamese village the previous morning. After encountering two friendly women clam-diggers, waist-deep in the shallows off the otherwise deserted Lang Co beach, I’d ventured farther, beyond the boulders that mark the end of this three-kilometre stretch of sand. Across a wide lagoon festooned with picturesque giant nets lay the fishing village. And, as if on cue, along paddled a man in a tiny craft, holding a patient fishing rod and not at all averse to posing for a shot.
The little round boats look like something the Owl and the Pussycat went to sea in; or even those three men in a tub: the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker. You’ll see similar ones in Wales and parts of western and south-western England, where they’re known as coracles. Little did I think, when I first photographed these strange craft during a cruise along Vietnam’s coast earlier this year (see my article Slow Boat to Hong Kong), that I’d ever actually board one of them.
Like the other small boat-shaped boats, they have a light wooden frame and a hull of woven bamboo sealed with black tar. By day, the fisher-people fish in the lagoon with nets, rods and traps; at night, they go out in larger craft to fish the open South China Sea (here called the East Sea, by government order) beyond the mouth of the lagoon. By sunrise at 5am, their catch is spread out for sale at the village market.
Apart from what seems to be innate friendliness, the villagers have good reason to welcome guests of the Laguna integrated resort. The development has brought substantial work, training and career prospects, meaning that the young people of this 2,000-strong community no longer have to move to Hanoi in the north or Ho Chi Min City in the south to find work.
The welcome still feels genuine, the village visits still largely unstructured. This morning, we meet a group of Laguna guests from Hong Kong who have just bought a catch of pretty blue crabs from a fisherman; later, we hear that that he invited them to his home to eat their crabs, simply steamed with lemongrass and other herbs.
As Laguna is a secluded resort without ready access to external facilities, you rely on its own restaurants and bars. Angsana guests breakfast on an excellent and varied buffet at The Marketplace that offers everything from the famous Vietnamese pho (pronounced “fur”) soup, full of fresh herbs and other leaves, through Chinese and Western staples to a delectable patisserie section: ten out of ten for the buttery, still-warm croissants and local pineapple jam.
For fine diners, the Rice Bowl serves up a variety of rice-related dishes from all over Asia, starting with a basket of still-warm multi-grain rice crackers, and a scrumptious Thai green papaya and squid salad; Vietnamese spring rolls, the tastiest Malaysian laksa I’ve eaten anywhere; tender Korean beef bulgogi and Chinese steamed sea bass; and finally red rice soup. Directly above the Rice Bowl is the Rice Bar, a sophisticated space that features a smart sushi counter.
The more casual Moomba is for beachside lunches or dinners, either alfresco or air-conditioned. Billed as a tapas restaurant, it does a great margarita and was about to expand its menu when we visited.
For Angsana guests, the Banyan Tree restaurants – Saffron for Thai fine dining, the Watercourt French-Vietnamese brasserie, the Library for tea and snacks and Azura for Italian – are just a buggy-ride away.
Or head to the golf course. I’m told it follows the natural terrain as closely as possible, and is said to be suitably challenging. Whether or not you’re a fan of the game that Mark Twain is said to have dismissed as “a good walk spoiled”, the Golf Café does a nice Vietnamese lunch, featuring spring rolls, crunchy salads, fresh seafood soups and yummy rice and noodle dishes that make this such a delectable cuisine – a lot like Thai food, but somehow lighter, fresher and herbier.
Why Visit Lang Co?
Lang Co is a beach and fishing village, now home to the Laguna integrated development. It’s an hour’s drive north of Da Nang, Vietnam’s fourth-biggest city and the biggest in Central Vietnam. Famous for being an R&R destination in the sixties for Americans serving in the Vietnam War – but in this country, of course, it’s called the American War – Da Nang is also the gateway to three Unesco World Heritage sites: the citadel of Hue, the charming historical town of Hoi An (see my guide to an afternoon in the town here) and the ancient Cham civilisation temple ruins at My Son.
Along Da Nang’s long, long beachfront is an endless stretch of resorts in various stages of repair or apparent abandonment. At first glance, none has the charm of the new Laguna development at Lang Co. Plus, of course, Laguna is the latest child of Singapore’s own home-grown luxury resort brand.
Laguna integrated resort at Lang Co comprises an exclusive, couple-focused Banyan Tree; the more family-friendly Angsana resort, complete with at least 300 metres worth of serpentine swimming pools; and an 18-hole links golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo. Angsana Lang Co was officially launched in April this year, and I’m here for a three-night media experience.
Throughout the large resort and in all the rooms are fishing-related motifs – nets, traps, lanterns, artwork and photographs of fishermen, boats and water – that give the complex a sense of place and a connection with Lang Co’s position as a working fishing village. My Premier room is in fact a large suite (60 square metres), and perfect for couples. It boasts a balcony complete with private plunge pool, despite being on the second level of the five-storey complex, and is most comfortably equipped. I find myself torn between the plunge pool and the large Toto bath, but only after dark; any daytime skinny-dipping would be all too public.
It has easy access to the beach, so I don’t have to schlep through the public areas. Each morning, I return from my walk with a satisfying harvest of purple clam shells in my sizzling orange Angsana beach bag.
As I’ve come to expect, my Angsana spa experience is top-notch: the 60-minute Hawaiian-inspired Waves massage does what it says on the box: it “restores balance and harmony”. What’s more, it puts me in a good mood for at least a month.
Flying Fish and ATVs
No, nothing to do with flocks of piscine aviators skimming the ocean wave. This flying fish is a three-metre-square inflatable toy of Machiavellian design. Pulled by a speedboat, it promises you 15 minutes of salty fun while you straddle one of its three long tubes, holding on to a tubular handgrip.
Fifteen minutes? Unless you’re a teenage boy infused with limpet DNA, you’ll be lucky to last 15 seconds before being unceremoniously bucked from your suddenly vertical seat and hurled willy-nilly into the drink. I lasted just five. There’s a tamer banana boat ride, we hear, but that stayed in the shed, clearly scorned by the gung-ho youngsters who make up the water-sport crew. (It might have been rather nice.)
We’d already had a go on the ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), first along a tricky forest path and then across the exhilaratingly open beach. One journalist who came before us, we’re told in strictest confidence, rode straight into a tree; another managed to steer his ATV through the wall of someone’s house. I saw no houses, so I guess they changed the route.
We took the 2.30pm SilkAir flight to Da Nang, which sometimes makes a brief stop at Siem Reap, Cambodia. I suggest you opt for one of the 2.5-hour direct flights, which will become more numerous when daily flights are introduced this month, October. Once on the Banyan Tree bus, however, we were delighted to find it equipped with Wi-Fi – how civilised!
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