Vietnam’s secret wellness retreat
No chef wakes up dreaming of celery," laughs Alex Oddy, the Australian executive chef at Vietnam's Six Senses Ninh Van Bay resort.
But Chef Alex, as he likes to be called, has fought the temptation to eat fatty foods and instead forged a love affair with fresh produce.
The switch has served him well.
Before taking up his new post in mid-2017, he lost 45kg. Goodbye hot chips. Hello cabbage and kale. Now he's on a mission to teach others about "mindful dining".
Guests at the secluded five-star Six Senses Ninh Van Bay resort - an hour's commute by car and boat from Cam Ranh International Airport in Vietnam's southeast - don't need to book in for a specific detox. Eating clean, healthy food is simply part of the experience.
Aprons on, we begin a midday cooking class with Chef Alex and several industrious Vietnamese helpers. The setting couldn't be more perfect. Shaded under a marquee, warm breeze blowing, our skin still salty from a dip in the sea, we are surrounded by a lush organic garden and well-looked after by a Swiss waiter proffering Alsace riesling.
First up are rice paper rolls, filled with sprouts, prawns and carrot and folded with varying degrees of clumsiness by our Australian group of five. A peanut dipping sauce is whizzed together - orange juice, lime juice and fish sauce for a sweet and sour zing - and we enjoy our creations at a beautifully laid table just for us.
Ceviche is next, the classic marinated raw fish dish enlivened with lashings of mango, which are sweeter and juicier than any we've eaten at home. The secret to tasty raw fare is to slice or chop ingredients finely so that one mouthful delivers an abundance of flavours, we're told.
So it is with Chef Alex's "super salad", which the big man ate every day for six months when he was shedding the kilos. Along with the cabbage and kale, it has walnuts, spinach, mushrooms, carrots, almonds, asparagus, red onion, lettuce, basil and mint. Tossed with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing, it is delicious.
More than 60 per cent of the produce used in the restaurants at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay is local, much of it grown on the property. Tour the organic garden for an hour with the resort's "sustainability supervisor", Ms Ngoc, and you'll encounter 40 types of herbs, fruit and vegetables, a mushroom hut, a water heating plant that meets 70 per cent of the resort's hot water needs, and happy chooks and roosters which roam in a large enclosure with piped classical music.
The commitment to sustainability - and respecting the land - is strong. In the "earth lab" hut, daily updates are posted on energy and water consumption per room, energy generated by solar panels, and the volume of organic food produced on site. A reverse osmosis plant makes quality still and sparkling mineral water, which is served in reusable glass bottles, eliminating the need to import branded water in plastic bottles. And there are workshops on how to make your own toothpaste using natural ingredients.
The recycled timber villas fronting the sandy pebbled bay (others are nestled high in the hillside rocks) come with plunge pools, complimentary bicycles, incense sticks, deep Swedish timber baths and outdoor showers. Allowing natural ventilation, the top floor is largely open to the elements, with the sound of waves lapping in the morning offering a peaceful awakening. And if there is anything you're unsure of - or a place you'd like to go to by buggy - your personal butler or "gem" (guest experience maker) will sort it.
Six Senses guests can do guided hikes, aerial yoga or snorkel on the resort's coral reef. They can take a sunset cruise, with nibbles and bubbles, in a traditional Vietnamese boat, do a spot of early morning fishing, try a tai chi class, taste wine in a cellar built cleverly into natural rock, or unwind with a massage in the spa (say yes to opening the doors to hear the waterfall).
Happy hour by the pool is 3pm-4pm daily, and there is an ice-cream hut and nearby stall selling Malibu and coconut juice cocktails. And in the spirit of enhancing the tranquillity, the use of mobile phones is discouraged in public areas.
Guests who come to Six Senses specifically seeking a lifestyle reboot can choose the Integrated Wellness package, which was developed with American cardiologist Steven Gundry and other leading wellness doctors.
In addition to dietary planning, they receive a personalised health screening which can reveal areas in the body which require attention, a detailed tutorial on how to sleep better, products to boost shut-eye quality (including silky soft bamboo pyjamas) and nightly monitoring of sleep patterns.
All guests can eat well at Six Senses with the restaurants offering freshly made dishes largely free of flavour enhancers, lectins, lactose, gluten and sugar. The idea is to promote a healthy microbiome - the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the gastrointestinal tract - to improve digestion, nutrient absorption and immunity.
The Six Senses group operates 11 resorts and 30 spas in 20 countries, and running through all properties is a focus on good food and a promise that guests will leave feeling better than when they arrived.
Nutritional wellness is the aim, and if you follow Chef Alex's example, you might also lose a few unwanted kilograms.
Vietnam Airlines flies from Sydney to Hanoi direct on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Connecting flights from Hanoi to Cam Ranh are three to four times daily, and hotel transfers from Cam Ranh Airport to Six Senses Ninh Van Bay are USD 52 per way per person
Rates for Six Senses Ninh Van Bay start from USD 720 per night for the entry level room category, Hill Top Pool Villa.
Sleep with Six Senses program is from $165 for the first night and $30 per subsequent nights.
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