by John O'Ceallaigh and Luxury Travel Editor, The Telegraph, March 28, 2018
Make your way to the poolside restaurant at Vietnam’s Six Senses Ninh Van Bay resort at noon and you’ll pass a member of staff busily updating figures on an eye-level wooden board. One of the most visible components of the Six Senses Earth Lab initiative, which launched here in November and is now featured in one incarnation or another across every property in the Six Senses portfolio, the board details the resort’s daily energy and water consumption, alongside the number of glass bottles of filtered water consumed over the last 24 hours.
That the guests of this resort of just 59 villas had in the last day collectively emptied 720 bottles of water is a statistic that in itself is perhaps of little interest, until you consider the many thousands of single-use plastic bottles a similar resort might send to landfill or towards the ocean in any given week. For those who want to delve into the data further, a scientist is on hand to explain the property’s sustainability initiatives and to show them in action.
It’s for that reason that I find myself postponing lunch to instead join Ngoc Nguyen in exploring the grounds of the resort and the ordinarily unseen corners that serve as an engine for its environmental endeavours. We roam the expansive organic gardens, where more than 100 beds provide 40 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit. Though low in yield at certain points of the year, on good days they provide up to 100kg of produce.
We amble further to an aged cauldron from which drips a sweetly scented nectar. The peels from that morning’s freshly squeezed orange juice are being crushed for their oils - they’ll be used in the hilltop spa (worth visiting not just for its tranquil setting but for skilled therapists and a yoga pavilion set above a babbling brook). Nearby, glossy chickens roam freely in a vast enclosure - their organic eggs are served at breakfast; a highlight of their day perhaps occurs at noon, when meditative music is played to them. It’s a relaxant, apparently.
Popular with families, and an engaging discussion rather than a one-way lecture, the tour is booked up to 10 times a day during busy periods and can be altered and expanded dependent on individuals’ core interests, perhaps taking in the solar panels as a way to discuss renewable energy, visiting the reservoir to examine water consumption and surveying the shore while learning about ongoing efforts to eradicate the crown of thorns starfish, an invasive species that feeds on coral.
It’s an appealing, engaging way to learn about sustainability and environmental responsibility, and while the experiences and insights offered at each individual Earth Lab around the world may vary, there will be plenty of commonalities. Wherever guests might choose to stay, their resort is likely to use natural insecticides distilled from plants so gardens and crops are treated with an organic alternative to chemical sprays; bamboo, paper or lemongrass will typically be offered as an alternative to plastic straws; water will be filtered on site using reverse osmosis.
While I haven’t had consistently positive customer-service experiences at Six Senses properties, the company’s commitment to operating in a sincerely sustainable way stands out among luxury hotel groups, and guests at Ninh Van Bay should find a visit to the Earth Lab enables them to enjoy the resort’s more traditional recreational offerings that bit more easily.
Located near the tourist town of Nha Trang (overdeveloped and charmless I thought, despite its expansive beach), the resort’s setting is exceptionally peaceful and beautiful. At the tip of a peninsula and backed by an impassable, forested hillside, Ninh Van Bay can only be reached by boat and stands in a sheltered, private cove and along a curl of golden sand.
I spent my days here in an agreeable state of non-activity, slowly ambling to the spa or bumbling along sand tracks on the bike allocated to my villa (a generously proportioned two-storey abode with small private pool, an elevated terrace overlooking the sea and a vast bathroom with handmade wooden bathtub). The slow, cosseted pace of life is a tonic for visitors who often stop here en route from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, and many of my fellow guests seemed to while away days in their rooms - every villa category incorporates a private pool - emerging only for lunch and dinner.
Though themed food nights were occasionally repetitive (an impressive Italian buffet for dinner one night was followed by a Mediterranean buffet the next), I felt especially at home during breakfast. I would wander each morning at Dining by the Bay restaurant, open to the elements and facing the ocean, for an abundant, indulgent spread comprising French pastries, Vietnamese specialities and Western staples, alongside freshly made smoothies and juices.
Here, as at every other eatery, much of the produce was sourced directly from the property’s gardens. Deftly prepared, fresh as could be, organic and grown sustainably, one delicious dish after another provided a subtle reminder that supporting environmental initiatives while on holiday need not be a hardship.
B&B rates at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay start from $828 (£580) per night in a Hilltop Pool Villa. Vietnam Airlines flies from London to Ho Chi Minh City from £937.51 in economy class and £1,817.51 in business class. The airline offers connecting flights to Cam Ranh International Airport from £57; from there it's an hour-long drive and 20-minute speedboat transfer to the resort.
For more on its premium product, read our Vietnam Airlines business-class review.
This article was written by John O'Ceallaigh and Luxury Travel Editor from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].