Luxury train ride to Vietnam’s ‘Cancun without the crowds’

We all love a little luxury, but for most of us, it comes at a price we can’t afford. Except in this destination, mass tourism has not yet returned as it has in Europe. So if you’re looking for luxury without the Balinese crowds, Vietnam is the country for you, especially its hottest new beach destination, Quy Nhon. In this case, getting there is really half the fun.

Luxury resort brand Anantara has created a novel way to transport guests from a new resort in Quy Nhon to another in Hoi An. Based on Emirates’ business class, the brand came up with the idea for a first-class train carriage that would seat 12 in six compartments, complete with a sit-up bar and spa. They pitched the idea to the Vietnamese government, which agreed to the plan, and “The Vietnam” was born, riding the reform train from north to south and back between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Both ends provide transportation from the hotel to the station, making the journey relatively smooth and air-conditioned comfort.

I experienced it on a recent trip to Vietnam after staying a few nights at their beautiful French colonial resort on the banks of the Thu Bon River, just five minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An walking distance. We set out early, and while waiting for the carriage to arrive, I was handed a glass of chilled prosecco flavored with dried hibiscus: it might be 9am in Vietnam, but it was noon in Australia. Our buggy will be ready for boarding in 10 minutes, and I sit in my “cabin”, elegantly separated from the others by rattan and bamboo partitions. It consists of two wide padded seats around a table, which can be unfolded into a bed for sleeping as the carriage continues its journey back to Hoi An in the evening. Passengers are even provided with slippers, pillows and blankets for the return journey; there are charging stations and in-flight Wi-Fi at your seat. Everyone gets an aisle window seat.

A whistle and a wave from the station guard and we’re off, passing through Danang’s backyard for a breakfast of pastries and coffee (I opt for Vietnamese iced coffee, an addictive concoction of coffee and condensed milk).

The next five hours were one of the most relaxing times I have ever experienced in Vietnam. No panic about arriving at the airport on time; no endless queues at the airport or half-undressed at security; no delays. No, for the next five hours we were finally able to set our sights on the Vietnamese countryside (something we couldn’t do on a plane).

About the time it takes to fly from one city to another, I sit down to a three-course meal and as many cocktails and wines of my choice as possible. Lunch is served around 11am, with three options that you can choose from before boarding your flight. I had a vegetarian green bean and quinoa salad with lemongrass and chilli, followed by French salmon with white chilli. Dessert is a rich creme brulee made with local dark chocolate. The wine list is well thought out and I particularly liked the touch of Provence rose. If you want to celebrate or want to splurge, you can pre-order a few bottles of champagne and other rare vintage wines; caviar and cheese platters. Cocktails are also works of art.

There is also a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including mocktails and specialty herbal teas lightly flavored with Vietnamese mint, ginger and lemongrass, and a selection of coffees, as well as a steady supply of water – sparkling or still – to pour over in a crystal glass. Vietage also has its own bathroom, which is spacious and clean.

After lunch, I was taken to the spa: a relaxing 20-minute head, shoulder and back massage.

As the train hurtled past at 60 km/h, I watched the fascinating life of rural Vietnam fly by. There are landscapes dotted with verdant greens with white storks; cornfields lined with grazing buffaloes. Backyards of houses in rural towns next to train lines. In the distance were jagged peaks so steep that they almost matched the slope of the conical hat bobbing up and down in front of them. Burial grounds popped up in the fields: small shrines of remembrance, elaborately decorated. There are patches of bright pink water lilies. In the last hour of the journey, the clear blue sea and white sandy beach marked our approach to Quy Nhon. The towering ruins of Champa show that we have reached our destination.

The dedicated train staff (all part of the Anantara experience, excellent service throughout) got us ready to disembark as the carriages would be disconnected from the rest of the train on our continued journey south to Ho Chi Minh City.

We drive to the resort and check into our private villa on the stunning beachfront. Qui Nhon is about 200 kilometers north of Nha Trang, but has yet to be discovered by tourists. The only signs of life I saw were from locals paddling their basket boats to the lobster station ahead, near two uninhabited islands offshore.

My villa on the beach had its own private pool, a daybed with shaded shutters and a fan, and plenty of cushions to make it easy to doze off to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

Anantara Quy Nhon Villas

Anantara Quy Nhon Villas Photo: Antal Gabelics

Featuring 26 spacious one- and two-bedroom villas; there is also a large infinity pool with swim-up bar, a superb hilltop spa and restaurant In my room, a plate of tropical fruit, macarons and chocolates awaits you; but dinner that night was special. A Balinese chef from the “Island of the Gods” prepared an Indonesian feast with local seafood (avoid the meat I don’t eat), and we were enjoying Indonesian style prawns, lobster, okra, tempeh, gado gado and chicken curry . Dessert was an unusual baked banana with condensed milk, cheese and chocolate (yes, it totally works). For breakfast, I love the local rice cakes with delicious dipping sauces, tropical fruits and matcha flavored yogurt.

We had a short tour of Quy Nhon, which included visiting those crumbling Cham mansions and drinking Vietnamese coffee. The city sits on a curvy and narrow peninsula like Cancun, without the crowds and with stunning views; in addition, we enjoyed local street food, our favorite being rice pancakes with prawns and squid, we also ordered Some BYO champagne.

Quy Nhon - It's like Cancun without the crowds.

Quy Nhon – It’s like Cancun without the crowds. Photo: Getty

We will spend a short time in these luxury villas before taking the train to Hoi An, departing around 6.29pm. This is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a sit-up bar and sip a cocktail, or take a nap as the sun sinks below the horizon.


Seats start at $711; price includes two nights at Quy Non. The best time to travel is during the day to enjoy the scenery along the way (southbound); but there is a second trip up north, departing from Quy Nhon to Da Nang at 6:29 pm. Anyone can reserve a seat; passengers don’t have to be hotel guests.

See also: Anantara Hoi An review: Tranquil, affordable luxury in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage-listed town

SEE ALSO: Anantara Quy Nhon review: Vietnam’s new hidden hotspot set to lure luxury travelers

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