• An Eco Friendly Tropical Hideaway
• Get the Blood Pumping and Experience the Real Mekong Delta
• East Meets West at the Culinary Table
• Relax, Recharge, Rejuvenate
I have lived in Saigon for a little over a year now. And in that time I have seen all the main attractions. From the majestic limestone Karsts of Ha Long Bay, and the romantic charms of Hoi An Old Town, to the instagram haven of Da Lat, and the heavenly beaches of Nha Trang and Phu Quoc. These are all amazing destinations and I do highly recommend to see all of them, but at times it can seem as if the rest of the world has the same idea, and are scrambling to visit these popular locales also.
For a truly exclusive, tranquil, and rejuvenating getaway many seem to overlook the grand Mekong Delta. Only a 2 hour drive from Saigon just over the Rach Mieu Bridge and tucked away on the edge of Unicorn Island in the sleepy town of My Tho, you’ll find one of the most unique eco lodges in Vietnam. The Island Lodge is a charismatic and inviting Mekong hotel with all the charm and personalised service to match any of the best boutique hotels in Vietnam.
The Mekong Delta is usually reserved as a day trip for locals and tourists alike, only to return home exhausted from a jam packed schedule and the usually steamy weather. I’m not interested in this type of go-go-go non-stop travel. In an area with so much to see and with so many secret charms to discover The Island Lodge is the perfect overnight escape from Saigon. Whether you’re craving a quick getaway during the week or want to plan the perfect weekend away somewhere near Saigon, a stay at The Island Lodge is a convenient choice that goes above and beyond all expectations.
An Eco Friendly Tropical Hideaway
Upon reaching Unicorn Island and leaving the main highway, an intricate network of narrow roads lined with lush green grass, overhanging trees, and brightly coloured flowers instantly transports me to a foreign land that is worlds apart from bustling Saigon. The grounds are so remotely located that the only way to access the main entrance is via golf buggy. The Island Lodge is hidden behind tall, perfectly manicured hedges and upon pushing open the heavy wooden doors I am blessed by a secret sanctuary that is so completely unexpected.
Quiet smiles of warm local staff welcome me and I am ushered to a seat and encouraged to sip on freshly pressed juice whilst savouring gourmet hors d'oeuvres throughout the entire check in process. I have only just stepped foot inside and already I feel as if I am being treated like royalty. My luggage is kindly brought up to my room and the rooms do not disappoint.
Eight Mekong River View rooms are perfectly suited to accommodate couples or solo travellers. Amply sized with giant beds, custom made locally sourced furniture, whimsical mosquito nets, and handsome ensuite showers all in accents of bamboo, wood, rope, and woven straw makes it feel as if I am staying in a gorgeous and luxe Balinese bungalow. The highlight of the room? The generous private terrace with heart tugging views of the Mekong River. Sinking into the deep terrace seating and staring out onto the fishing boats as they slowly drift by, this really does feel like a true escape, and I forget that I am mere moments away from Saigon.
Four additional Garden View rooms are privately located away from the rest of the living quarters and are ideal for families or larger groups. Bathrooms come complete with lavish his and her sinks and deep stone baths accommodating for those that love to soak their stresses away, or who have children that need bathing. Cots are also available upon request.
A personalized note on my bed has me beaming as I read of how The Island Lodge is admirably adopting eco-friendly actions towards a brighter future for our planet. 100% pure and natural toiletry products are provided in refillable handmade earthenware pots to help reduce the use of single use plastics, and two glass bottles of purified water are refilled daily in an effort to do the least possible damage to the environment. Mini Bar fridges have been skipped entirely to greatly reduce energy waste, and even the coffee pods provided in each room are 100% compostable.
Get the Blood Pumping and Experience the Real Mekong Delta
After a deep and heavenly sleep, wake up bright and early and start your day off right with Muscular Awakening along the Mekong River. A 6:30 am call time is usually a big ‘NO’ for me, but as soon as I exit my room I have no regrets. The sky is an exquisite mix of pale French blue and creamy peach, and the central garden of densely packed coconut trees and frangipanis makes my senses sing. This is going to be a good day.
I am greeted at the edge of the quiet river by my local instructor Miss Ly, a bright and bubbly beauty who instantly energizes me with her effervescent attitude. An hour of simple stretches, light cardio, core training, and breathing exercises gets the blood pumping and gives me the tenacity to face the rest of the day’s exciting adventures. Miss Ly is very responsive and is happy to amp things up or tone things down in terms of intensity and makes sure to enforce the necessary time out to admire the captivating sunrise and sneak in a few cheeky holiday snaps.
The Island Lodge also offers a list of incredible bicycle tours that are not to be missed. For me, these tours are the main drawcard of the lodge and truly provide an immersive, ‘off the beaten track’, authentic local experience of real Mekong Delta living. Choose your style of bike, Classic, Mountain Bike, or Electric, and take a scenic boat ride down the Mekong River to Ben Tre province. From here follow your friendly tour guide and sit down to a Vietnamese breakfast in a bustling street market, visit a fish farm and learn of the laborious 2 year process from sociable and talkative local farmers, or visit a cacao farm and dive deep into the familiar and intoxicating aromas of coco as you follow the entire process from cultivation, harvesting, fermentation, and drying.
Ben Tre province is also known as the ‘Coconut Kingdom’ and a memorable bicycle ride to one of the local coconut farms has me literally dodging low hanging pomelo fruits and overgrown tree branches. The wildness of it all, the narrow unbeaten paths, the laughter that ensues from riding through nature’s untamed obstacle course, this is exactly the kind of invigorating experience that my soul has been pining for, these are the memories that I will remember and laugh about decades from now, this is an adventure that is so unique from other destinations I have visited and stayed at.
I have fallen in love with Vietnam all over again.
East Meets West at the Culinary Table
Michel and Francoise, a delightful French couple with a reserved demeanour and an infectious passion for laughter, opened The Island Lodge five years ago. Decades ago Michel’s grandparents were in fact based in Ha Long for work, and his own father was born right here in Vietnam. Having grown up in Alsace himself, Michel recalls fond memories of his grandmother teaching his mother the secrets to making the perfect Pho and demonstrations of how to correctly use chopsticks.
This colourful family heritage is particularly evident at Le Comptoir de Marthe et Edouard, a brasserie style restaurant affectionately named after Michel’s grandparents. Here, local chefs provide an extensive menu of authentic French and Vietnamese signatures to please any palate, any time of day.
For breakfast guests are generously offered an all you can eat a-la-carte menu. Start your day with a local specialty, Hu Tieu from My Tho, a flavoursome noodle soup generously filled with thin rice noodles, slivers of pork, and juicy prawns, or a hot toasted Croque Monsieur alongside a basket of French breads, pastries, and jams all expertly made in-house, and an assortment of vibrant tropical Vietnamese fruits.
From the lunch and dinner menu my personal favourite is the Avocado Tartare with Crab Meat, which is all at once fresh, bright, creamy, and light. The delicate richness of the avocado and quail egg compliments the dominant sweet crab meat that has me reminiscing of the abundant seafood markets and summertime in Lyon. The signature Quiche Lorraine comes highly recommended and indeed hits the spot. The large slice is thin and served hot, but don’t let it’s simple appearance fool you, the lashings of melted French cheese and rich buttery handmade tart pastry makes this dish definitely ‘good for the soul’. Fully live out the summer holiday vibes and sip on French rosé or order a refreshing ice cold glass of Apple and Ginger Organic Craft Cider proudly made in Saigon.
I wander around the restaurant space and find precious vintage photographs of the Scour family from 1937 swimming in Ha Long Bay, as well as framed passports and educational transcripts that date back to 1949. Michel’s adoration of his family and love for his heritage rings clear and The Island Lodge is a celebration of everything French and Vietnamese.
Relax, Recharge, Rejuvenate
For a lodge that houses only 12 rooms, the grounds are truly expansive. The enormous residence and limited occupancy means that my every need and want is well attended to and my stay feels incredibly exclusive. This getaway has been a great way for me to switch off from my everyday city life and the perfect opportunity to slow down and focus on me. In this fast paced digital age it is so important to take the time out to reset your frame of mind, away from the pressures of work and deadlines.
If you’re not so actively inclined, then there really is no need to leave the lodge grounds at all. Everything you need is right here. The Island Lodge Spa is ready to knead and stretch out every knot you may have, and if your reflection in the mirror is looking rather dull of late, the expert therapists will leave you glowing and quenched with all natural pure cosmetics in uplifting exotic aromas of cinnamon and star anise.
In the centre of the lush gardens sits Le 10° 19′ 44”, a tropical bar that focuses on Michel’s other passion… rhum. I saunter over post massage, past the regal koi fish pond and towards the enchanting hut that sits centre stage. During Happy Hour the bar offers a Buy-1-get-1 deal that is too good to resist. The Ti Punch in particular, regarded as the national drink of Martinique (of which Michel’s partner Francoise calls home), is an addictive mix of Martinique Rhum, sugarcane syrup, and lime juice that is dangerously easy to down and will have you licking your licks whilst fast ordering the next round.
My favourite area of the lodge? The grand infinity pool with ample sunbed seating is the perfect spot to laze the day away with a good book, but is best savoured during my favourite time of day… sunset. After an eventful day full of physical activity and local adventures I dip myself into the gorgeous pool, look out onto the Mekong River and exhale. The Island Lodge offers total serenity, with only the trill of cicadas and the chirping of swallows floating into twilight. The clear evening sky is an alluring dance of mauve and fairy floss pink that darkens into tones of aubergine as night falls. I have never seen a sunset quite like this in Vietnam. It takes my breath away and I will remember this moment forever.
Despite the gorgeous well appointed rooms, the divine menu of French and Vietnamese delights, the spectacular vantage of Mekong River, and offshore adventures into local villages, the greatest feature of The Island Lodge for me is the staff. All locally appointed, the service at The Island Lodge is faultless, quiet spoken, happy, and genuine. I can sense that the staff at The Island Lodge are all happy to be working there, from the receptionist who gladly shows me around the grounds as we talk of his past travels to Australia, to the personable massage therapist who politely enquires of how I find living in Saigon, the yoga instructor who loves to talk of her passion for photography, and the energetic gardener who remembers my name and is eager to strike up conversation every morning, The Island Lodge holds many charms. Charms that will surely have me coming back. Charms that make me fall in love with Vietnam all over again.
The Island Lodge
390 Thoi Binh Hamlet, Thoi Son Village, My Tho City, Tien Giang Province, Vietnam
For reservations, email The Island Lodge directly:
The Island Lodge offers guests a Privilege Transport service. A private, no-fuss, safe, door-to-door transport option with wi-fi. 7, 16, and 29 seater options will have you and your group travelling comfortably and in style straight to the lush grounds of The Island Lodge. The Privilege Transport service is available for guests anywhere within the Mekong Delta area and covers as far north as Da Lat. Contact The Island Lodge for further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image source: The Island Lodge