It’d be tough being the very first Azerai property, being that it’s a brand started by famed hotelier Adrian Zecha and operating under the inevitably high expectations that come with the territory. The award-winning Indonesian stalwart is most famed as the founder of the super luxurious Aman hotel brand, which now boasts acclaimed properties everywhere from Venice and Tokyo to Jackson Hole and Marrakech. Needless to say, when Zecha starts a new brand, the lodging industry pays close attention.
Those are the expectations the still relatively fresh Azerai Can Tho is attempting to meet, spearheading a legacy that has only just begun to catch on in other locations around Vietnam. Like Aman, the brand will likely start off small before making its inevitable leap to the international market. For now, this quiet 60-room boutique resort located along Vietnam’s iconic Mekong Delta serves as a fine model of what the Azerai brand can be.
Opened in 2018, this inaugural Azerai has become one of the most sought properties in the underappreciated and often overlooked river city of Can Tho. And it echoes what appears to be Zecha’s approach, that being affordable luxury streamlined for younger guests and couples, opening travellers up to lesser known destinations.
Tourism is now only beginning to pick up in Can Tho thanks to a new international service arriving from Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia, meaning intrepid visitors will no longer have to take the 3.5 hour drive down from Ho Chi Minh City.
Still, Can Tho flows with the energy of an undiscovered, locally loved destination, from its bustling Cai Rang floating market (just a short cruise from the resort) to ornate historic houses, trendy riverfront district, and distinctly local experiences.
Floating through the narrow canals of the Mekong Delta is a must here, and guests will quickly accustom to getting around on the river after staying at Azerai. The property is, after all, tucked away on the peaceful and pristine Au Islet off Hau River. Guests need to catch the hotel’s private boat from the an immaculately clean and well air conditioned Arrival Pavilion on the west bank of the city, zipping across the wide river for the cruisy 5-6 minute ride up a private canal.
Catching a boat to the hotel and back whenever one feels the need to leave isn’t as much of an issue as it sounds. The ride is short, the private boat is comfortable, and the breeze takes the edge of Vietnam’s often punishing dry heat.
It’s easy to get around Can Tho, whether that’s on the river or via taxi. Specific must-dos include the unique and picturesque Gian Gua with an historic Ficus microcarpa tree stretching its considerably thick branches across an almost 3,000 square-metre area, the aforementioned Cai Rang floating market in the early hours of the morning; and the charming Lung Cot Cau Tourist Area where guests can participate in a number of local activities, including dressing up in traditional clothes and wading in the muddy water to catch snakehead fish – a local delicacy.
Coming back to the resort each day is a relief from the heat and a welcome contrast to all that buzz. Every common area and guest room is perfectly ventilated, each feeling like a breezy private sanctuary given that the resort keeps it low-key. The refreshing cold towels that await each guest every time they wander up to the freestanding reception pavilion certainly helps, as does the 31-metre pool which is positioned centrally between reception and the resort’s primary day eatery – simply dubbed The Café.
All across the resort grounds, enormous banyan trees spread out and reiterate the immaculately preserved nature that characterises this small islet.
The resort’s defining feature is an eye-catching lily pond which physically cuts the main section of the land off from the brunt of its guest rooms. Densely packed with massive water lilies, its an important aesthetic for the resort and a beautiful reflection of the land’s tranquil vibe. Waking up in the morning to this view (preferably before an early breakfast at Cai Rang) is worth the stay alone.
Wellness is quite obviously central to Azerai’s brand, which is why a large, peaceful fitness centre can be found on the resort. It overlooks the Mekong Delta, a view which also includes a riverside tennis court, while powerful air conditioning ensures a comforting disconnect from the outside heat. Nearby, a dedicated Yoga pavilion is available for guests to use freely, or participate in regular Hatha Yoga classes hosted three days a week. There’s also a dedicated Pilates studio with allegro reformer equipment.
Elsewhere is a Vietnamese spa, importantly sticking to local ingredients and basing their treatments accordingly. Vietnamese massage can be quite rough and to-the-point, but staff here are flexible and experienced. The facilities also include rain showers, steam rooms, and an ice bath.
Food & Drink
The aforementioned poolside Café is the spot for the resort’s typical, and average, breakfast a la carte menu. Local tastes are tamed for the western palate, and western options are reasonable if not a little bland. Dinner fares much better at plainly named restaurant The Grill, a separate but nearby pavilion beautifully realised with rattan and local woods mirrored by the guest rooms. Here a higher-end menu of where local seafood and imported meats are barbecued nightly, with an obvious skew towards western tastes.
If the weather plays nice, it’s worth grabbing a seat at the open-air Lounge & Bar, extending from the lobby’s relaxed atmosphere with outdoor seating designed for quick stop-offs between meals. Here, aperitifs are found along with classic cocktails, local beers, important wines and other drinks.
Azerai are clearly sticking to boutique here, which gives more space for the rooms to really open up and offer much more value. They’re beautiful, overlooking either the river, the lily pond, or the gardens which chirp with lively native bird life each morning. All of them are uniformly 35 square meters with high ceilings, warm woods and plenty of natural light.
The bathrooms are particularly valuable here, as they are just as large as the adjoining bedroom. Although there isn’t any tub, a sizable shower, toilet area and plenty of storage help ease guests into a comfortable and private space.
Pops of colour aren’t necessary when you are all that greenery outside, working well against the neutral design for a sight perfectly befitting of a tropical paradise.
I barely noticed any staff during my stay, even though everything was taken care of without delay. Even an initial issue with my air conditioning was fixed within minutes of me picking up the phone, which I’ve found is unusually speedy for a resort so relaxed and spread out.
There are bicycles available for hire so you can ride around the sizable and spaced out property, a nice touch that again fits into the whole wellness bent this resort rests on.
With an average nightly rate from $250 AUD, Azerai operates in the mid-range category and yet it offers a supreme level of comfort, hospitality and sense of place. Although the food isn’t as flavourful as Can Tho’s larger agricultural focus would have you believe, there’s a lot of value to be found in such a unique and interesting city. It certainly helps that it only takes 20-30 minutes up river to reach the Cai Rang floating market, a guided tour of which can be organised through the hotel.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The writer stayed as a guest of Azerai Can Tho AirAsia.