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Novotel Ocean Dunes resort in Vietnam impresses with great golf, luxury living

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Most of the rooms at Ocean Dunes have sea views. (GolfPublisher.com)

The Novotel Ocean Dunes resort is the first to grace Vietnam's shores, and its world-class golf course, designed by Nick Faldo, is a must play for anyone interested in Asian golf.

PHAN THIET, Vietnam - You wake up early, when the hotel is silent, and you can't help but walk down to the beach, which has been seducing you since faint light first appeared over the South China Sea.

You're in for a minor shock. Forget that solo sunrise walk on the sand. There may be no one stirring at the hotel, but here on the beach the good people of Phan Thiet are starting their day at, or in, the sea.

They're going at it full-bore, stretching, walking, even playing badminton. A group of fishermen pulls a net toward shore as onlookers approvingly eye the wriggling catch.

Phan Thiet is one of the most popular getaways in Vietnam, especially for harried urbanites from nearby Ho Chi Minh City, but this is one beach where the locals won't be crowded out by the tourists.

That may have something to do with the town itself - a busy little fishing village, bright and clean with wide streets. Phan Thiet is famous for nuoc ma, a kind of fish sauce, and nearby markets and restaurants sell the fishermen's daily haul.

The first resort to grace Vietnam's shores, the Novotel Ocean Dunes sits right on the South China Sea (called the East Sea by the natives) and a private beach that in reality isn't so private. Alongside is a superb Nick Faldo-designed golf course.

Originally built by Russian developers in the 1970s, the hotel opened in its present form in 1996 and is now a crescent-shaped star on the Binh Thuan coast resort scene. Seaside rooms are bathed in light shining off the polished hardwood floors; large verandas (mine had a bathtub) overlook the gardens, swimming pools, massage huts and lighted tennis courts.

The first two of a planned 20 bungalows, modeled on a historic home built by Chinese merchants in the former imperial capital of Hue, opened in August 2006. Each has four rooms on the ground floor and two suites on the second, the latter featuring galley kitchens, high-ceilinged salons, master bedrooms and blond-wood bathrooms. Sunken jacuzzis have beach views.

"We think the villas will be the seaside resort of choice for tour groups and families who prefer the relative seclusion that a multi-room villa affords," said Barry Israel, chairman of owner Danao International Holdings.

The beach is the lure here, but there are other attractions. Cape Mui Ne's sprawling sand dunes are about 13 miles away, via more seaside fishing towns. Also nearby are Silver Lake and the 13th-century Cham Tower.

If you're a golfer, though, you probably won't want to leave the grounds.

Designer Faldo calls the Ocean Dunes course a "tropical links" layout and it is indeed links-like in following the natural contours of a sand-covered dune sculpted into new angles daily by the winds sweeping off the sea.

Of course, a true links course doesn't have pines decorating the rolling terrain, or such distinctly non-Scottish flora as cacti, or the sounds of Buddhist chanting from an on-course temple. But it is a gorgeous layout, beautifully manicured, with palms swaying in the breeze, glassy ponds topped by floating pinking flowers and views of distant volcanic mountains.

With water coming into play on nearly every hole and some subtle but attention-getting elevation changes, Ocean Dunes is a cut above your typical resort course in terms of challenge.

The course is in excellent condition, with pristine, multi-tiered greens that are a pleasure to putt upon. The par-3 ninth, voted one of the world's 500 best holes by Golf Magazine, is a narrow shoot through the trees to an elevated green and postcard town views beyond.

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Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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