|Stairway to heaven: A stone path leads from the gate to the two-storey wooden stilt house.
by Truong Duc Minh
At 5pm on Friday, about once a month, Le Quoc Minh and his wife leave their house in Ha Noi's Dong Da District. They jump on their motorbike, leaving behind all the hustle and bustle of city life.
An hour later, they arrive in a green area in Luong Son District, Hoa Binh Province.
"Here we are. I promise you a lovely getaway this weekend," Minh tells his wife as they enter Dong Goi Manor in Dong Goi Hamlet, Hoa Son Commune.
They stop for a while to breathe in the fresh air and feast their eyes on a huge stone picture depicting Ha Noi's Old Quarter and the One-Pillar Pagoda.
|Light my fire: Visitors to the manor can experience traditional-style cooking with logs.
Then they follow a stone fence for hundreds of metres. It's a normal brick fence but has been incorporated with pieces of natural stone to create a fantasy of stone, water and ceramic miniatures: fishermen, dolphins, old men riding. The setting could bring a sense of complete relaxation to any visitor.
As they turn to the right side of the gate, a two-storey timber house appears behind a fenced garden for vegetables and an open space for fruit trees, palm trees and many other ornamental plants dotted with small-size ponds for ornamental fish.
They follow a stone path inside the manor. They decide to try a stilt house on the first night and then a private villa the next night.
Minh has been to many resorts, but complains that they are "commercial and crowded" and service charges are "high". Here, it's a different story.
"Everything makes me feel so close to nature and life in the countryside: the wooden stilt houses, plants, ponds, gardens, rice fields, pigsty and chicken houses," Minh says after taking a morning walk the next day. "But it also provides necessary facilities like a tennis court, swimming pool and karaoke room."
The idea to construct Dong Goi Manor came about 10 years ago when Nguyen Chi Sy found this bare hill in Luong Son District.
|Child's play: Kids enjoy outdoor games inside the tennis court. — VNS Photos Nguyen Khanh Chi
"The area lies between Ha Noi and Hoa Binh, which is home to an industrial zone, golf course and urban area, so I want to turn this into a green buffer zone and an ecological tourism site in the long term," says the retired engineer.
Sy originally intended to keep the site for his family's use, but friends visited, word spread and friends of friends started to arrive.
"So I thought it would be selfish and waste social resources if I kept it for ourselves," he says.
Sy plans to officially inaugurate the site early next year when the indoor swimming pool and traditional-style sauna as well as an extra hotel-standard building with nine rooms are completed.
While Sy is the mastermind behind the construction, his wife is the one who makes sure the manor is self-sufficient.
With a large rice field, five fishponds (excluding ornamental fishponds), more than 1,000 chickens and ducks and tens of pigs, the 30,000sq.m manor offers visitors feasts of fresh dishes.
"It's different from a five or six-star resort because we are eco-friendly," says Sy. "You can go fishing, grow rice and greens, feed the livestock and see how Vietnamese people cooked with logs in the past."
Villa guests can enjoy a family barbecue party on the terrace, which offers a pleasant view.
Kym Monroe, an English teacher living in Viet Nam, says the site is perfect for children as well as adults.
"There is a lot to offer: ponds, traditional-style cooking, chicken houses, a swimming pool, a tennis court, the farm and indoor areas as well," he says.
"It's nice to leave the city and find somewhere really relaxing for the weekend just one hour away. When you get here you can relax knowing that you will be looked after." — VNS