Sleepy Ban Mai Retreat cooks up a delicious treat

September 25, 2022 - 09:33
Ban Mai Retreat is a newly opened establishment in the mountains of Phù Yên Hamlet of Sơn La Province.
HEAVEN: A three-tier infinity pool with the heat of water rises on each level.Photo courtesy of the Retreat

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Ban Mai Retreat is a relatively new destination for travellers seeking a secluded and nurturing space, but it is not too famous, so it is rarely crowded.

After much research, our guide found Ban Mai Retreat, a newly opened establishment in the mountains of Phù Yên Hamlet of Sơn La Province.

The mountainous northern region of Việt Nam is blessed with many natural hot springs. Economic development and a better road network make trips to scenic places less challenging.

After 3 and a half hours sitting in a 24-seat coach and getting lost on the road a few times, we finally got to Ban Mai to find out that our coach was the biggest vehicle to get there. The parking lot was full of smaller sedans.

Our driver complained that these roads are dangerous because the slant sometimes gets bigger than 15 degrees, whereas roads built by the government won't exceed this.

After checking in our bungalows, with a double queen bed overlooking a river and mountains and more jungle, you feel like you're a creative writer, preparing to pen the novel of your life. Each room has a little balcony with a table and two chairs overlooking the river below.

FEAST: A 10-course set menu for 6 people is actually enough for 10! VNS Photos Mỹ Hà

As we arrived at lunchtime, a big lunch had been ordered for our arrival. Each food combo for six with 10 dishes and fruit for dessert costs VNĐ1 million. This included boiled hill free-range chicken, hamlet roasted pork with local seasoning, crispy stream anchovy surfing in boiling oil, charcoal grilled snake-head fish in banana leaf, mountain bamboo shoots stir-fried with chicken offal, boiled mixed vegetables, shrimp crackers, white rice, sticky rice from Laos, sour fish soup with bamboo shoots. It was a feast for sure!

Our group had strong eaters, young men and women in their late teens and early 20s, middle-aged parents and one 86-year-old grandma who enjoyed the 3.5-hour ride without any complaints or fuss.

We all had a great appetite for the new food, cooked differently than we are used to at home, so our palates had a great time trying new things.

But they were still too much food for all of us to finish.

For the next meal, we ordered à la carte, which meant fewer dishes, but freshly cooked, and the kids loved them so much we had to order a few more. They were egg omelettes with minced meat, sour pork soup and stir-fried morning glory with garlic.

Maybe the simple yet freshly cooked food tasted better, or the kid's palates were not ruined as much as ours. Or perhaps after a river ride in the afternoon and a hot spring bath, everyone recovered and felt hungry. The check was a bit more costly, but everyone was sated and happy.

SOUP-ER: A hot bowl of chicken noodles gets you ready for the day.

Ban Mai has a white electronic piano with an amplifier and microphones for anyone who wants to sing. We had a musical family in our group, so they took to the stage to play music, and like any Vietnamese group, we sang along as best we could.

In distant places like this, there are often two groups: those who want to keep quiet, to listen to the sound of the jungle, the river, the stream and the rain; and those who are just the opposite and want to make noise, music and songs to make the atmosphere more lively.

We experienced both. When we are making the noise, we tend to enjoy it. We play our music, and we like it. But we did not like it when early in the morning, very loud folk music was playing! Maybe we learned a lesson or two, we ought not to play our music too loud or for too long.

After a sound night's sleep, the morning in the mountains is always refreshing, pure and beautiful. The night before, people complained about the loud thunder that struck ground. The morning rain gave the river a new reddish colour. Strong flows from upstream rocked the river bed, and in no time, the river in front of our bungalows had turned red.

The breakfast in a high-ceiling, all-glass window was beautiful. It gave a full panoramic view of the river and mountain in front of us. We had choices of chicken or beef noodle soup and sticky rice with chicken and instant noodles.

After yet another hot bath in chilly rainy weather, having a hot soup in the morning kept us all warm. What a treat!

Ban Mai can host your longer stay as it has an open-BBQ space, a giant ancient tree that's well lit up at night, and much more to explore. When I gather enough material to write the novel of my life, I will like to spend a month there just writing.

And so we were off: "Hurry up," our driver said. "Let's cross the river before the water rushes down and floods our tiny bridge." VNS

Ban Mai Retreat - Hot Spring 160km from Hà Nội at Mường Thải Hamlet, Phù Yên District, Sơn La Province. Fb fanpage: Ban Mai Retreat Tel: 090-433-3300.

Comment: Fresh food in stunning view and hot bath