After founding the Aman Resorts chain, which blew up into one of the most successful luxury hotel chains in the world, Indonesian-born hotelier Adrien Zecha is creating a new empire at a sprightful age of 86.
Azerai is a portmanteau of the legendary hotelier’s initials with the word caravanserai (a Persian term for ‘resting place for travellers’). Think of Azerai as a distillation of Zecha’s vision for the Aman with its unparalleled hospitality but at a more accessible price point.
When Zecha sold Aman completely in 2007, the hospitality industry thought that he was going to retire. Little did they know, he had something up his sleeves. However, the decision to open his first Azerai property in Can Tho, and the second, Azerai La Residence Hue (both close to Saigon along Vietnam’s Mekong Delta) was rather a perplexing one since the two cities weren’t popular compared to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. But Zecha finds the need to bring a new breath of luxury hospitality to the developing nation. Hence, Azerai Can Tho comes in perfectly especially the demand for affordable luxury resorts and a rising number of visitors to the Can Tho (pronounced kun thuh) over the years.
Enter Azerai Can Tho
Azerai Can Tho is located on Au Islet in the Hau River. It covers an area of over eight hectares with 60 rooms facing the river, the lake or the lush garden. The rooms – each measuring at 35 square metres – are designed with locally-sourced materials in light neutral tones. Vernacular architectural element like the high-pitched ceiling allows better ventilation especially during warmer days.
All rooms are well stocked with coffee and tea making facilities, a mini bar as well as complimentary traditional cakes and local fruits (the milkfruit is a must-try). If you’re looking to just ‘switch off’, the best thing to do is to enjoy a cuppa at the outdoor cabana, as you watch the boats and junks crossing through the Mekong River.
For larger families, there is a huge family suite that comes with its own dining pavilion, private pool with sun decks, entertainment room, spacious bedrooms, an alfresco dining space that is equipped with an outdoor pizza oven, as well as a private dock for private pickups and arrivals. To call it a suite is already an understatement as the entire area feels like a private resort on its own.
Facilities and Amenities
There are times when you want to have everything served to you in the comfort of your bedroom, especially when you’re trying to take a break during a well-deserved holiday. When you’re already confined (somewhat) on a private island, the idea of having everything from dining to spa treatments within the premise is essentially important.
Azerai Can Tho has an impressive list of facilities that puts its guests at top priority. Thanks to the vision of an experienced hotelier, the resort provides everything you desire for your holiday needs. For fitness junkies, there is a well-equipped gym with a free weight station, elliptical trainers and strength equipment; a pilates studio with the latest in allegro reformer equipment; a tennis court by the river; and a yoga and meditation studio set around the banyan trees.
If you like to pamper yourself, the Azerai Spa offers an extensive range of treatments from massages and body scrubs to hand and foot therapies. There’s also a hair salon in the property, which is convenient for those who are here for private functions and weddings. If you need some much-needed sun, you can always hang out by the infinity pool that comes with shaded sun-loungers and daybeds on all four sides.
What to eat in Azerai Can Tho
Southern Vietnamese cuisine is uniquely different from the popularised Vietnamese food like pho and bun cha. The food in Can Tho has a blend of Vietnamese and Khmer influences – the cuisine is agriculturally inclined using fresh ingredients from nature. Even the flat noodles here (hu tieu) are made using rice that is harvested only during the spring season.
The flavours of Mekong can be enjoyed at the Café where a selection of all-day dining menu is served here. Order the Banh Cuon (a local pancake roll with minced pork, cassava and mushroom filling), Canh Cua (a sweet and sour fish soup) and the Caramelised Cobia Fish that is cooked with a fish sauce caramel.
For couples who are looking for a romantic dinner, the Grill is a great choice to sample grilled seafood, meat and poultry served with seasonal greens, alongside traditional Vietnamese dishes. You can even have your dinner set up under a canopy of banyan trees – just let the resort know if you’d like to make special arrangements.
The Lounge and Bar is also a great place to hang out for afternoon tea, pre-dinner aperitifs or a tipple any time of the day. You can quench your thirst with a whole fresh coconut here as well.
Visit the Cai Rang Floating Market
One of must-do activity when visiting Can Tho is to spend your morning at Cai Rang Floating Market, which is approximately 30 minutes southward via boat from the resort – and yes, the boat picks you up directly from Azerai’s private dock.
This river market is one of the eight surviving natural floating markets in Vietnam (four have already disappeared no thanks to gentrification and development), and it is the biggest one in the Mekong Delta. Unlike the ones in Thailand, the Cai Rang Floating Market is more vast and vibrant. This existing market started in 1898 and lasted through the wars. Today, it is being recognised as a national heritage site in Vietnam.
Farmers from different tributaries come to the floating markets to hawk fresh homegrown produce like vegetables, herbs and tropical fruits every day. It is the way of living here that creates the charm of this place.
If you want to catch the sunrise and watch the morning routine of locals here, start your journey to the floating market at as early as 5.00a.m. as the activities disperse by 8.00a.m. However, the market operates all day but it gets less crowded after the morning peak hours – but you need not worry, as the ‘stalls’ (or boats) will continue to swarm around you, selling everything from Vietnamese coffee (or egg coffee if you’re lucky) and hu tieu (rice noodles with broth) to mangoes, soursops and watermelons.
Be sure to make a stop at one of the hu tieu boat stalls to enjoy a bowl of piping hot rice noodles soup served with pork slices, fish cake and bean sprouts. You’ll be fascinated by the preparation of the dish — you peer into the small boat watching the vendor, in his squatting position, assembling the bowl of noodles with nimble fingers as he completes the dish with a ladle of clear broth, a dash of umami fish sauce and chopped chilli for heat.
There are also many outdoor adventures into untouched forests and mangroves for those who love bird watching, nature photography and visiting fruit and flower farms. However, it is highly recommended to get a good tour guide to plan your entire junket in Mekong Delta – we had ours planned by the boys behind Cantho River Tour.
When to visit
Vietnam has six months of wet season from May to October. During this period, rain is a common event; so if you’re visiting around this time, be prepared with an umbrella or have a plan B if you’re planning an outdoor excursion. Towards the end of the rainy season, the weather can be pretty warm with interspersing showers.
Can Tho benefits from having nice tropical weather all year long unlike the northern regions of Vietnam where it can be really cold (and snowing in certain areas). Despite its close proximity to the Mekong River, there’s no need to worry about floods during rainy seasons.
Currently, AirAsia is the only international flight that flies directly into Can Tho from Kuala Lumpur with Bangkok Airways launching its direct route from the Thailand capital in the second quarter of 2019. Otherwise, you can opt to fly into Ho Chi Minh City and take a three-hour drive down south to the fourth largest city in Vietnam.
Once you’ve arrived at the Azerai’s Arrival Pavilion, which is about 30 minutes from Can Tho Airport, there will be a 24-hour boat transfer to the resort. The journey to the hotel pier takes about 10 minutes via a private canal. The Arrival Pavilion within walking distance to nearby attractions like the Ben Ninh Kieu Waterfront and Ninh Kieu Night Market. If you’d like to travel in comfort, just ask the concierge to arrange for a cab to bring you around Can Tho town.