By Angela Goh
Nov 22, 2019
ON A COOL MORNING, I AM SUBMERGED to chest level in an outdoor thermal mineral stream cloaked in wisps of twirling steam, while kneeling in vajrasana yoga pose. “Water enhances the power of meditation by allowing deeper focus and breathing. Also, the natural therapeutic minerals that soak through the skin nourish and calm body and mind,” says brightly beaming meditation guru and spa manager, I Nyoman Yastama. The water meditation ritual he has curated and is now leading me through is movement therapy: As we inhale (above water) and exhale (under), my meditation becomes more mindful. The process engages the sense of touch, arousing greater awareness of not just the temperature but also of the spring’s higher buoyancy compared to ordinary water. It’s a fascinating twist on meditation, and one you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world.
That’s because Alba Wellness Resort by Fusion, in a serene valley 30 kilometers northwest of Hue, Vietnam, surrounds a geothermal wellspring of mineral-rich water. Dappled with lakes and ponds, and draped across a chain of mountains, the two-year-old property managed by Vietnam’s home-grown pioneering spa-centered hotel group, Fusion, merges traditional village charm with an air of Zen to create a health retreat without parallel in the country. Anyone who’s visited Vietnam in recent years will recognize the name Alba as a popular brand of native single-source spring-water. It comes from this very place, where savvy locals have been taking to the waters for centuries. It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of Evian-les-Bains.
Low-rise thatched-roof buildings connected by bamboo-lined paths mingle among a sprinkling of bright-red bridges arched over a whimsically winding, stone-bordered water channel. This serpentine watercourse hosts leisurely soaking and aqua yoga. When you visit the Japanese-style bathhouse for your pre-spa ritual, you’re met with seven different H2O-focused sensory indulgences: micro-bubbles, Jacuzzi, steam, sauna, a 12- to 15-degree Celsius cold dip, and indoor-outdoor mineral pools.
It was a good idea to get loose before the spa because, from their list of creative curative treatments, I chose the power-packed Bamboo on the Rocks massage, which uses heated sand-filled bamboo along with hot stones to banish muscle tension. The supremely gratifying face reflexology was a 50-minute take on the mini-massages usually proffered during facials. And color me impressed by the thorough quartet of foot reflexology offerings, spanning deep relaxation, detox, rebalancing and relief for expectant mothers.
For centuries, Thanh Tan hot spring (named after a nearby village) has drawn locals to its warm waters with the promise of healing properties. As word spread, more people came from afar, including nobility from Hue’s citadel and French scientist Albert Sallet, who provided the first formal account of the site in a 1928 article on central Vietnam’s geothermal springs.
Continuous geological tests have found a stable and balanced mineral composition— including bicarbonates, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfate, silicic acid and fluorine—and the water has been bottled for 30-some years. “While living in Phu Quoc, I was hooked as it tastes better than European brands,” genuine fan and the resort’s general manager Hylton Lipkin told me. “It’s cheaper, too.” The still mineral water is robust yet refreshing, but I am head over heels for the smoothly balanced bubbly, the fizz remaining where I prefer—in the background. If only it were available outside Vietnam.
It should come as little surprise that it was a pharmacist, Le Thi Chau (who founded Alba’s original parent company), who envisioned greater health and hospitality potential for this liquid magic. The eventual name change from Thanh Tan water to Alba, which originates from the Latin word for sunrise, is meant, the company says, to evoke “a sense of freshness and originality.” Today, the upscale Alba resort and neighboring three-star sister hotel, Thanh Tan Hot Springs by Fusion, comprise Alba Wellness Valley. The resort’s all-inclusive multi-day wellness packages provide a health assesment, onsen rituals and spa sessions, activities ranging from the sedate to the adrenaline pumping (jungle walks, ziplining, a high-wire course), and a full-board wellness menu that’s high in nutrition not restriction.
When first ushered to one of 20 cottages, I am taken aback—there are no front windows. But inside, cozy, contemporary comfort is all embracing, clad in earthy-elemental touches of bamboo, wood and stone. And in the morning, I wake to beams of light entering through the wall-to-wall glass in the back of my bungalow, unveiling an unfettered view of a lush garden. That, coupled with the bamboo swing hanging playfully in the bath area, drives home the resort’s ethos: “invite the outdoor in.”
The main restaurant, named after the late Madame Chau, is a two-story, traditional round wooden house towering over a tranquil lotus lake, and serves Hue specialties and classic Vietnamese cuisine. Casual, carefree drink-and-dine spaces are spread among the open-sided Mori restaurant with international dishes, the Japanese-style Mizu café, and the pool bar, which concocts spirit-soothing smoothie sundowners. Most ingredients served across the property are sourced from Alba’s own organic farm. Fronting a scene that feels the very definition of bucolic—neat plots of luscious vegetables, scampering chickens and ducks minding their business in a tidy enclosure near a fish pond—is an open kitchen where I learn to prepare farm-to-table garden-fresh spring rolls and noodle soup.
Later, a complete sensory workout takes me into the woods. Walking meditation activates the five senses, Nyoman tells me. “And at Alba it’s special because we walk through its citrus-scented jungle strewn with lemon eucalyptus trees.” For added olfactory stimulation, he lines the path with incense sticks. “It is not often that we can find a place that has so much to offer,” Lipkin says, and I have to agree. Alba’s uncommon appeal is re-immersing guests in nature in more ways than one.
albawellnessvalley.com; three-, five- and seven-day all-inclusive wellness packages from US$519 per person.