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I love it when famous travel destinations have seemingly nonsensical place names that translate into incredibly descriptive phrases.

I recall my wonder as a young backpacker discovering that “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the Victoria Falls – translates to “The Smoke that Thunders.”

There must be so many more with equally wondrous names. Answers on a postcard please, to [email protected]. I would love to know some more!

While planning a recent family trip to Ha Long Bay, I felt the same wonder again upon discovering that this incredible region is known locally as the “Descending Dragon.”

Trust me, this magnificent area, where thousands of limestone karsts and islets descend majestically into the ocean, will not disappoint.

Ha Long Bay is among the top 10 natural attractions in the world and the region has seen a dramatic increase in visitors over the past decade, rising from 1.6 million in 2010 to more than 6.8 million in 2023.

Naturally, the surge in hotel and resort development has been just as dramatic. As a result, the challenge when visiting may simply be navigating the endless choice of accommodations and deciding where to stay.

We were advised to look along Bai Chay Beach, not just for the beach itself but due to its location close to the boarding areas for Ha Long Bay cruises.

We also liked its proximity to Sun World Halong Park, one of the largest and most renowned theme parks in Asia, which the children were keen to visit. We eventually settled on the Oakwood Ha Long Resort, a luxurious resort boasting 86 modern villas and claiming to offer an “unparalleled staycation for families”.

We arrived at the resort after a two-hour drive from Hanoi. The resort lies on the main Ha Long Bay strip, a boulevard that reminded me of the Gold Coast with its glitzy neon lights, restaurants and bars.

A long grand entrance took us up to the resort reception where the check-in was efficient and very welcoming, where we were each given a delightful welcome drink while a porter took our luggage from the car, loaded it onto a golf buggy and parked our car in the car park.

The resort villas are divided into three categories: Garden View, Lake Side and Premier. We had chosen a Garden View and were taken there on a short buggy ride.

A small front garden led to our front door which opened onto the spacious ground floor with an open-plan lounge, dining area and kitchen. The kitchen was a joy, with a top-of-the-range cooker, a huge fridge, a dishwasher and ample prep space.

Knives and other kitchenware were also top of the range while sliding doors opened onto a small courtyard with ample seating and an excellent BBQ.

Inside, a large dining table offered space and chairs for eight. Comfortable sofas and chairs provided a welcome space to relax in front of a large 60” LG flatscreen HD TV, which had a huge selection of sports, films and entertainment channels. Over the next few days it proved to be the perfect place to relax and bond as a family.

A large staircase led to the first floor and the two bedrooms. Each bedroom was a delight. The master having a king bed (as we’d requested) while the children’s room next door had two large queen beds.

In both rooms large sliding windows opened onto a balcony with a table and chairs and views over the gardens. Again, each room had the latest flatscreen LG TV, complemented by all the high-end finishings one would expect; ample USB ports, sockets, excellent air-conditioning and bedside lamps.

We particularly liked the delightful “elephant” made from a towel and surrounded by flowers, which the maids had placed on each bed to welcome us.

The highlight of the bedrooms, however, was the bathrooms. A wide bath was complemented by a superb walk-in shower, complete with a normal shower as well as a powerful rain-shower.

Another reason we chose the resort was its excellent choice of restaurants and reputation for superb cuisine. The breakfast was vast, by far the largest range of Vietnamese and international dishes we were to experience in all Vietnam.

The choice was almost endless, with the huge smorgasbord complemented by chefs cooking eggs on request. It was an adventure in itself and we enjoyed the ride for more than two hours each morning.

The resort has three restaurants offering a balanced choice of Vietnamese and international cuisine. We grew to love the fine-dining flagship restaurant, The Bay Grill & Mixology. With an excellent view over Ha Long Bay, the restaurant had a delightful range of Vietnamese dishes made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

The Bánh Khọt (mini crispy pancakes) were superb, while the Pho was arguably the best we had throughout our entire visit to Vietnam.

The more modest Market restaurant provided a reasonably priced menu of both Vietnamese and international dishes, while the excellent Oakbar was perfect for casual dishes, beers and cocktails, particularly since, to the children’s delight (and mine), it had a swim-up bar!

The resort’s two outdoor pools were vast, the largest I’ve seen in a resort for a while. Surrounded by lush trees and great views, they proved the perfect place to unwind after a day’s sightseeing. A separate kids’ pool provided our younger one with a delightful place to play.

While I’m not one for treatments, my wife assured me that the resort’s Serenity Spa was a true haven of tranquillity with steam rooms and saunas complemented by reasonably priced treatments.

The Oakwood is owned by the vast Sun Group, one of the largest real estate developers in Vietnam. The company has invested millions in the development of holiday resorts, attraction parks and luxury real estate throughout Vietnam.

No expense has been spared in the development of the Oakwood…and it shows. Ha Long Bay deserves at least a three-night stay and being the only all-villa resort in the region, it is hard to imagine a better base for families.