jw marriott phu quoc emerald bay, vietnam

Posted in Projects on 12 September, 2017

For this playful, stylish and immersive resort that truly opens up the luxury hotel world for Vietnam’s Phu Quoc, designer Bill Bensley has gone for a concept of a mythical academy of learning. Tonje Odegard from SPACE explores the interiors…

Phu Quoc, the dreamy Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia is known for its pristine, white beaches and is shaped by natural beauty. Only recently discovered by international tourists, the island is an exciting location for the region. The new JW Marriott hotel marks the birth of luxury hospitality on the ‘pearl island’ with the resort being the first international luxury hotel brand to open there. The fantastical hotel has only been welcoming guests since January this year, but has since then managed to win the award of Asia’s Leading New Resort in the 2017 World Travel Awards Asia and Australasia.

Renowned designer Bill Bensley has taken inspiration from a number of things for this exciting property in Phu Quoc’s Emerald Bay in Vietnam. Honouring the country’s French colonial period as well as his own passion for education, Bensley has created an imaginative universe of academia inspired by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who laid the groundwork for Darwin’s theory of evolution. As the story goes, the ‘Lamarck University’ was the intellectual and educational pinnacle of Phu Quoc in the early 1880s and attended by the island’s French colonists before finally closing in the 1940s.    

The hotel’s different areas are constructed with the idea of a university campus in mind, where different faculties and departments function as guides to the various kinds of activities the resort offers. The 244 ocean-facing rooms, suites and villas, for instance, are spread throughout different wings, each named after academic departments, and the interiors match. One of the hotel’s five restaurants and bars, on the other hand, is located in the Department of Chemistry, whilst the sporting ground is in the Department of Physical Education. Even the General Manager is called a Dean, which is a nice touch.    


The ‘university look’ is evident in the architecture of the hotel, but the building has its base in the traditional French colonial style. An evolution in the architectural style of that period, from its supposed beginnings in the 1880s through to the 1940s, ensures that the resort feels like a collection of individual boutique hotels rather than a large resort.

Bensley oversaw the master planning and design of the entire property and separated the paradisiacal site into different zones, all of them connected via the Rue de Lamarck, the main street that extends through the whole resort.

Along Rue de Lamarck, traditional shop houses built to resemble the ancient streets of Hoi An highlight a unique blend of Chinese, Japanese and Western architectural influences offering visitors an authentic sense of place.


Every detail, down to the decorative elements and staff uniforms, were carefully considered and crafted by Bensley to reinforce the resort’s overarching theme. Complementing the emerald-coloured sea and the lush landscape, Bensley has picked a palate of warming reds, turquoise, blues and greens for the interiors. Custom-designed furnishings in dark, locally sourced wood and patterned flooring further elevate the sense of comfort and luxury in the rooms, and throughout the resort’s walkways.

Bensley’s team travelled across Europe to source more than 5,000 original antiques and artefacts for the resort. Vintage furniture, teaching paraphernalia, carpentry tools, prints and sketches showcasing the evolution of mankind and nature, as well as other hidden gems can be spotted throughout the well-crafted and intuitively designed resort.

“Many people consider university to be the most memorable time of their lives,” Bill Bensley says. “I’ve always wanted to create a resort with this theme because of the profound influence my university studies had on my work. The scale of this project, together with the spectacular setting, gave me the perfect opportunity to bring the story of Lamarck University to life, ensuring that guest leave richer than when they arrived.”

Public Spaces

The grand lobby is a gentle mix between sheer sophistication and playful fun. Amid elegant stone structures and colonial tiles are a gigantic, golden, nearly 10 foot tall trophy fountain and an impressive tiled mosaic that says ‘Ridgebacks Rule’. The Phu Quoc Ridgeback is a native dog breed that has become the hotel’s mascot. Design details reflecting the mascot can be seen in various areas of the property, for instance large statues flanking important doorways in the resort.


Offering guestrooms, suites and villas at the hotel, all accommodation options have a view to the ocean. The colour theme of the rooms follow the colour theme of the ‘department’ it’s situated in, ranging from bright yellow, green, red and blue. The ceilings of all rooms are tremendously tall at an astonishing 13 feet, with the rain showers in the bathrooms taking full advantage of that with fixtures in the ceiling, creating an amazing waterfall effect. All bathrooms have double-height windows, are tiled in marble and boasting large tubs, double washbasins and lit makeup mirrors. Some of the most noticeable rooms and suites are the 11 Turquoise Tower suites within the Department of Biology, which naturally has an overwhelming turquoise theme throughout. The large space has incredibly high ceilings, dark timber furniture, patterned rugs and upholstery, as well as breathtaking views from the balconies.      

The Le Jardin guestrooms’ terraces are quite spectacular with two gigantic brass Ridgeback statues guarding the doors.


The French have long believed in the therapeutic qualities of mushrooms. Playing on this idea, Bensley created an unusual experience in the hotel’s spa Chanterelle, which also incorporates references to Alice in Wonderland, where mushrooms played a huge part. Located in the Department of Mycology, mushroom-shaped furnishings and hand-painted walls of flora and fauna can be spotted throughout, while framed biological illustrations of mushrooms adorn the interior ceiling, adding to the fantastical and surreal quality of the area. Bensley also took inspiration from the childhood fable for a hidden corridor, where asymmetric arches curve at mirroring angles to create a layering effect, echoing Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Overall, the space is bright and inviting with characterful beams and angled ceilings.

In addition to the private beach, the resort also has three outdoor swimming pools; the sand pool, shell pool and sun pool.

Drinking and dining

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay has no less than five drinking and dining outlets, including Tempus Fugit, Red Rum, Pink Pearl, French & Co and the Department of Chemistry Bar.

Tempus Fugit (meaning ‘time flies’) is the all-day dining restaurant that also doubles as the Department of Architecture, where the study of forms, lines, structures and scale is evident. Geometrical shapes are apparent in every detail – the ceiling, the floor, and the lamps. Architectural sketches adorn the walls, floor plans have been made into design details on the table tops, and one of the windows is formed as a half-moon protractor (with the numbers and lines on it and all!). Again, the marriage between grown-up sophistication and childish playfulness is seen here with the quirky, fun details next to the elegant furniture and palette.

At the Department of Chemistry, the resort’s cocktail bar located by Emerald Bay, in-house bar tenders, or ‘chemists’ in lab coats, create delicious signature drinks to be enjoyed in the swinging daybeds. Every detail in the bar has been created with a chemistry lab in mind – the serving counters are decorated with beakers and scientific instruments, while the domed ceiling is designed with a periodic table and matched with a striking atom-shaped chandelier. The different element cells of the periodic table are featured on high tables dotted across the room and chemistry glassware is used for decoration. This is probably one of the most intriguing spaces of the hotel, much due to its bright pink walls.

French & Co, a patisserie and gourmet deli, is reminiscent of a classic French café with a relaxing ambience and interior décor, including cast iron ovens and antique scales.

Red Rum, the beach grill, boasts a casual vibe in an open-air pavilion that features an intricate chandelier crafted from hundreds of seashells. Bespoke chairs feature intricate carvings and sit alongside opulent marble tabletops with atmospheric palm trees swishing in the background.

Finally, the artful Pink Pearl, housed inside a splendid two-storey mansion, is the hotel’s beachfront fine-dining Cantonese restaurant. So named after the Dean of Lamarck University Ty Collins’ great-great grandmother, Pearl, who was famed for her Cantonese delicacies.

Meeting and events

Bensley’s imaginative touch also extends into the meeting rooms and banqueting facilities. The grand ballroom, named the Lamarck Auditorium, showcases a series of vintage atlases, while the separate meeting spaces each tell a unique, whimsical story. The Artist is a meeting room inspired by Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and incorporates a bold lighting fixture constructed from large paint brushes, whereas The Sculptor and Carpenter meeting rooms boast a special meeting facility with student chairs hanging on the walls. Elliot’s Backstage, another breakout area, is styled like a green room of an ancient theatre.


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