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CULTURE TRIPPING // LAMARCK UNIVERSITY PHU QUOC

If you never stop learning then where is the best place to study? A British Red Brick University or an Ivy League College in the US? Well, we think we’ve found the best place to continue our life education and believe us, it won’t take you long to discover why for further mind expansion this place is the best choice you can make.

Let us introduce you to the Lamarck University; a fantastical place of higher education that will open your mind, relax your body and leave you fully invigorated for the next exciting steps of your life.

This is like no other place of study. Named after French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who was respected for his theories on evolution by Charles Darwin, the ‘University’ was built back in 1917 on the stunning Vietnamese Island of Phu Quoc. You will, of course, need to stretch the imagination just a little with this one.

The legend of Lamarck University comes from the quirky imagination of famed architect Bill Bensley. Built in early 20th-century style in a world of bygone French colonial days Bensley has woven his signature magic throughout every space.

Since the late 80’s Bensley has been designing some of the world’s most iconic hotels, resorts and spas making a name for himself with his quirky designs. And with Emerald Bay Phu Quoc you will find the architect’s whimsical characteristics unleashed across this inspired mythical academy of learning.

Bensley, who has designed somewhere in the region of 200 resorts in 40 different countries, is a self-confessed avid shopaholic. “Buy it first think later” he enthuses, “because if you don’t have it you can’t do anything with it. You’ll figure it out later. I have a warehouse filled with stuff I bought first and now I am thinking what to do with it.”

Travelling the world’s flea markets (Lincolnshire Showground being one of his favourite haunts) the university themed resort is perfect for the amassed items that required a home. Picking out everything himself, five jam-packed containers were shipped from Europe to the resort containing over 5,000 original antiques and artefacts.

Detail is at the very essence of the university; whether it is the Phu Quoc ridgeback dog mascots (that appear throughout the resort as ornaments, paintings, a stunning mosaic and, most impressively, as two huge statues at the resort entrance); the sports trophies from past “winning” alumni; the individually labelled chemistry bottles and teaching paraphernalia in the chemistry lab; the old-style coffee grinders in French & Co; the intricate fauna sketches of mushrooms in the spa; or the wonderful staff uniforms, everything is beautifully crafted.

Even the resort General Manager, Ty Collins, is brought in to the story. As the legend goes his great, great, great, great grandfather was the first dean. There’s even a bust of him in the lobby.

“I don’t particularly like beach resorts”. Comments Bensley, who is back at Emerald Bay to unload a mountain of boxes that contain a vintage lovers dream of lighting, old books and battered leather suitcases.

“When I go on vacations I like hiking or going out in the countryside. For me, to build a beach resort that is just about the beach isn’t good enough. When I went to college it was one of the happiest times of my life so I figured why not return to being a young adult because that is when we were really having a great time.”

What’s on the curriculum:

Explore the History of Art.
Walk around the resort to see a selection of handprinted French inspired artworks dotted across walls and buildings. Or get more hands on and learn to make an iconic silk lantern like those seen in the ancient Vietnamese town of Hoi An.

Visit ‘The Artist’, a meeting room inspired by Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings that incorporates a bold lighting fixture constructed from large paint brushes. Meanwhile, The Sculptor and Carpenter boasts a uniquely-designed meeting facility with student chairs hanging on the walls.

Take lessons in Chemistry.
After a hard day studying let the mixologists make you a concoction that you can’t resist. Chemists are on hand to assemble the most exotic of elixirs.

Go on the perfect field trip.
Leave the resort by boat and head to the Marine Biology Class to go snorkelling and discover the corals around the island. Visit the lively An Thoi Market and Harbour and get to see how the locals live. Or take one of the resort bikes and ride to where the island’s famous fish sauce is made.

Get a lesson in Vietnamese history.
Along Rue de Lamarck, traditional shophouses have been built to resemble the ancient streets of Hoi An highlighting a unique blend of Chinese, Japanese and Western architectural influences.

Understand a little more about anatomy.
Mushroom-shaped furnishings and hand-painted walls of flora and fauna can be spotted throughout the Chanterelle Spa, while framed biological illustrations of mushrooms adorn the interior ceilings, adding to the fantastical and surreal quality of the space.

The University’s PE department offers residents a full gym workout or you can choose the outdoor track for a spot of circuit training.

Expand your tastebuds with food tech.
The department of architecture, Tempus Fugit, hosts the resort’s chefs who serve up tasty breakfast Pho, international cuisine, Japanese delights and delectable French pastries. If you’d rather gaze out at the aquamarine blue sea then you could choose the beach barbecue, Red Rum, for your choice of the freshest catch of the day. When you’ve sampled your way around the best foods it is time to have a go yourself in one of the Taste of Vietnamese classes when you can see how the local cuisine is brought to life.

Choose your halls of residence.
With 244 rooms, suites, villas and houses the resort is huge but it has been broken down to feel smaller in scale. We stay in the Department of Conchology; its shell theme covers the outer building and our spacious room is as far away from university accommodation as you can imagine with lush design-led furnishings, high ceilings and a huge balcony overlooking the bay.

Study the art of mindfulness.
How about a touch of kayaking along the Bai Khem coastline in the crystal clear waters to relax your mind. And for the early risers, if balance allows, a sunrise paddle board yoga and meditation session is on offer.

Rooms at JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa start from £308 per night on a B&B basis jwmarriottphuquoc.com.

Vietnam Airlines offers the UK’s only nonstop flights to Vietnam, with daily flights to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Return fares from Heathrow to Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh City currently start from £462 per person, inclusive of taxes vietnamairlines.com.

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