A Utopian World Created Through Bill Bensley’s Flamboyant Design: JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa

  • 11 Mar '24
  • 12:29 pm by Satarupa Datta

Rimmed by white sandy beaches and stunning coral reefs, Phu Quoc lies just off the mainland island of Vietnam. It is quickly evolving from a sleepy isle to a must-visit tropical escape with dreamy retreats like this one. Sitting on 30 acres of a private beach, JW Marriott Phu Quoc, designed by Bill Bensley based on an imaginary French university to bring in a whimsical narrative spin to the hotel. The bar is lovingly named the Department of Chemistry– a nod to the experiments of modern mixology while the fitness center is aptly called the  Department of Physical Education and the spa is filled with furnishings in the shape of a mushroom and consequently called the Department of Mycology (study of fungi). This tall tale of a make-believe world truly introduces guests to the concept of escapism which is often a key part of Bill Bensley’s design scheme.

The grand lobby mimics a library hall and yet meets with the whimsy design of a massive swing hanging from the high ceiling. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Getting There  

Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. There are direct international flights to Phu Quoc but another option is to take an international flight to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City depending on your travel itinerary and then hop on a domestic one-hour flight to the island. 


Also read: Step Into A Futuristic Spaceship In Hong Kong At The Artifact Bar

The property houses three outdoor swimming pools with whirlpools and the stunningly designed shell-shaped pool is best viewed from a drone shot or one of the stunning balconies. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Architecture & Design Concept: The Tale of Lamarck University That Came To Life

The award-winning designer Bill Bensley didn’t want to erect any other luxury beach hotel, instead, he wanted to conjure fantastical experiences that would leave guests inspired. Stirred by the legacy of the bygone French colonial design woven into Vietnam’s historical buildings and honouring the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Bensley conjures a narrative of a fictional university. The Art déco aesthetics have been fashioned to exude a bold and flamboyant energy. Inspired by the turquoise ocean and the tropical lush forest of the landscape, bright yellow, vibrant green, blue, and reds take up the guest room’s colour palette–the colours have been chosen thoughtfully to create a distinction between the spaces much like a modern-day university would.

The staff dons period uniforms, play their part, and the icing on the cake is the general manager who can be addressed as “dean.” The impeccable architectural planning has been executed to divide the buildings into zones and connect via Rue de Lamarck. This is the main street lined with shophouses that comprise exquisite artisanal boutiques, the resort’s varied dining outlets, and the best spa chamber on Phu Quoc island.

The one-room villa is an homage to the French-style colonial architecture with expansive, wrap-around porches, and ceiling-high windows adorned in a period decor of the 20th century. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Luxury Suites and Villas: Coined After Academic Departments. 

The resort designed as a university campus is lined with pastel-hued colonial-style buildings that house 231 rooms, suites, and stand-alone villas. The design layout and interiors play on academia, each named after academic departments. There is an unmistakable connection between all the rooms — balconies and terraces that frame postcard views of the ocean. The light streaming in through ceiling-high French windows that bounce across the vaulted ceilings sparkles on the luxurious marble-clad bathrooms accompanied by custom-made timber furnishings and upcycled vintage artefacts sourced over two years to stay true to the theme.

The expansive powder rooms boast a 20th-century period design crafted to feel like a retreat. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

The Turquoise Suite attracts the most attention because of its lavish interiors and walls adorned with pictures of flora and fauna. The standalone villa properties ensure privacy and spaciousness with their en-suite gardens, jacuzzi, and pool— often favoured by families.


Also read: 5-Luxe Floating Restaurants Explore Stylish Tropical And Bohemian Dining On Water

An all-day dining restaurant named Tempus Fugit is the former Department of Architecture where black and white photographs of pilasters and columns don the walls. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Dining: Feasting Meets The Finesse of French Culinary Artistry

The resort features four dining and one bar touted as a haven for gastronomic indulgence and each a destination of sorts steeped in a story. Tempus Fugit, the former Department of Architecture, is an all-day dining restaurant that offers Vietnamese, Japanese, and French cuisine. They also serve Latin American and Mexican plates at Red Rum, a beachside grill house. Post dinner, a live band usually performs at the Department of Chemistry Bar. A grandiose setting meets the signature French dining experience at Pink Pearl, once the opulent villa of Madame Pearl who was the second wife of a former dean at the University as the story goes at Lamarck University. Pink Pearl calls to mind the world of fabulous Gatsby’s 1920s gala dinner parties and soirees. For tea and confectionery lovers, the French & Co. is a must-visit.

The Pink Pearl Mansion offers an opulent indoor, garden, and private room dining experience alongside its terrace seat-out. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)
Illustrations of different mushrooms are framed throughout the wall decor and thoughtfully made furnishings complement the mycology theme at the Chanterelle Spa. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Spa by JW: Live The Alice In Wonderland Escapade At the Chanterelle 

Chanterelle Spa is an exquisite world of wellness where the design is woven around the childhood fable of Alice in Wonderland. Playing on the idea that the French believed in the therapeutic quality of mushrooms, Bensley created an unusual experiential spa where mushroom is the key to its design scheme and to make the experience more immersive, the design draws references to Alice in Wonderland. Diminishing arches on the ceiling create an effect of a rabbit hole making the architecture more surreal to experience.

Also read: ​​Six Senses Vana Enraptures Wellness Seekers By The Healing Powers Of Nature

One of the signature body treatments is the 1970s sports therapy massage, a real technique for deep muscle relaxation developed in the 20s and performed by highly trained therapists. Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

The spa boasts eight private treatment rooms, including one splendid VIP suite, saunas and steam rooms, and a beautiful foot massage lounge, where guests can unwind with friends over a cup of tea.

The stunning oceanfront venue will cater to every kind of wedding ceremony – grand reception and an intimate cocktail party to the perfect phera ceremonies of Indian weddings. (Image Credit: JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Recreation, Events, and Leisure: The Grand Settings Staged For Fairytale Weddings 

Yoga sessions, hiking adventures to curated scenic bike tours are part of the daily resort activities. The nearby excursion to the picturesque starfish beach where the star-shaped beauties surface on the beach is a must-do. 

Sophisticated and elegant, the hotel offers the grandest wedding venues ranging from the turquoise beachfront to the elegant ballroom, or the breathtaking Pink Pearl garden for an intimate gathering. We know how location is key to a grand celebration and the JW Marriott Phu Quoc ticks all of these boxes. 

Final Thoughts 

What makes JW Marriott Phu Quoc so different from others is the design layout of the resort complex presented as a university town. The rooms, dining, and other recreational and leisure spaces are brimming with extravagance and eclecticism entwined with storytelling in every aspect of its architectural design. Everywhere are touches of levity and wit –  making a play and delight experience for new-age travellers. Designed by the visionary Bill Bensley, JW Marriott Phu Quoc is a celebration of unconventional design style, warm hospitality, and essentially the lost art of storytelling. But be warned you may never want to leave. 

DP loves 

#The idea of private balconies and terraces of the rooms acting as an exclusive front-row seat to the stunning ocean views.

#Bill Bensley’s inclusion of environmentalism in his design thinking through sourcing 5000 plus upcycled antiques and vintage pieces that give layers to the narrative. 

#The architectural layout of guest rooms allows the play of adequate lights hence energy saving backs his sustainable design approach. 

#The decor of the Department of Chemistry Bar includes quirky illustrations of class timetables emblazoned on the vaulted ceilings and cabinets packed with test tubes and lab jars.

#The sea shell-clad decor of the Turquoise Suites features a tower leading to an infinity pool and alfresco seating. 

#The sunrise beach yoga experience is a great mind-body exercise to start the day.