Checking In at La Residence… for 32 Straight Years

In October of 1985, 24-year-old Nguyen Dinh Thiet mustered out of the Army after six years and sent his CV to two different places. The first was to a tax office in Lao Bao, a far-flung town on the frontier with Laos that lies within the borders of his home province. The other was to the government guesthouse at 5 Le Loi Street in Hue, where they needed more security.

The night before he was to visit the government guesthouse, which is how La Residence Hotel operated before the 2005 renovation, Thiet had a dream. He saw all kinds of enormous ceramic jars, the likes of which he’d never seen before.

But then, when he showed up at La Residence in the midst of a typhoon, there were the jars. Something was telling him he should take this job. He did, and he’s been here ever since.

Thiet isn’t the most visible member of the hotel staff. Guests don’t see him the way they see people at reception, behind the bar, at cooking stations, or in the poolside cabana. You don’t see him the way you see housekeeping making up a bed, but the work that Thiet does ensures a good night’s sleep just the same.

No one has worked at 5 Le Loi Street longer than Thiet. He arrived in 1985 when Vietnam had just concluded a decade of postwar privation and hardship. Times were tough. But they were on the verge of getting better. The government would institute the opening-up policy of doi moi in 1986, steering Vietnam into a fuller embrace of the wider world.

Thiet has seen it all. He met the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap, who masterminded the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and who later came to stay at 5 Le Loi when it was a government guesthouse and after it became La Residence.

He and his 12-man security team helped ensure the security of the Emperor and Empress of Japan when they visited in March 2017. He knows every nook and corner of the hotel’s grounds, and works closely with local and national security teams when VIPs come to La Residence.

Single still, he reserves an hour a day to keep himself in peak physical condition. He lifts weights. He sharpens his hand movements with nunchuk workouts. He’s ready for any eventuality.

Other hotels in Hue have marveled at how well run our security operation is, and they’ve tried to recruit our chief. But he’s not interested. After 32 years on the job at 5 Le Loi, he’s found that a good habit is hard to break.