Hue: The Most Soulful Destination in Vietnam

A guest recently asked me a question that I have been thinking about for weeks, not so much because the question is unusual but because of the huge distance between what is so obvious to me, and what is not at all clear to travelers to Vietnam.

In fact, the question prompted not only my answer, but got me to thinking that we had to have a platform to share the answer I provided to this one guest. That’s why we are now launching Wind & Water, a blog series that we hope will provide the inside track on the destination we serve. We’re calling this blog, Wind and Water, or Phong Thủy in Vietnamese. You all may know phong thủy better by the Chinese term, feng shui. This system of laws in very important to the Vietnamese. The city of Hue is very much a product of phong thủy. But more on that later. I have a question to answer, I know.

That traveler’s question was simply this: What do most travelers not know about Hue that every traveler should know? It was a perceptive question, and my thoughts didn’t stumble for a minute as I considered the answer. Hue is the most soulful destination in Vietnam.

Hanoi might challenge us, but I don’t think so. Most people in Vietnam have the same idea about Hue — that life here moves at a slower pace, and that we live lives a little more deeply and profoundly perhaps than people elsewhere. Going to Hue is a little bit like going back in time, people say. More than that, it’s a little bit like getting lost in time.

You won’t find a dramatically evolving skyline in my city. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, they look vastly different than they did ten years ago. But the Hue you see today is very similar to the Hue I remember from when I was growing up as a boy in this city in the 1970s. We’re changing, don’t get me wrong, but the rate of change is nothing like the rate of change in Danang, over the hill.

The city’s soulfulness manifests itself in the music of its favorite son, Trịnh Công Sơn, who is for us what Bob Dylan was for Americans. You can hear the soul of my city in the sounds of my neighbors, for our accent is as distinctive and recognizable to people of the Vietnamese language as the accent of the American South is to speakers of American English. (My apologies for two American references in a row! This is how I sometimes explain things to American guests.) And you can taste the soul of this city in a deep bowl of bún bò Huế. Everybody the world over knows phở, but we’ll leave phở to its birthplace, Hanoi. If you really want to flex some culinary muscle in conversation about Vietnamese food, talk about the flavors of a big bowl of bún.

I could go on and on from here about what’s slowed us down here in Hue, and how you can slow down, too. But I also know that none of us really want to read more than 500 words in a single go here online. So I’ll leave you for now and come back to you in the next installment with a reference to one of the most remarkable men in the world, who just happens to be from Hue.

By Phan Trong Minh, General Manager La Residence Hotel & Spa