Letters from Hue

It was early evening in late summer, and there was a light breeze coming up off the Perfume River, carrying with it a scent of something fragrant. Or maybe the scent was coming off the outside terrace at Le Gouverneur where two Asian women of remarkable elegance and farflung origins were having a drink before dinner. Read More
Travelers want many things from a trip. Some want to unplug and destress. Some want a great tan. Some want to buy cool stuff. And some want to expose themselves to what it is that is most remarkable about the place they’re visiting. In the center of Vietnam, there is a cluster of UNESCO World Heritage assets that may very well form the greatest concentration of World Heritage opportunities in all Southeast Asia.   I’m going to call them out, one by one, and in descending order of appeal.   Read More
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. Read More
We meandered up the Perfume River sluggishly, on a warm summer’s day, in the direction of what I consider to be the most impressive of Hue’s royal tombs.  Scenes of the countryside and river life mesmerized us – kids part playing, part washing in the water, narrow but covered boats designed for permanent living, rows of corn fields and rice paddies – a colourful motley of scenery and one best absorbed, as we were, from a boat. Read More
The majority of people from outside Asia assume that rice is the staple diet in this part of the world; the subsistence of the people if you will. And they are correct for the most part. However, it’s worth pointing out that in Vietnam, herbs are as an essential component to any meal as the rice itself. Whether one is young or old, any local will have an intrinsic understanding about the particular uses and benefits of edible foliage in their diet. In fact, there is an old saying in Vietnamese that simply translates to: “we eat herbs when we are healthy; we drink them when we are sick”. Read More
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” – Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows The Perfume River – Hue’s central waterway – may have lost its perfume in more ways than one, but it cannot be denied that a humble journey by boat is by far one of the most rewarding and romantic journeys one can embark upon whilst visiting Vietnam’s ancient capital. While everyone is going upstream, to the tombs – yes the royal tombs, which are of course a must – I beseech you to consider a different course, downstream, where the waters flow cleaner, the people live day by day, and you can remember that in fact, you are, quite fabulously, in a vastly different world, where the placidity of river life is at the epicentre of a whole vibrant, living, real, culture – still. Read More
Hue is renowned for its culinary traditions – particularly the aptly named ‘Imperial Cuisine’ which epitomizes the fanciful tastes of emperor Tu Duc – a king who demanded that his food was as artistically presented as it was flavoursome. Legend has it that he had 50 chefs under his employ who would each create one dish per royal banquet. In a sense you could say he gave birth to the movement of ‘food art’ in Vietnam. One could also say he was a tad excessive. Read More
Many moons ago, I was invited by a colleague in Malaysia to try a ‘cupping’ massage. I politely declined when I saw the condition of her back – she’d had the recommended treatment just the day before – purple, bruise-like circles had made a rather violent pattern on her skin. When I came to Vietnam, I noticed that traditional masseurs applied the same technique, and so my reservations about experiencing cupping remained resolute – it didn’t seem like my cup of tea. That was until a recent visit to La Residence, when I decided to put my issues aside and try out the traditional massage; knowing that their expert masseuses would certainly not put my body under any serious duress. Read More
Personally I have no need for a hotel in Hue. I am married to a Hue woman and whilst we live in Saigon we have a house here. However ever since I worked in a hotel in the early eighties I have had a fascination for hotels that maintain the heritage of a country and even in the last few years I have contributed to Vietnamese magazines on this subject. Since first seeing advertisements for La Residence my curiosity was aroused and I put this one on my must visit list. This June I was lucky enough to be given a tour and given an overview which enables me to supply you with details new even to those who may have actually stayed at this first class hostelry. Read More
After travelling down the east coast of Vietnam from the forested borders of Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park – a stunningly beautiful, but lengthy drive down the undeveloped coastline – a trio of weary, bleary eyed (and I have to admit rather grubby) voyagers arrived at the steps of La Residence boutique hotel. Hot and flustered with the late March weather, the friendly, promptly acting staff greeted us in spectacular fashion. Bags were whipped up efficiently by the concierge and we were ushered into the plush lobby lounge for a refreshing iced lemongrass tea whilst confirming our check-in details. Read More

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