Sailing Toward a 10th Anniversary

When I was growing up in the 1960s, and the war was terrible in Vietnam, I used to dream of the ocean. I dreamed of big ships, ocean liners, with their towering stacks and rows of porthole windows, a long wake fanning out from the stern. That kind of dreaming was what I wanted more than anything when I was a boy, to be involved in some other kind of adventure, not the one that had come down upon my country.

I mention this by way of explaining why it is that I remember a particular day when I was very young, and perched on the saddle of my mother’s bicycle as she pedaled down Le Loi Street. It was after the devastation of the Battle of Hue, and the streets were safe again, and I looked through the gates at 5 Le Loi and saw the old mansion, looming like a ship in a picture I’d once seen.

General Manager Phan Trong Minh (left) bicycles near Hue’s Imperial City in the 1970s

It would be years before I knew what Art Deco architecture was, and how those architects had borrowed ideas from oceans liners to inform their designs. What I saw then, and what endures today, were porthole windows set high in the façade, a rounded front like the bow of a ship, and long horizontal brows over the windows.

The building had once been part of the French colonial governor’s residence and was in the late 1960s a government guesthouse. Today, it’s one of Vietnam’s premier luxury hotels. I’m its general manager, and though many things have changed since my first glimpse of this place amidst the rubble of 1968, the essence of this place has not.

In December, La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa will celebrate its 10th anniversary. I started working at the hotel in 2007, and so I’ve seen so much of its modern history. I had joined the hotel shortly after we had won a spot on the Hot List of new hotels at Condé Nast Traveler, one of the world’s most distinguished arbiters of hospitality.

In the two most recent lists of the top hotels in the world, the Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards and the Travel + Leisure T+L 500, La Residence was one of just four hotels in Vietnam to place on each list.
I can think of so many reasons why this hotel is a fixture on these lists, and the first one goes back to the visionaries who in the early 2000s saw potential in this old mansion, and then invested in its renovation and the construction of two annexes that look as if they have been here since 1930 when the mansion was built.

Guests love the Art Deco bones of this hotel, and its heritage, its salt water swimming pool, the fine-dining at Le Parfum, the staff, our spa, our riverfront situation, the views of the Imperial Citadel and something else, too. This place just feels right. Call it feng shui, or phong thuy (as we do in Vietnam). This place has it, and I suppose it always has. I sense it every day when I come to work. There’s no place I’d rather be.

I couldn’t have known as much all those years ago, balanced on the saddle of my mother’s bicycle, looking up at this old ship of a building. I knew then that this place was capable of carrying my dreams. And it still is.

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