Letters from Hue

In Vietnam, we love a good holiday, no matter the origins of the celebration. The Vietnamese didn’t invent Valentine’s Day, but we pay homage to Cupid with as much fervor as cultures that have been on to him for decades. Though but a small portion of our population is Christian, you wouldn’t suspect as much from the people streaming into churches around Christmas. Still, the holiday that matters more than all of the others combined, the one that goes right to the very soul of who we are as a people is Tet, the lunar new year. Read More
Hue food is a must when you visit the ancient capital of Vietnam. It is so easy to eat like a king here, but to understand the meaning behind the food, we need to go back in time a bit. Hue is affectionately known as the Imperial City of Vietnam until the year 1945. As the imperial city, Hue takes reign to some of the more delectable dishes throughout Vietnam dating back to the culinary cravings of Nguyen feudal lords, emperors and their hundreds of concubines and wives. Read More
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. Read More
Hue is most renowned as the former imperial capital of Vietnam where the Nguyen Emperors ruled from the Palace of Supreme Harmony from 1802 to 1945. The Nguyen’s stately citadel, their Forbidden Purple City and their magisterial tombs are an East Asia Wonderland, and the foundation of the city’s appeal as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read More
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