Think tourism in Hue and you automatically think ‘history’ – the Citadel, the Purple Forbidden City, The Imperial Mausoleums. A few years ago, some enterprising people also thought of Hue as a beach destination and hotels sprang up on the long bar of land that has formed behind the Hue lagoon, one of Asia’s largest. But it takes some thinking out of the box to actually establish a luxury resort hotel on the lagoon itself and trail blaze with Vietnam’s first over-the-water villas. The owners of this development are the same family that, ten years ago, created that retreat in the woods, ‘Pilgrimage Resort’, just south of Hue City. Here, you are given the same personal attention, original architectural design and top-notch food and beverage in a different and awe-striking setting-a shimmering lagoon, surrounded by lofty mountains and backed by steep, wooded slopes. If ‘Pilgrimage’ was a number one hit, then the family group has followed up with a world-wide smash.
The reception block is traditional Vietnamese village architecture of column, beam and rafter, using light brown jackfruit wood, which is also used for carvings on display throughout the complex. Paying homage to the previous occupants of this area, you will also see Cham art here and by the communal swimming pool. There was even a Cham figurine in an alcove in my villa, as well as a Cham dancing girl carved in slate over the bed. This block houses a library, an art gallery with works by local artists, a table tennis room and a karaoke room.
Adjacent to this are the tennis, badminton and volleyball courts. If you are not content just to simply rest, there are also private and public swimming pools. One thing I would to have loved to have tried was kayaking. I watched braver folk enjoying this. An alternative is to arrange for a fishing trip further out on the lagoon. Instead, I took to cycling.
There are bicycles parked outside of all accommodations, and you are also provided with a map for exploring the area by bike. The real Vietnam is right outside its doorstep. A beaten earth road with very little traffic leads you right by fishing villages and lime green rice fields. You can watch folk mending nets and unloading fish from sampans. So many times have I rushed along the National Highway Number 1 on four wheels, never realising there was this fascinating tranquil world below. You will see domesticated ducks and geese along the way, as well as egrets. I rode as far as a large village, where a river flows into the lagoon. Here, gaily painted in red and blue, were large sea-going fishing vessels. The only negative is the pollution. The locals toss a lot of rubbish on the shore way and reeds. Hopefully, with the arrival of the resort, people will realise the value to all of keeping the lagoon as clean as possible. Wisely, Vedana employs eighty-five per cent of its staff locally, so word will soon get round.
On to wining and dining. There are several alternatives; you can have a table set up for two and enjoy a romantic dinner on the pier, watching the day fade away over the lagoon. Particularly, for private groups among lush greenery, there is the Lantern House, where cooking lessons also take place. I ate where most folk do, on the veranda of the Horizon Restaurant, where both Western and Asian dishes of the highest standards are served.
In order to take the stress out of choosing, and acknowledging that the chef knows best as to what combines with what, I chose to eat Vietnamese Table d’ Hote’. The appetiser was the slightly glutinous ‘crab and mushroom soup’, very familiar to me. Then came the ‘goi du du’- papaya and beef salad with rice cracker to scoop it up and embellished with raw carrot and cucumber. The piece de résistance was the ‘seafood on a large square platter’. This consisted of grilled prawns, squid, clams and mackerel steak. It came accompanied by white rice and sautéed morning glory. All of this I enjoyed seated on the verandah with candle light on the table and starlight above. Dessert was passion fruit with cream. Captain Waitress Miss Anh Thi Anh Thu marshalled her staff well and made sure my glass of sémillion chardonnay Australian wine was kept topped up.
I was lodged in a Pool Honeymoon Villa. With gardens fore and aft and a spacious private swimming pool to the side, the villa is made of concrete, pink stone and thatch. There is also a long wooden veranda with sunbeds, chairs, table and potted flowers and a great view of the lagoon. The inside was as large as a London flat with even a kitchen where you can take a private cooking lesson. Ablutions were either to be taken in a very large bathtub or by open-air shower in the back garden. The centre piece was a large dark wood four-poster bed.
Staff member Miss Truong Thi Mong Cam showed me the other kinds of accommodation. The Lagoon View Bungalow is the same as mine, but without the private pool. A first for Vietnam and more or less the same design and for the same price as my villa and even with a smaller version of the shower garden, there are eight over-the-water Aqua Villas. One special feature is that part of the floor is of very thick glass, so you can observe shoals of fish underneath. With such a conducive and romantic atmosphere, I wondered how many babies had been conceived here. ‘We have no reliable statistics,’ Miss Mong Cam informed me. The Pool Aqua Villa, also on stilts over the water, is a double unit; two bedrooms separated by a pool. Probably equivalent to a presidential suite built into the wooded mountainside is The Pool Family House, which has two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and a very large garden with its own pool and badminton court.
Early morning found me breathing in the cajuput-perfumed air on the boards of the ‘Wellness and Spa Centre’. I had come for my first lesson in Tai Chi. Ahead of me, my instructress raised her arms and loudly proclaimed ‘In Hell’. My spine instantly chilled. What evil New Age sorceress was this? If she had had a sword in those hands she would be about to sacrifice a pig, I thought. What had I let myself in for? Not to worry; after a while it dawned on me that what she was trying to say was ‘Inhale’. She had other, more picturesque commands – ‘Hold the jar’, Push the door’, ‘Sweep to the left’ and ‘Sweep to the right’. She had her share of laughs as my first attempts at Tai Chi were as clumsy as the antics of that other Englishman, Mr Bean.
What more could anyone wish for? Vietnam now takes on the world for luxury resort hotels set in breathtaking scenery. More than that, it has not chain hotel repetition, but a hotel incorporating much of its heritage and culture with unique creativity and genuinely friendly family personal attention.
Current published rack rates: Lagoon View Bungalow VND7,480,000, Pool Honeymoon Villa VND11,000,000, Pool Aqua Bungalow 27,940,000. Prices include breakfast and all taxes.
Vedana Lagoon Resort and Spa
Address: Zone 1, Phu Loc Town, Phu Loc District, Hue. Tel: (84 54) 3681-688
By Pip de Rouvray