For a former capital city, Hue feels remarkably untainted by For a former capital city, Hue feels remarkably untainted by tourism. Think Kyoto or Luang Prabang, only without the hordes of tourists. Once domestic and international travelers discover this sleepy city, it can only last for a while. Hue is on the banks of the Perfume River and has ancient tombs, a crumbling citadel, art deco residences and steaming bowls of banh canh ca loc. Plus, next-generation hoteliers like Tien Nguyen are creating design-conscious destination hotels like his aNhill Boutique, with a modern conception of inclusivity.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
“I feel Hue has a unique identity. It’s a peaceful and poetic place that’s evolving into a vibrant destination,” aNhill’s founder, Tien Nguyen, begins. He should know. Aside from his years in Saigon during high school and university, he was born and raised in Hue and is now back to promote the city as an unmissable tourist destination. At aNhill, the team have distilled all of Hue’s history and heritage, arts and culture into one boutique hotel that has a modern, design-conscious edge.
The white modernist exterior has throw-back slate roofs on wooden supports, and past the gleaming glass frontage the lobby is a mix of ancestral altars and traditional lacquer paintings, and hip furniture and contemporary art. Tien says the inspirations are all local. “We sourced everything from local suppliers and the team is all local too,” aNhill’s founder explains proudly.
The 27-room hotel is spread across two buildings, separated by a long infinity pool. The 27-room hotel is spread across two buildings, separated by a long infinity pool. Above it an old mango tree, propped up on metal supports, leans over as if trying to admire its weathered reflection in the water. On the other side, the curving driveway passes a library and meditation pavilion and it’s lined with palm trees and small hills dotted with Asian pines.
Not surprisingly, the first thing you notice, jetting in from Saigon or Hanoi or any other bustling city is the peace and quiet. Right on cue, a peacock pokes its head around the antique wooden screen set in the grounds and nervously trots past, followed by three more. “I think we have 20 now,” Tien Nguyen nods, “but many of them are chicks and are too shy to come out.”
And actually, Tien Nguyen tells us, the secluded aNhill Boutique garden, where we’re sat, used to be scrub and farmland owned by his family. Three years ago they began transforming it into a hotel. The only remaining element is the pond in the middle that now gurgles with a waterfall and teems with hungry koi carp that the gardeners feed, sometimes assisted by guests, three times per day.
You’re curating some very unique local experiences for guests of aNhill Boutique too. Can you tell us about your favorite one?
The area around aNhill is really interesting – there’s the disused waterpark, an art gallery, and the Mausoleum of Emperor Minh Mang.
But my favorite experience is one we’ve just started. It’s a collaboration with local boat owners. We take guests on a champagne and canapés sunset boat ride around Tam Giang Lagoon, the largest lagoon in Southeast Asia. In-house we curate a lot of things to do too. There’s Xoa Spa. Bikes to ride around the area. And yoga and a healing chakra session early in the morning.
Beside the aNhill flags around the entrance to the hotel, there’s also Pride flags. What’s your view of inclusivity at aNhill?
I’ve seen a gradual change in perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam for the better. At aNhill, we welcome everyone, whoever they are, and whatever they do. Here guests can be themselves. After all, we want this to feel like a home away from home for everyone.
aNhill Boutique is super stylish, and it feels like a retreat for creatives and writers. Can you pick out some elements of the interior design you’re most proud of?
I love bamboo as a material. It has a rustic charm, so you’ll see it employed often, in the parasols, and the mosquito nets and curtains. Then there’s lots of use of cement, which reflects its usage in lots of historical monuments here in Hue. Here you’ll see exposed cement in the rooms, and patterned pieces inspired by the city’s historical buildings. Finally, Hue is known for its ceramics. We use broken porcelain to create mosaics, and other pieces to honor the craftspeople of the area.
The big bathtubs in front of the beds in the guest rooms are a special feature too…
Haha, yes. Instead of in the bathroom, I wondered how it would be if we placed them in the room, and faced the balcony so as you soak in the bath you can see the mountains and the Koi pond outside. It should add to the overall experience and ambiance at aNhill Boutique.
Finally, can you curate a 24-hours in Hue itinerary to make us fall in love with the city?
One day is definitely not enough. To fully appreciate the city and its people takes longer. But let’s try! In the morning, wake up at aNhill Boutique with a steaming bowl of bun bo Hue. Then go over to our ‘nhà rường’ area and enjoy a coffee.
Head into Hue for lunchtime. Seek out some cơm hến , a Hue specialty of rice with clams. The bowls overflow with rice, herbs, roasted peanuts, star fruit, and sesame seeds. They usually top them off with pork crackling and are served with a shrimp paste and chili sauce on the side. I get mine at 60 Ta Quang Buu, behind Tinh Tam Lake. It’s been there for over 20 years.
Stick around for sunset at the Citadel, or at Thien Mu Pagoda. Then, as evening falls explore Pham Ngu Lao Street, walk along the river, or hop on a dragon boat and release lanterns for good luck on the Perfume River…