We’re sat in a tranquil Hoi An cafe called Gieo. It’s a world away from Danang’s high-end hotels, beach clubs and bars. Its owner and architect TheO, who is from Hanoi, is introducing us to her ideas about the slow life. They’re ideas that she’s instilled here at Gieo and at her connected boutique hotel, Dechiu, and that some of her favourite places in Hoi An and Danang are filled with too.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
TheO breezed into Gieo Cafe a few moments ago, all smiles and radiance. It’s exactly how we imaged her to be having caught up with the Dechiu story on their website earlier this morning (Gieo, we discovered, is Dechiu’s friendly vegetarian eatery).
The Hoi An boutique hotel, close to An Bang Beach, has a backstory filled with nostalgia and wonder, as you’d expect from a romantically-minded Hanoian architect and designer. “Dechiu Hotel was born so that memories could live a second life, so that what is mine can be shared with you, so that leaving means staying,” the story begins.
“The creative culture in Hanoi is very traditional, we like to maintain traditions and utilise traditional crafts, skills and building methods. We’re always thinking about Vietnamese culture…it’s deeply rooted,” TheO nods proudly looking up at the newly installed painting on the wall by fellow Hanoian artist Phương Giò.
“I have always had a creative mind and spirit,” TheO adds. “But I think it was when I was around 17 years old when I first started to seriously think about design and architecture. About how things were made and put together…and how I could create my own space.”
Her 12-room Dechiu boutique hotel project is a summation of her architectural ideas so far. “It’s a very personal project for me,” she continues. “And the ideas just came to me, the colours and materials flowed and I didn’t have to think about it too much…”
We wonder aloud about the connection between Gieo and Dechiu. “Well,” she says narrowing her eyes to think, “both Dechiu and Gieo come from the same inspiration, from my memories growing up – my memories of different spaces”.
“And,” she says thoughtfully, “a place to eat and a place to sleep are both ideas of home, so they’re a perfect match! You can’t have one without the other.”
Bowl after bowl of delicious looking Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine arrives. “Natural, unprocessed, and from the earth,” TheO explains waving her hand across the dishes. “We like to keep things simple and as natural as possible – from taste to ingredients…”
As the designer and architect serves us a bowl, she begins to tell us more about her design philosophy.
“Well, I don’t design anything specific. I think about human requirements and follow my feelings. Each and every design project is created with the individual who will inhabit the space in mind….”
Impressed by the philosophy and the food we wonder which other places she loves. And so, this is her guide to the slow life in Hoi An and Danang.
Why: Organic breakfasts and lunches amid the rice paddies of Hoi An.
“All we want is to nourish your day with a healthy breakfast or lunch,” say the people at Nourish Eatery, which is open Tuesday to Sunday until 4pm. It could be a quote from Gieo – especially as they also focus on dishes “made from scratch” using fresh plant-based ingredients.
“I love Nourish Eatery…” TheO says with a broad smile. “Nourish Eatery is set amongst the rice paddies, it’s organic, and it serves wonderful breakfasts with granola, fresh fruit and vegetables, and marvellous lunches.”
Added to that, the Nourish Eatery team reminds us they serve cold-pressed juices, smoothies, herbal teas and freshly brewed arabica coffee. We admire the vibrant plate of cut vegetables and dips they’ve served us. “The more colour the better,” Nourish Eatery’s waitress replies proudly.
Location: 220a Nguyen Duy Hieu, Hoi An
Tadioto Hoi An
Why: A “calm and natural” place for thinkers and drinkers.
Even the name is romantic, Tadioto means “let’s take a drive”. This is the second branch of multifaceted owner Nguyen Qui Duc’s Japanese-inspired restaurant-bar. Dalat-born Duc, a journalist, writer, director and restaurateur, returned from the States in the mid-2000s to work on projects like his small, but characterful F&B outlets.
This one feels like a film set. There’s a wooden counters set for sushi, lots of meditative corners…and a whiskey bar. It’s perfect for: “Savouring a good book and a cappucino in our courtyard, engaging friends in late-night exchanges over a peaty Yamazaki, or a Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape with Barcelona truffles…” as the people at Tadioto put it.
“The sushi at Tadioto Hoi An is always fresh and tasty,” TheO says approvingly. “Tadioto Hoi An is my favourite place for lunch or dinner, or even just stopping by for a drink when I’m nearby.” Tadioto Hoi An definitely reminds us of somewhere. “It does feel a little bit like Dechiu here,” TheO smiles.
Location: 54 Phan Boi Chau Street, Hoi An
Why: A throwback to times gone by in an alley a world away from touristy Danang.
Nối Cafe is another place that fits TheO’s style. Lush. Retro. Nostalgic. “It is very traditional and the coffee is good,” TheO says gesturing to her cup that the waitress set down a moment ago.
Danang is bustling with tourists. But this alley, set back a couple of blocks back from Tran Phu and the river, is quiet and peaceful except for the traditional Vietnamese music playing in the background. There are shelves full of old records and antiques. And outside potted plants hang over a mural of old xe lam auto rickshaws.
It’s the perfect place to while away an hour or two.
Location: 113/18 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Danang
Why: A soulful modern Danang coffeeshop run by owners passionate about the bean.
Gradually, we’re tuning in to arabica, pour overs and cold brews. That’s thanks to people like the team behind Brewman Coffee Danang. “It’s owned by these young guys who want to share their passion with their customers,” TheO says about her favourite place for a coffee when she’s in Danang.
“It’s another small coffeeshop at the end of a quiet alley,” TheO tells us as we head the short distance to Brewman from Nội Cafe. When we arrive, the baristas are busying themselves serving arabica to their loyal patrons.
“We’re happy baristas,” one of them explains after sliding the hot cup of coffee he’s been working on across the counter, “because we listen to what the coffee beans are saying, and to what our hearts are saying…” We’re impressed. And so is TheO. “If you know how to listen to your heart and love each ripe coffee bean from far-flung farmers, you can be a brewman too,” he shrugs.
Location: K27A/21 Thai Phien, Danang
Photos of TheO and Dechiu by Khooa Nguyen