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The best way to see Hue, Vietnam is from La Residence Hotel and Spa

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Restored for its 2005 grand re-opening, the La Residence Hotel and Spa offers a taste of history inside and out (the Vietnam War's Battle of Hue was fought nearby). There are modern amenities, including conference facilities, a business center with high-speed Internet and wireless, and a terrific restaurant, Le Parfum. National Geographic Traveler calls this one of the top three hotels in Vietnam.

La Residence Hotel and Spa - Top Hotel
The La Residence Hotel and Spa in Hue has been rated among the top hotels in Vietnam.
La Residence Hotel and Spa - Top HotelLa Residence Hotel and Spa - River ViewLa Residence Hotel and Spa

HUE, Vietnam — So I'm talking long distance to a friend of mine, a Vietnam vet and student of the Vietnam War. He's telling me all about the Battle of Hue, and some of the bloodiest fighting in and around the Imperial Citadel.

I stop him for a moment. "Yeah," I say. "I'm looking right at it." I'm pleased at the stunned pause at the other end of the line.

My terrace of the La Residence Hotel and Spa overlooks the Perfume River and beyond the old Citadel, torn by so many wars, especially with the French and Americans. The Battle of Hue unfolded in 1968 when a small U.S. Marine force, three battalions of fewer than 2,500 men, attacked and defeated more than 10,000 enemy troops, liberating Hue for South Vietnam.

The battle raged for four weeks and 142 Americans were killed. A Marine sergeant, Alfredo Gonzales, was awarded the Medal of Honor, and there were countless Silver Stars and Purple Hearts handed out.

From the terrace, you can also see the landmark Flagtower bastion and the Trang Tien Bridge, a national symbol where you're likely to see Vietnamese couples getting all smoochy.

I can see history from my terrace, but I'm also standing in the middle of it. La Residence is a boutique hotel overlooking the river, built in 1930 for a colonial governor, and restored for its grand re-opening in 2005. You can watch dragon boats and long-tailed vessels cruising down the Perfume River.

The last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, slept here, and in 1968, the Viet Cong yanked the highest-ranking South Vietnamese official from this very hotel. A classic book, "Where the Ashes Are," tells that story, written by Nguyen Qui Duc, whose father was taken prisoner and marched up the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

It's an appropriate place from which to explore the historic city of Hue, which has held on to its cultural significance more than most Vietnamese cities.

The boutique hotel's art deco architecture takes you back to the 1920s and 1950s: dark wood, louvered French shutters and planked floors. Most rooms have views of the river. The suites have four-poster beds and big terraces, and the junior suites have different themes, like the Suite d'Ornithologue, invoking a bird sanctuary and Monuments d' Egypte. The imperial suite has panoramic views of the river, pool and hotel.

It has a spa, and its boutique sells fine Vietnamese silks and clothes from top Asian designers, as well as some of the art deco fixtures the hotel uses.

National Geographic Traveler calls it one of the top three hotels in Vietnam. Since it has more than 600 feet of frontage on the river, the river itself is the main attraction here. Tourists can visit the tombs and mausoleums of Vietnamese emperors.

Befitting its soaring economy, the hotel is business-friendly: The conference facilities can accommodate 1,400 and the business center has high-speed Internet access. Wireless is available as well.

A walk around the old city is a must. Hue is the former Imperial City and later became the country's capital under the Nguyen dynasty, from 1802-1945. Much of the city was devastated by the various wars, but much of it is still intact.

For those looking for a little more vigorous exercise, the hotel maintains a small fleet of bicycles, as well as a fully-equipped gym and hard-surface tennis court.

It also has a terrific restaurant, Le Parfum, with large windows overlooking the river. The restaurant recently hired French chef Stephane Leforestier and offers dishes like Asian-flavored New Zealand lamb, char-grilled, Australian tenderloin steaks and steamed sea bass.

The hotel is owned by the Apple Tree Grou1p, which also owns the Emeraude cruise ship, The Press Club of Hanoi and Kamu Lodge.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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