History and Heritage Come Alive in Hue

La Residence Hotel & Spa introduces dinner theater series

By: Kara Cutruzzula

One hundred years ago, court musicians entertained the emperors of Vietnam and their consorts in the magnificent royal theater in the Imperial City at Hue. Today, the descendents of those musicians are playing the same music for guests during a novel dinner theater series recently inaugurated by La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue.

“Though the imperial era in Vietnam ended with the abdication of Bao Dai in 1945, so many legacies of that time still sparkle as crown jewels in Vietnam's heritage,” said Carmen Marienberg, general manager, La Residence Hotel & Spa. “This court music and the artful dance inspired by this music are among the brightest of those legacies.”

La Residence is now recreating the atmosphere in which Vietnam’s emperors enjoyed this elegant music. Last month more than 200 guests took part in an evening of centuries-old Vietnamese traditions.

The night begins at La Residence, where clients don traditional Vietnamese robes and hats. Then a fleet of 200 cyclos, each peddled by a single driver, comes into view. Guests are taken to the Imperial City, where a 16-person royal band welcomes them.

Each performance is accompanied by a classic Vietnamese dish. The elegant Hue cup dance starts the show and two enormous dragons carry out the ritual dance usually performed at the lunar New Year.

The extensive dinner is traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Appetizers of bo la lot (grilled beef wrapped in leaves) and banana flower salad are followed by hollowed pineapples stuck with spring rolls. Local seafood arrives, then chicken, beef or fish with rice. Dessert of che, a Vietnamese tapioca pudding, ends the meal. On stage, a graceful lamp dance simultaneously ends the show and the dancers form a human pyramid for the grand finale.

“The Imperial City has always been a must-do for visitors to Hue,” said Marienberg. “But there’s no comparison between seeing it from behind a camera lens and actually sitting in the theater watching a performance in exactly the same way the Nguyen emperors did.”

Set on the fabled Perfume River, La Residence celebrated its grand opening in December 2005 after a restoration of the former colonial governor’s residence. The hotel’s interior possesses art-deco furnishings and decor that evokes both the 1920s and 1950s. The hotel’s fine-dining venue, Le Parfum, serves Mediterranean and French cuisine, as well as dishes from a Vietnamese menu.