You Tell Us | May/June 2011

Back from Vietnam: A Recommendation

When my parents and I decided to travel to Vietnam, I knew it was going to be the trip of a lifetime. We went to Hanoi first, where we took a trip up Ha Long Bay on a junk boat called Halong Violet [from $410 for one night; halongviolet.com]. It’s a traditional Asian sailboat that’s been outfitted with six ultra-luxe suites, and it’s fabulous. The highlight of our trip was visiting Cua Van, a floating fishing village, where the chef caught fresh fish to cook for us to eat. At night, the boat pulled up to an ancient cave with unbelievable stalactites and stalagmites for a traditional barbecue dinner served under romantic candlelight.

I also visited Ho Chi Minh City, and this is where I found the most amazing restaurant ever. The name is Cuc Gach Quan [$ dinner, $20; en.cucgachquan.com], and it was recommended to me by a friend who works in Ho Chi Minh for the American consulate. The owner is an extremely friendly and gracious—not to mention glamorous—French Vietnamese woman named Tu-Tho Thai. She went to college in Paris, and when she moved back to Vietnam, she bought a French colonial house with her architect friend and they renovated it in a cool, eclectic way. It feels more like visiting your very chic, eccentric friend’s house—like the Vietnamese version of where the Royal Tenenbaums would live.

They kept the home’s original layout, so it is divided into three rooms. We ate in the former library, but there is also an attic on the top floor where people can eat on a beautiful four-poster wooden bed. From our table, we were able to look out to the backyard, which has a small pond filled with fish and is decorated with plants and candles. Tu-Tho put thought into every little detail, even the silverware and dishes, which are all antiques or created by local artisans.

The exquisite setting would have been enough, but the food was the best part. It’s traditional rural Vietnamese cuisine—in other words, peasant food—which is very rare to find. We started with a concoction of mixed fruit juices—made with some fruits I had never even heard of—that was perfectly refreshing and delicious. Then we had homemade tofu Bolognese; I usually hate tofu, but this was amazing. Other standouts were the sweet-and-sour squid, beef with zucchini flowers and lightly fried soft-shell crabs. Even the soy sauce—homemade, of course—was divine. It was by far the best meal I had in Vietnam and possibly one of the best of my life.

The only problem with telling you about this is that there were no tourists. Now will it be filled with Americans the next time I return? Who cares—as long as the decor, food and experience remain the same, it will be perfect.

—Contributing editor Jeff Klein owns the landmark Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles and the City Club Hotel and The Monkey Bar in New York.

Bedbugs Begone

I read your story on bedbugs in the March/April issue and want to let you know about a wonderful moving company I recently discovered. Most movers use padded blankets to wrap furniture—they’re cushioned, protective and can be used over and over again. When the furniture gets unwrapped, the blankets are thrown back into the truck to be used for the next move. Movers love them—and so do bedbugs. If bugs are in the padding that’s used to move the furniture, chances are they’ll be included in the next move as well. And we all know that once bedbugs settle into your home, they are very hard to get rid of. With bedbugs invading New York City, the high-end company Upstairs Downstairs Moving [upstairsdownstairsmoving.com] now uses disposable, double-layered paper pads for every move to protect their clients from the possible bugs of any previous ones. The double layers give added protection and are combined with shrink-wrap and cardboard to prevent damage. Most importantly, they are used once and discarded.

New York, NY

%new_page%

Viva Valli!

Kate Betts’s feature on Giambattista Valli [March/April] was fabulously written and very insightful—as is GBV in real life. I was so happy to read it and absolutely had to write Giambattista to tell him how much I loved the piece. Bravo to your magazine.

New York, NY

A Personal Issue

Rarely does it happen that a single magazine issue speaks to me personally with multiple topics, but the January/February Departures did just that. Several years ago, my husband and I took our son and his family to Costa Rica, and we stayed at the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort [“Best Spas for 2011”]. The outdoor spa area, with its many pools, waterfalls, hot springs and lush flora and fauna, is the most fabulous Garden of Eden. Shortly after that trip, my son moved to Singapore for two years. My husband and I visited twice for a month each, so it was with great interest that I read about some of the new hotels there [“Asia’s Coolest Design Hotels”].

The “A to Z” guide also presented four Israeli spas, and I’ve had the good fortune to have been to three of them. Although you did mention the Carmel Forest Spa Resort’s outstanding food, you didn’t say how wonderful its treatments and staff are. Bayit BaGalil is a very low-key, quiet place to simply relax. The Akasha Wellbeing Center just opened when I visited in January, so it wasn’t crowded, but once the word is out, the place will be a top Jerusalem spa. I am looking forward to trying out the fourth spa mentioned, Mizpe Hayamim, based upon your recommendations.

And finally, “Frank Gehry’s World.” Last year, my husband and I went to Bilbao to visit Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, which was everything we hoped it would be and more. We are also lucky enough to live about a mile from his newly opened New World Symphony campus in Miami. We’ve already attended several concerts and have marveled at this outstanding acoustical wonder.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed and related to your most recent issue. But I can tell you that I am saving it for posterity.

Miami Beach, FL

Correction: In the March/April story Departures’ Guide to Cap Cana” (BlackBook), Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana, one of seven Secrets Resorts & Spas, was incorrectly referred to as the Sanctuary Hotel. For reservations, call 866-467-3273 or go to secretsresorts.com.

Thoughts on Japan

I am the founder of Wabi-Sabi Japan (wabi-sabijapan.com), a Toronto-based company that is one of the leading providers of personalized travel services to the country. The situation in northeast Honshu is incredibly tragic, and the destructive power of the tsunami was astonishing. I was working when the quake hit, and it was a surreal moment, as my contact at The Peninsula Tokyo was typing out an e-mail to me while his hotel swayed beneath his feet. Luckily, all our staff, guides and friends are fine, but, sadly, several people have family members who are from the affected area. Watching the footage of that tsunami rolling through the fields and coastal towns was very disturbing. It seemed like a bad movie and not real life.

The Japanese have a phrase for times like these: shikata ga nai, meaning, roughly, “It can’t be helped.” It will take some time to fully understand the devastation, but I do know Japan will recover. This isn’t the first time its citizens have had to pull themselves up after a tragedy, and, regrettably, I fear it won’t be the last. However, I’ve learned over many years that the people of Japan have tremendous fortitude and an amazingly calm spirit that is difficult to put into words but provides a great example for all of us to follow.

Toronto, Canada

The Peninsula Hotels has launched Hope for Japan, a three-pronged initiative in all Asian and U.S. hotels that includes donations from each guest’s stay to the Japanese Red Cross Society. peninsula.com.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.