A morning visit to three garden houses in Hue was one of the top five experiences of our trip to Vietnam. We had read of the private "garden houses" in Hue and were determined to visit several. The only tour company we found who conducted tours to the houses was in Hanoi, and we had not made arrangements through them in advance. Our hotel offered a full-day garden houses tour, but we only wanted a half day and the hotel would not compromise. We asked our guide to the Imperial City if she could arrange something for us. As luck would have it, she worked for the Hue Monument Conservation Center and had great contacts--she put together our garden houses visits overnight! First stop was Ngoc Son. This was by far our favorite house, largely because of the refined, charismatic owner, Mr. Phan Thuan An. Mr. An is a direct descendant of the Imperial Court and a history scholar, professor, author of the seminal book on history and culture of Hue, and was instrumental in the restoration of many historic buildings. He began our tour in the garden, where he described the principles of feng shui [phong thuy--wind and water--in Vietnamese.] We walked through the garden and he explained how various features and the placement of plants, etc. meet the feng shui ideal. Mr. An then escorted us into his home and spoke of his ancestors and showed us numerous artifacts collected over many years that document and preserve his family history. He spoke of some of his trips abroad, and shared with us several mementos (the snow globe with Golden Gate bridge was my favorite.) Phan Thuan An's home is rich in history and culture. He himself is a true gem--we were so fortunate to have him as our personal guide! The other two homes we visited were Tha Om and An Hien. I would recommend Tha Om, which is owned by an architect--whom we judged to be a bit eccentric (in a fun way.) The home is rich in architectural features and the garden is quite lovely. We were surprised with a small snack of fresh fruit and pastries during our visit. Perfect chance to relax and enjoy the garden. The third home was An Hien. We found it to be less interesting than the others. It was staffed by a caretaker which made for a less satisfactory experience than the first two homes. All in all we would recommend visiting a few garden homes in Hue. Stepping into them was like stepping into another world. No other tourists; we had the homes and owners to ourselves. We considered this an "off the beaten path" experience! Our guide who arranged the tour and driver and accompanied us, answering many questions, was Do Tham Thi (pronounced "Thai".) Her English was excellent and she was very professional. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org or she may be reached by phone 0914.425 254.
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