You might think of a homestay as the kind of experience best left to backpackers on a budget. But as I brush past—and almost topple—a row of second-century antique vases on the way to breakfast, I realise that not all homestays are created equal.
I’m the guest of Loan Foster, who might just be Hanoi’s most accomplished hostess. At various times a businesswoman, archaeologist, interior designer, fixer, restaurateur, antiques dealer, and honorary consul for Uruguay, Loan is a product of Vietnamese high society who was educated in the lycée system before the family emigrated to France.
See also: 5 Exclusive Five-Star Resorts In Vietnam
Loan returned to Vietnam in the mid-1990s as the 19-year-old American trade embargo was lifted. Fluent in seven languages, she was one of the first to set up business as an intermediary between the Vietnamese government and the multinationals looking to get into the country.
Journeys to the East
In 2014, Loan set up Journeys to the East, a bespoke tour operator, with the express objective of proving that there is something to Vietnam beyond the tried-and-tested routes, or the backpacker experience. The company offers fully customised itineraries and the kind of unique experiences that can only be arranged when your host knows everyone worth knowing.
See also: 48 Hours In Hanoi
Loan’s time as a bespoke guide to her country dates back to 1995, when legendary hotelier Robert Burns, the founder of the Regent group, asked her to research locations across the country for luxury resorts. The experience reawakened Loan to the beauty of her motherland at a time when few knew anything about Vietnam. She has since shown off her country to the great and the good—including Hillary Clinton and Jacques Chirac—and now she’s showing it off to me.