Hanoi to Hue by train
29.07.2013 - 29.07.2013 32 °C
This morning we were not surprised to find that it was pouring it down, monsoon rains has been the theme of our trip in Vietnam's capital. We checked out and the hotel said it was no problem for them to take care of our bags for the day. We stepped onto the streets in our rain coats and with our umbrella and tried to find a money exchange service where we could exchange our leftover Lao kip but it became an epic pain in the bum when several places refused to exchange kip. Walking around the busy streets in the thrashing rain suddenly became an unpleasant experience, especially when having to dodge the motorbikes in the tiny narrow streets filled with obstacles. We were finally directed to a pawn shop who actually gave us a better rate than we had researched on the internet but we were a little wary walking in.
After we headed to old town to find something to eat and sat down at in inexpensive street-side place, one of those places with the plastic childsize chairs and tables and ordered some grilled chicken and rice. It was actually really delicious succulent chicken with rice, vegetables and pickled salad. We sat relaxing and watching the streets. They are chaotic. Motorbikes race up and down, weaving around big cars who just beep their horns. Street vendors wheel their carts up and down and women with baskets sell fruit. We were approached by around five different men all selling a plethora of lighters but the shop was small and the nice lady fussed over us.
We decided that even though it was raining we were going to do what we had planned and have a walk around the French district. The French district is beautiful, it has lovely colonial buildings which house all the upmarket shops and hotels in Hanoi. The streets are lined with sparkling posh shops, Gucci, Omega and Hermes all centred around the central area where the opera house is. The opera house is a huge building with columns directly opposite the stock exchange. It is like wandering around a different city compared to the small, busy streets of the old district. We found a coffee house and sheltered from the rain with a warm drink until the rain had settled a little bit. During the walk Liam’s flip flop had broken but we managed a quirky rubber band fix and were set to go again.
Since it was still torrential and we were totally drowned we though why not just sit in a café all afternoon and headed back to a nice café we had previously found looking onto the cathedral called Marylyn’s. It is a gorgeous little colonial building overlooking the square that St Josephs is in. Downstairs is a boutique shop but upstairs is a little café where you can sit for hours and watch the world go by. The coffee in Vietnam is some of the best we have had, really strong and tasty and it is accompanied by thick sweet milk, really delicious to have over ice. There are even street-side stalls set up where you can pick from hundreds of coffees, including the famous weasel coffee. We sat all afternoon drinking and talking and when we were ready to go the rain had thankfully stopped.
Our train was at 7pm but we had heard from travellers we had met a few months ago that the trains just go whenever so it can be an hour late or it might set off an hour early. We collected our bags and headed for a restaurant near the train station we had read about. It is an outdoor area covered by rain protection with lots of tables in the centre and lots of different micro restaurants around the edges. It was described as a collection of street food restaurants with one menu where you can order bits f different things you want. We ordered BBQ pork, rice, green papaya and cured beef salad and spring rolls. It was nice but in our opinion not as tasty as the real thing even though the atmosphere was lovely. We walked to the train station and tried to find our platform. There is no platform on thee ticket just a train number so you have to wait in the waiting area until the train is called. They then put a sign up with the name and the platform. They check you tickets on exiting the waiting area and you can only go through when the train is called. We only had to wait half an hour and pur train was called.
We had bought the cheapest sleeper tickets we could get, hard, third bunk beds which were still really expensive compared to what we normaly pay to travel but we just couldn’t face another overnight bus. The trains are really nice, there are 6 beds to a cabin, two rows of three level bunks. The bottom bunks are the best and most expensive but the middle bunks are quite good too. The top bunks are very shallow and very close to the ceiling, a bit like laying in a rocking coffin. We inelegantly clambered in giggling to each other and with the lad that was below Chelsea. There are no ladders, just little tiny metal notches on the wall to cling to. There is a baggage storage area up on the top bunk and you get a duvet and a pillow. Once we were in we were shocked at how small they are and repeatedly banged our heads on different things.
The train set off promptly and Chelsea who never normally needs the toilet very often needed the toilet three times, disturbing everyone in our cabin and apologising for having to walk on their beds. We got a short but very loud blast of the national anthem, a story about Vietnam and then we were on our way. We arrived in Hue at 9.30am ish as we were a little delayed. We were worried that we would sleep through our stop as it goes all the way down to Saigon but there was no danger of that. Even though there is no call for the stops telling you where you are they blast the national anthem and tell a story at every stop. However we would still recommend an alarm just in case as no-one lets you know what is going on. Once we realised we would soon be pulling in we got our bags down and shoes on and stood with everyone else departing at Hue in the corridor. The talking and music was deafening and could not have been more grating, unless there was also a screaming baby next to us… which of course there was.
The train journey is one hundred per cent the best way to travel long distances. You can actually sleep, unlike when you go on a bus and they keep turning the lights on a beeping the horn and it is fun and easy.