I’ll first tell you about overnight trains in Vietnam. We took one from Ninh Binh to Hue (pronounced something like “hweh”), which took nearly 12 hours if memory serves. When booking a train in Vietnam, it’s smart to book ahead of time – so, if you’re in a town for two days, book your train out when you arrive. You can choose seats (which range from third to first class… third being wooden benches and no air-con, fine for 1-2 hours) or beds. According to Vietnam Railway , it’s $43 for a “soft” sleeper of $41 for a “hard”, so you might as well opt for the soft option if you don’t mind spending a little extra.
Each berth has six beds, with three beds on either side stacked atop each other like bunk beds. The difference is… there are no ladders. You basically have to use the bed opposite you, as well as little metal nubs on the walls, to climb up to the higher bunks, Spiderman style. This is quite funny to watch, and not as hard to do as it looks, but if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I suggest requesting the bottom bunks when you book your ticket.
When we got into our berth, a small Vietnamese family was sitting on my bed. When I showed them my ticket, they nodded and moved a little bit so that I could get into the bed. Apparently it’s common for a family to book one bed as their collective “seat”, and I guess they’ll chill on the bottom bunk if nobody’s in it. I felt a little uncomfortable trying to sleep with so many people sitting by my feet, and I made sure I kept my valuables close to me, which made for a slightly uncomfortable start to the journey. After a couple of hours, they left or went to sleep somewhere, and someone sleeping above me turned off the lights and closed the door. I actually managed to get some sleep, although the bed was a little harder than I would have liked. A good way to save money on hotels and not waste a day on a train, though!
Once in Hue, we made our way to the Ngoc Binh Hotel, which we’d booked through Agoda.com. Our room had two double beds and air-con for £9 a night. I can’t tell you quite why there were two double beds, but one was soft and one was hard! Perhaps so we could choose?
The main reason to visit Hue was to see the Purple Forbidden City. The Imperial City is the well-preserved remains of a citidel and royal quarters, and within this are the second, smaller set of walls that define the “Purple Forbidden City”. The city was built in 1804, I believe, by Emperor Gia Long, and was mostly destroyed by American military frces in 1968. However, it is now a UNESCO site and the remains have been restored.
I have to admit, I felt like a typical tourist walking around this place, dutifully taking pictures. I was actually just a little bit bored, and wanted to go exploring some of the less touristy destinations. Still, as I went to the effort of taking the pictures, here you go:
As well as checking this out, we walked around Hue a fair bit. There are some nice restaurants near the hotel, such as Nina’s Café and a random Indian restaurant that we found. There are also some restaurants and market stalls along the river, before you cross the bridge to get to the Forbidden City.
I’ve told you that motorbikes are crazy in Vietnam, and Hue was no exception:
What we didn’t manage to capture was the man with four boxes of live ducks strapped to the sides of his motorbike.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge (towards the Forbidden City), turn right to check out the DongBa market. The great thing about this market is that it’s huge, it seems to sell everything and it appears to be much more of a “local” market than a tourist one. Saying that, it didn’t stop some lady charging me £2 for a couple of plasters.
I decided that I couldn’t wait another few days before seeing a beach, so we set out to find the nearest one to Hue. It turned out to be Thuan An, which was around 20km away. The only method we could find of getting there was a taxi, who charged us something like £15 for a return journey. This is a lot for Vietnam, but we decided to go for it. After two minutes, the driver seemed to get shouted at by his boss, before telling us it would now cost us more. We made to get out of the car and he agreed to keep the price as agreed.
It isn’t the best beach in the world, but it was nice enough and the sea was warm. The main drawback was old ladies and children coming up to us while we sat on the sand trying to sell us drinks and snacks, but they gave up pretty easily. There were also plenty of bars and restaurants on the seafront, where a beer was around 60p (20,000 dong!).
Without a doubt, though, the best part of the beach was that there were two or three puppies playing around. Their parents were around, too, and they were some of the cutest things I’ve ever seen…
The only other thing I can say, remember or recommend about Hue was that the Imperial Hotel has a pretty nice rooftop bar, if you fancy a view of the city (where you can watch the bridge lights changing colour at night) and overpriced cocktails.
Oh, and don’t miss out on Vietnam’s several Aquafina copied brands… here are just a few of the selection available: