Fat Dragon & I are notorious for making last minute travel decisions & this was no exception. We decided at the last minute that we wanted to do a Central Vietnam & Thailand trip & BAM ……. the necessary leave was taken off work & we set off on our 9 day adventure! Armed with only our back packs & plane tickets from KL-Hanoi on Dec 23 and Bangkok-KL on Dec 31… we set off on our journey. Talk about lack of planning. We had a rough inkling of our route in between but there were NO pre-bookings of accommodation, NO pre-booking for bus, train or plane travel in between … nothing! That is a dangerous thing when you travel during the peak holiday season what with the X’mas & the New Year holidays! So I was a little apprehensive but Fat Dragon’s drive & excitement fueled me & WHAT a GREAT trip it turned out to be…………..!!!!
CENTRAL VIETNAM LEG – Dec 23 to 28
………. a day spent people watching in Hanoi before we embarked on a train journey to Hue!
We flew from KL to Hanoi on an early morn flight which took us to Hanoi by 9.15 am in the morning (Hanoi time – one hour behind local M’sian time). We were out of the airport by 10am and we rushed to the train station to buy tickets to Hue in Central Vietnam. It was to be a 13 hour train journey so we decided to travel at night & save on accommodation. When we got there, we were pleasantly surprised. No queue. No touts. We were summoned by a ticketing officer & were served immediately. We settled for soft seat tickets instead of the sleepers coz we found that they crammed 6 beds (not 4) into one compartment. Now that’s gonna be one hell of a squeeze, especially if the compartment is full of Mat Salleh backpackers! Anyway, that was secondary! Important thing was, we GOT our tickets!!!! Hurray.
But with only 2 hours of sleep the night before due to an unplanned night out with friends…. we were supposed to wander the streets from 12 pm to 7 pm (in other words, do the ‘zombie thing’). Wow … what a formidable task indeed! But we all know, when it’s a holiday, no matter how tired you are … there’s always this extra energy reserve that’s packed with adrenaline to keep you going….
The weather was a in a cool region of , ‘give or take’, 20 ° C & the delicious smell wafting out of a restaurant selling Pho (Vietnamese noodle) immediately woke us up! Our noses led us to this busy little restaurant which was serving up delicious looking bowls of noodles with soup, chicken & whatever else that was swimming in the soup….With a smattering of body language & finger pointing we ended up ‘over ordering’ (as usual) two bowls of noodles & a giant sized plate of boiled chicked. We gorged ourselves full. FYI, we still don’t know what that ‘whatever else in the soup’ was…. …it was crunchy & rubbery at the same time…. probably an entrail of some kind. Tasted pretty good really but then not knowing what it was kind of hindered the appetite a bit… Nevertheless Fat Dragon polished it all off with gusto “in the name of a holiday”, you see!
The rest of the day was spent sightseeing & people watching at the West Lake by the Old Quarters. We had ice cream despite the cold & Vietnamese coffee.
From our wanderings, we observed some changes from the last time we visited Hanoi in Nov 2006. The motor cyclists were all wearing helmets!!!! What an uncommon sight indeed. Before we could see ladies rushing past with their long shiny hair blowing in the wind. Well no more of that. Due to the high accident rate amongst motorcyclists in Vietnam, it is now mandatory to wear helmets & the citizens have abided by the rule this time (apparently earlier attempts failed). They must be imposing a heavy fine this time. A little of the old charm has somehow disappeared but nevertheless, its a good thing. Safety comes first!
Given that it was the X’mas & ‘winter’ season in Hanoi, it was fun seeing people all dressed up in furry coats, knee high boots, hooded coats, ‘Santa’ outfits – you name it! Children were wearing helmets adorned with cartoon figures, they were wearing knee high candy cane striped socks – see pic above. Such a fashion galore!
By 6pm in the evening, after a full day of people watching, a wrong turn into the market place which put in a full frontal view of a roasted dog carcass & getting fleeced of some Vietnamese Dong by a tout acting as a helpful official assisting people to their platforms at the train station ……………., we managed to park our weary bodies into the seats allocated to us in the Hue-bound train which was scheduled to depart at 7pm ….. & DEPART AT 7PM IT DID – RIGHT ON SCHEDULE!!!!! A good start to our adventure indeed!
…. to be cont’d
Train travel in Vietnam is easy. Info on routes, schedules & fares is readily available on the web. Here is some additional info to add to your list based on our personal experience for the Hanoi-Hue train leg:
1. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t get the sleepers. 6 sleeper compartments are available, but if you were above average in size or tall, you would be in for a sleepless night especially if you get the top bunk…. imagine having the train roof plastered to your face while sleeping in your bunk! Buy soft seat tickets (specify soft seats, or else you’ll get hard wooden seats).
2. The soft seats are reasonably comfortable & can be reclined. If you’re not a fussy sleeper, you should be able to catch a good night’s rest.
3. There are no vendors coming in from the outside to sell stuff so it is reasonably peaceful. However, the train does offer food & drinks. So occasionally, before 12 am, there’ll be a food cart coming by now and again. But none after 12 am. The activity only resumes after 6 am. You should be able to sleep during this break & you can actually turn off the lights closest to you as the switches are nearby your seats.
4. If you are armed with your own tea bags or 3-in-1 coffee packs, you can even get hot water from a dispenser at the end of each coach & make yourself a nice hot night cap before you turn in!
5. If you’re worried about the toilets, don’t! It’s reasonably clean. Each coach end is equipped with a sitting and a squatting toilet…whichever your preference is. Twin wash basins come in a SEPARATE compartment. How about that? So washing yourself before you sleep & when you wake up in the morning is very convenient indeed!
6. The best thing is these seats are occupied mainly by locals…what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture!!!!