Huế for Hoi An
|Diminutive stone guardians
Our favourite method of transport on this trip has been the train. Long distances are covered relatively quickly without the worry of traffic or death by road accident. You can walk around and wee when you want. You can watch the world go by from a much better angle than by car. You make a much smaller carbon footprint than by plane. You meet the people sharing your compartment. Yadda yadda. The list goes on. So it is with sweet nostalgia that I write about our final overnight journey by train. This was the option we chose to take us from Hanoi to Huế (pronounced 'hway'). Around 12 hours and we got the top bunks. But we didn't see the world go by as it was dark so fortunately we opted to take one more daytime train journey after this one which took us adjacent to the coastline from Huế to Danang, the station closest to Hoi An. And the scenery was just spectacular.
More of Hoi An later. First up Huế - Vietnam's cultural centre. Tombs, pagodas, a walled crumbling citadel, the Song Huong 'Perfume River'. Huế was delightful. We were so enamoured with Hanoi I'd set myself up to be disappointed with Huế. I couldn't have been more wrong. Added to that Duncan's hostel research skills came into their own in here and we stayed in one of our favourite abodes thus far.
In the short time we had in Huế we fitted as much in as possible, hiring a couple of Xe Oms (motorbike taxis) for a day to ferry us from tomb to hilltop view to pagoda to citadel.
We visited the royal tombs of emperors past, elaborate resting places built and overseen whilst the rulers themselves were still alive. One that stood out was the final resting place of Khai Din. He ruled from 1916 to 1925 and was in cahoots with Vietnam's oppressive French colonisers. Gifts from them to him are on show in an elaborate room with mosaic walls, guarded by stone elephants and warriors.
We ate some excellent Vietnemese food in Huế. Our hotel recommended a very down-to-earth Vietnemese eatery named Hanh's and there we had my new favourite dish, Bánh Bèo - little steamed pancakes with shrimp, pork crackling and a lime and chilli dip. Delicious!
As described at the top of this post, we took a beautiful train journey 2 hours south the following day to Danang, the nearest station to Hoi An, our next port of call. And what a gem Hoi An turned out to be! Just as we thought Vietnam had impressed us enough already, bam it gives us Hoi An.
Elegant, alluring Hoi An is a UNESCO protected gem and deservedly so. It boasts beautiful, quaint architecture untouched for centuries and sits on the banks of a peaceful river lined with the most beautiful yellow jacaranda trees. And it is thanks to said river, the Thu Bon, that Hoi An retains its unique character as it most fortunately silted up in the late 19th century which meant ships could no longer reach Hoi An's docks. Thus rendering the city useless and so it was therefore partly abandoned. This meant that buildings weren't knocked down to make way for the new and so the Old Town is full of charming Japanese merchants homes and Chinese community centres giving the feel and look of a bygone era.
The city's main income is now tourism and it boasts an enormous choice of restaurants, gift shops, clothes and shoe-makers. Added to its charm it is a short way from lovely Ang Bang beach where we spent the day chilling. And provided us with another cookery course. What more could one ask for?
Hoi An was also home to the motorbike tour company we had booked to guide us on a four day ride round central Vietnam on soviet-era Minsk motorbikes. Was it the highlight of our trip? Read the next post to find out!