We’re sitting on the train from Hanoi to Da Nang. We are in a sleeping cabin, a ‘soft berth’. Apparently the beds are marginally thicker than the ‘hard berth’ beds and there are 4 to a cabin in 2 bunks.
As soon as we got on last night a family asked us to swap so they could all be together, which was fine. Luke and I moved to another cabin, which we ended up sharing with an older man and a grandmother with her granddaughter. They were very quiet room mates. I slept like a log – the beds on the train are much softer than the ones on the Halong Bay boat.
We had dinner before we got onboard at 11pm last night and bought some bread rolls and cheese to eat for breakfast. We also had to buy a cutlery set yesterday so we could slice the cheese and spread our margarine. Another thing I should’ve thought to bring.
Yesterday we had to check out of our hotel at midday, so we sat around in the morning doing research and various things on the internet then left our bags at the hotel and caught a taxi to Saint Honore, a bakery highly recommended on Trip Advisor. I thought that, while we were in Vietnam, we should check out the bakeries as they are reputed to be the best in Asia. Which isn’t saying much if my experiences in Thailand and Japan are anything to go by.
Saint Honore was lovely. Certainly not any better than any specialist bakery in Australia, but definitely a cut above the street bread in Hanoi, which only comes in white baguettes and white (rather sweet) loaves.
We bought ourselves some take away lunch then walked south around West Lake, where it became apparent that Vietnamese people will grow anything anywhere, anytime. Even the small squares of dirt by the side of major roads where an ornamental tree had been planted, was also filled with tomatoes or mint or something I didn’t recognise but was undoubtedly edible. We walked past an allotment right next to the Hanoi Intercontinental. The garden was probably the prettiest thing I’d seen in Hanoi. Rows of herbs and vegetables with tiny white cabbage moths fluttering everywhere, which probably wasn’t doing the garden any good but they looked lovely.
We headed through a Japanese temple then past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which wasn’t open at the time. I’m not that into seeing dead bodies anyhow. Then to the Temple of Literature, the oldest University in Vietnam as it started in 1070 AD.
As we wandered around the central lake we were accosted by a group of young university students who asked if they could speak to us in English. We stood there for a while, laughing and chatting with them. More people gathered around to listen to what was going on and we ended up with a small crowd. We headed off after about half an hour and wandered through the back streets of the Old Quarter. The streets there are arranged by trade/goods, so if you’re looking for kitchenware you go to one particular street and all the shops sell saucepans etc.
We headed up to the cityview café for the last time to watch the sun go down and so I could take some long exposure shots of the traffic. We debated going to the place Sarah recommended but figured 19 floors up would be too high to get good light trails. Next time perhaps! It certainly did look nice in the photos.
We picked up our gear then headed to a restaurant near the station where I finally tried Pho (pronounced ‘fur’). It was ok, but Luke and I both agreed that Bun Cha (BBQ pork in a thin soup) was much better.
Dinner was nice but made much more entertaining by the fact that we could see into the area where the waiters and waitresses were standing around and we watched them flirting we each other like high school kids and laughing lots. It was charming.
To jump forward in time, I am now writing from Hoi An, where we arrived last night. Our train journey ended in what we thought was Da Nang. We heard the announcement, gathered our bags and got off the train at the right time. Before we got off I asked the fellow in our compartment if this was Da Nang and he pointed to the exit, then I tried to ask another passenger who flat-out ignored me. So we jumped off. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t Da Nang, it was the previous stop, Hue, which we should’ve reached 2 hours prior. ARGH. We caught a private taxi into the town centre for $2.50 and then bought bus tickets for around $8 each. The bus was cramped with no airconditioning and took about 3 hours to get us to Hoi An.
We were both feeling pretty fed up when we got here but it turns out Hoi An is the prettiest place in Vietnam (in our experience). So clean and in such good condition it almost looks like the Disney version of what Vietnam should be. More on Hoi An later. With a million photos!