When the guy in the bunk below me on the train laughed it sounded like an Asian version of Side Show Bob from the Simpsons.
I previously mentioned that I spent roughly $50 on a train ticket from Hanoi to Hue. Tickets for that route cost anywhere from $30 to $50 based on the type of accommodations you are willing to put up with for the duration of the 12-hour trip. The options range from wooden seats in a cabin with no air conditioning, the same seats in a cabin with air conditioning, and “sleeper” cabins that were for 4 and 6 people. There may have even been a section that had your standard ‘airplane seats’ but I can’t quite remember.
I had opted for the most exclusive of the options – a 4 person sleeping berth. I had hoped that because I was getting the more expensive option, the odds of being stuck with three locals for the twelve-hour trip would be reduced. Apparently not even the locals want to spend that long on a hard wooden bench with no air conditioning. – I was greeted in my cabin by an elderly looking group of friends. Surprisingly there were not any issues with the train, although there was a family of four who insisted that they were in the cabin I was in. I attempted to point to the fact that their tickets said car 9 and we were in car 10…but the only thing I know in Vietnamese is how to order spring rolls, water, and a few other food dishes. Speaking of food – I opted to not eat dinner this night because the last thing I’d want is to have an upset stomach while on an overnight train.
Overall, my first train in Vietnam was a non-issue, which was great. I did struggle a little trying to figure out the best way to sleep on my bag, still fit in the ‘bed’, and actually be comfortable. I would have had more space if I was 5’2” like everyone here, but for once in my life I’m taller than most people. Talk about a strange feeling. The only thing that I could complain about was the intensity of the air conditioning unit that was in the center of the ceiling. As I was on the top bunk, I was more than glad when the people I was with complained about the cold and had a train employee tape a piece of newspaper over the vent.
Eventually the train arrived in Hue. The choruses of “motorbike”, “hotel”, “motorbike”, “where you go”, and “motorbike” fill the air when you get right outside of the train station. Anyone with a foreign face and a backpack is a certain paycheck, and as a result you’re attacked like a piece of fresh meat being thrown to a pack of dogs. It’s quite fun actually. I eventually got a taxi as I always do, but started to think about the changing competitive environment the motorbike drivers must be facing as people opt for taxis they (I assume) can’t afford to purchase. Maybe it’s a decision they make to drive their own bike – I’m not entirely sure of the whole landscape.
I’ve heard towns described as “sleepy” but can’t think of a time when I was in such a place. I suppose the words “sleepy fishing village” are usually put together, or just “sleepy village” if there is no fishing to be done. Hue is a sleepy little village – or at least it was the day I arrived. It’s a small little town, and the two nights I booked here may be more than enough to see everything in town. I started to walk around and see the sights, but the sky was a dark grey and blue color. I walked for about an hour before getting lunch, but by then it was clear rain was coming. For lunch I had Bun Bo Hue – a local variation of this standard noodles and beef dish – and Nem spring rolls. One thing that was in stark contrast to every other meal I’ve had up to this point – no diced chili peppers to add to my food. The hot sauce that was on the table was quite bland too. Apparently Hanoi has a preference for spicy food that isn’t shared in all of Vietnam. Lunch can be seen below. That plus a bottle of water cost about $4.15.
As I walked back to my hotel it began to sprinkle, and after looking at the radar I could tell that rain was coming. I took a nap to pass the time. When I awoke it was still raining, so I’ve started writing this and attempting to figure out how to get from where I am now (Hue) to where I will go next (Hoi An). The reception of my hotel wasn’t helpful, although if I’d like to arrange a day tour to Hoi An they do have one of those. Perhaps I’ll schedule the tour and get lost? My other options appear to be a bus that leaves at 8am and costs somewhere between $5-$10, getting back onto the train – although that doesn’t drop of at the specific city I want to go to and then you have to take a bus or taxi, hiring a taxi which would cost around $60, or whatever else I can figure out. One option that I’m entertaining is the idea of renting a motorcycle and going from here to Hoi An (and possibly further) on a set of wheels. Apparently the trip is roughly 150 kilometers (95 miles?) and can be done in about 4-5 hours on a bike. It’s not that you can’t go faster, but about 20mph is as fast as you feel safe going while trucks, cars, bicycles with chickens, and anything else with wheels is fighting for the same piece of road.