Travelling Vietnam – Hue and the overnight train

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The MacInnes family – apart from brother Campbell – take on Cambodia and Vietnam for a family holiday that will sure to bring a lot of laughs, a lot of arguments and a lot of drinking. This Vietnam trip was with tour group Intrepid.

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As part of the tour, getting from Hanoi to Hue involves the overnight train, that’s fine…until we got on the thing. The rooms were tiny, our suitcases just fit with some moving around. I had the top bunk with one of the other travellers, Caroline and Mum and Dad took the bottom. The plastic foam mattress weren’t much but I thought sleep would come once I got tried.

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That never happened, I heard everything, felt every bump and could honestly say the sleep was 0 hours, if not very minimal. During the night I was required to use the squat toilet because someone was sleeping in the western one, now a pro at the squat toilet.

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The rooms were like ice, I definitely didn’t prepare enough for that and overall it was horrible. But everyone was feeling with the same level of horrible, to be honest, it is an experience we do all need to try, especially to be immersed in the culture.

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But as Abbey, my housemates says, “if you look good, you feel good”. So I successfully managed to put some makeup on after our breakfast of baked good we bought the night before and after the guy next to our room sat with us in our carriage to order his morning coffee. Definitely got to know the locals!

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Hot tip also, when on the train, lock your carriage at night! Also, another one, have your own sleeping bag if you can, pack some warm clothes, definitely some ear plugs and even sleeping tablets. I felt on verge of killing someone because I was so tired, joking but kind of not joking.

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Another day and another funny story about Dad. He went into the squat toilet and as he turned to shut the door, his bum had knocked the bidet and water squirted all down his leg, this also happened when he went to leave the toilet. Dad and any form of bathroom object do not mix, listen to more about that here.

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Anyway, once I had calmed down from the lack of sleep, I enjoyed the countryside scenery, which is lovely, until we reached Hue.

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Hue is a smaller city divided by north and south Vietnam from the Perfume River and the Citadel. Hue is known for the royal family, it is a cleaner city with a lot of history. It was often the middle point in the Vietnam war between north and south and suffered some damage from the war. The town is elegant, a lot more peaceful, but still busy.

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Straight from the train and straight for the Citadel, not ideal but we are here for a good time not a long one. A Citadel, the Imperial City, is the inner sanctum where an Emperor chooses to rule from.

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During the time of 1802 to 1945, Vietnam was ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty, a powerful family who had its capital in the city of Hue and as the last ruling family of this kind in Vietnam after the new communist government came into play. The one in Hue was 10km long and covers a lot of areas, but it very beautiful and historic. During the war, it was taken over by the communists and around 10,000 people from Hue died along with the forbidden city being destroyed.

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Some fun facts about some of the 13 kings who were in power at these times. King number one have over 100 children, one of the kings was crowned at just seven years old, the French had a lot of power in Vietnam so many kings didn’t have much of a say for change and many who tried to fight against them were exiled.

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After exploring and learning of the history, we headed to our tour leader, Nhi’s friend’s Aunty’s house for a home cooked lunch. We were served cooked spring rolls, tofu salad, pork in a hot pot (my favourite dish on the trip), pumpkin and peanut soup as well as rice wine. Well, little did I know the shot we were served was the rice wine – I was told it was the palate cleansing soup – so it caught me very off guard.

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At the end, we had pineapple and salt, so apparently salt on some fruits brings out the sweet flavour, life hack for you!

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This meal was one of my favourites, true Vietnamese cooking with loads of flavour. It was a great experience to enter a family home to enjoy a traditional meal and the pet doggo was so cute!

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On the way back to the bus, Mum took a slight ankle tumble on the uneven path. So another trip for Mum.

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Then onto our hotel, a new good location and clean hotel with beautiful views, especially from the sky bar. The Gold Hotel was our new home for two nights.

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The night was spent exploring the Backpackers area and getting some much needed western food at DMZ. A good rooftop and yes we know western food but sometimes your body needs familiar food. Hot tip – always listen to your body in these instances. Sleep was magical after that overnight train.

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A highlight of our time in Hue was the motorbike ride around the countryside and to the oldest pagoda in Hue, Pagoda of the Celestial Lady with TMT (Timeless Memories Travel). We were given a helmet full of keys to pick our driver, I know what you’re thinking.

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So I picked the Toy Story keyring and from then on my driver said ‘yeeeha’ every time, it was the best. He also said beep beep a lot too. But that’s fine because Dad’s bike rider patted his belly and said “you drink beer, you like Buddha, I drink beer I’m also like Buddha”.

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The drivers had a chant, see video below, and off we went! The countryside was beautiful and our first stop was in a small village called Thủy Thanh to look around.

 

We experienced the fresh food market (Cho Can Ngoi) where we experience frogs and fish being skinned while still alive and walked inside a bridge (Thanh Toan) which is 400 years old, made by the Vietnamese and is very similar to the Japanese bridge in Hoi An. This bridge was donated by an old Vietnamese lady who built it for the farmers to eat their lunch inside on hot days.

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Walking back to the bikes a lady was talking to Diane, a girl on our tour, who speaks Vietnamese. She said told her I looked very beautiful, what a compliment, I love the Vietnamese people. Dad said my bike helmet wouldn’t fit on my head after that comment.

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Hold on tight it was time to head through the city of Hue, through the little laneways and villages to go to the oldest pagoda in Hue, Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, built in 1601.

 

At the pagoda at 3pm every day the bell is rung 108 times, the number 108 is significant in Buddhism as it is meant to cure sadness so the bell ringing 108 times is to remind people to be happy.

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The pagoda was so peaceful, especially at the back quarter. We also learnt about the Buddhist who drove his car is Saigon got out and burnt himself alive in protest against Ngo Dinh Diem regime’s policies of discrimination and Buddhists and violating religious freedom, the car was on display here.

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Over the road is the beautiful Perfume River, which we toured along on the dragon boats. As per usual there was a lady on there selling items and unpacking everything to show us.

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After a slow trip, it was back onto the motorbikes for lunch in a different pagoda, what a great experience.

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The lunch was vegetarian style as a lot of Buddhist in Hue eat vegetarian and a lot of vegetarian Vietnamese meals were created in Hue.

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The food was really amazing, home cooked style. We had a fig salad (unlike Western figs) with rice crackers, traditional Hue steamed rice cakes, a tofu curry, fried rice and a coconut jelly.

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Having lunch in a pagoda was again very peaceful and felt very spiritual.

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Onto to the next destination, so back on the bikes again. First stop, a little local scenery spot to the bunkers where the South Vietnamese would use to see when the North Vietnamese were coming up the river to attack Hue.

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Later on in the war, the American’s also used this spot. The view was beautiful of the mountains and the river, what wasn’t beautiful? Mum going down again as she fell in a small hole and crashed into the ground. I tell you, that right ankle was nearly double the size of the other.

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Final destination before our motorbike tour came to a close was the Royal Tomb of King number four, Tu Duc. Tu Duc is the only emperor who wrote his own stele, as he had no son to do this essential duty.

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He also came into power as king after his father died, his older brother was not granted king because he never took time to see his dying father.

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The tomb was beautiful, it just amazes me that all these structures would have been hand painted and the level of detail is stunning. It was a very hot day so no better way to cool down in the King’s Tomb than by buying an ice cream, I tried the fish shaped one with green tea and red beans.

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Didn’t seem very holy or right eating an ice cream in a tomb but I guess they do sell them, so. Then some of us held up the group by trying to get the perfect Insta shot, it was a good location though. Dad was panicking, he hates getting lost.

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The afternoon was free so a few of us on the tour headed along the river and over the bridge to the Dong Ba market. On the outside a lot of fruit and vegetables, on the inside a lot of the same items in the same section in tiny spaces.

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The hats are in one place, the sunglasses, bags and whatever else is in another, but a lot of the stalls are the same in tiny spaces. It is amazing how they stay open if you were in a market in Australia only one stall would make money.

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When in Hue, stop in at Restaurant-Bar-Cafe for a strawberry mojito! One of the best mojito I had on the whole trip and I can tell you I had a few, mostly not great ones and after a while all the cocktails start to taste the same, but this one, wow! If it isn’t that place exactly it is very close!

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Our last meal in Hue was at a restaurant called Le’s Garden. It was a little more Western than the ones we have been to, but the Vietnamese was quite nice and buy two get one free cocktails were on offer.

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The mojito was very average but then again I had the most amazing one earlier that afternoon. I tried a traditional Hue dish for starter which was the Hue Pancake, it was almost like a hard taco shell filled with pawns, vegetables and a whole lot of filling. For main I had a yellow fish curry, Hue is known for good fish so it was very nice!

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After some restaurant Jenga, a few of us headed out for some drinks. Our tour leader took us to a bar called Brown Eyes in the backpacker’s district. They brought around trays of shots, the music was good (after a word to the DJ), they had Shisha for like $12AUD and the tequila was $2AUD!!

 

What a place! During the night there was a lot of một, hai, ba, vô (pronounced yo) or one, two, three, cheers and a lot of dancing with locals. We also met others on very similar tours and it was a late end to the night, even with a 7am start to leave at 8:30am.

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Hue was beautiful, the party atmosphere is great but it is such an elegant town with a lot of amazing history.

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During our short stay we got to experience a lot of new things, we toured on a motorbike, highly recommended, got a small taste to what happened during the Vietnam War and we saw the beautiful countryside.

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Hue might not be on your Vietnam travel list but certainly add it on, even if you do have to get a bus to avoid the train!

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Read more:

Travelling Vietnam – Hoi An

 

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