We left Ninh Binh on time (22h30) by the Reunification Express Train. This train runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, reuniting the North and the South (1726 km!), and stopping in many cities on the way. We included Ninh Binh and Hue in our itinerary for that night. We heard many stories about this train that travels during the night, some good, some less good (bed bugs, noise, strong breaking…) so we decided to pay the extra Euros to get a VIP First Class Sleepers (sounds fancy, it is not).
Don’t get us wrong here, it is not exactly what we could get on a First Class in Europe, but basically the first class has 4 soft-beds by compartment instead of 6 hard-beds. The beds were not that soft though and we had to user our sleeping linen to avoid any potential multi-legged intruders. Apart from that, each bed had a sheet, pillow, blanket and a private light. Plugs were available, as well as space to store your bag, and each compartment had the ability to be locked from inside. Like almost anywhere (talking about trains here), the toilets were a challenge for the senses and were also particularly small forcing you to contort yourself to get in and be able to lock the door. It was fun indeed 🙂 .
Due to the fact that we booked our tickets only 2 days before, we were actually assigned the two last beds for this class. Of course, in different compartments. I ended up with 3 other international tourists (2 Canadians, 1 Swedish) while Silviu was with 3 local Vietnamese travelers. All were very nice, respectful and quiet so eventually we both had a pretty good night. Not the most restful ever but not as bad as we were prepared for.
We arrived in Hue with half an hour delay, which is not too bad for a trip that was more than 11h (it takes about 30 hours to complete the full journey from Hanoi to HCMC). Our Homestay being about 25 minutes by foot we decided to walk there and stop on the way for a much-needed coffee. We found a nice place that offered good coffee as well as different types of dishes. Although there were not so many people, the service was pretty slow: we waited about 20 minutes to have 2 coffees… That let plenty of time for a big storm to fully start outside. We were pretty impressed by how well people were prepared for the rain, especially that we knew that in the past days it had been sunny and warm (up to 35 degrees!): most of them had a poncho ready at hand, and long-sleeved shirts!
While waiting for the rain to calm down we decided to taste a Matcha Banana Pancake: not bad at all!
Our first impression of Hue is pretty good. I heard a lot that this city was boring but so far we find it very nice. Although it is a big city, it is quite peaceful and offers a chill atmosphere. You can walk along the Perfume River through a nice park where you can see different styles of sculptures, some quite weird. The buildings offer a mix of French and Vietnamese architecture and are in very good condition. And in the touristic area you can find a lot of very cool places with original and creative decoration. Hype neighborhood and lots of restaurants.
In the evening we decided to try a restaurant that had very good recommendations: Madame Thu. Not the cheapest in town but a very good price/quality ratio given how original, fresh and well prepared the food was. We were able to try new dishes like Banh Khoai (Stuffed Rice Pancakes), Banh Nam (Rectangular Dumplings prepared in banana leaves), Nem Lui (Grilled Chopped Pork to roll ourselves in rice paper) as well as more traditional but still delicious spring-rolls and fried rolls.
We also tried the local beer: the Huda. That is the 5th different beers we try in Vietnam after the Bia Hanoi, Saigon, Tiger and Na Da… I didn’t know there was so many regional breweries on top of the most famous ones!
Tomorrow we planned a tour of the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone)… We’ll keep you posted!