Overnight Train to Hue. Oi, troi oi! Comfy Cyclo Tour–fun way to explore!

April 27th and 28th 2019

Another day/night packed with adventure, care of Intrepid tours. Our group of 12 plus our leader, Jay, will be departing from Hanoi in Northern Vietnam and arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, via Vietnam railways overnight train! Oi, troi oi! This would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget!

During our bus trip we passed interesting architecture–influenced by previous historical association with France.

We also passed several public schools where uniforms were worn by students and these fit youngsters did not ride buses, instead as they exited the school most jumped on bicycles as their means of transport home.

Around noon we re-connected with our luggage, refreshed and relaxed at Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel in Hanoi in preparation for the overnight train experience. Many of our group decided to have massages and/or take an optional Hanoi Street Food tour. In Hanoi’s Old Quarter there is much to explore and extensive food options.

A popular market in the Old Quarter of Hanoi is Dong Xuan Market. It is a fascinating gathering place for locals 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Thanks for these awesome pictures Jess!

While about half of our group attended the Hanoi Street Food Tour, others had done this awesome tour earlier, so decided to visit another popular location for dinner–Hanoi Food Culture. It was relatively pricey and we noticed that most of the clientele were foreigners, but the food was lovely.

We had been advised to stock up on food and drinks for the overnight train trip and avoid eating/drinking from the train vendors. We picked up some supplies from the extensive options in our area. The honking from vehicles and activity around here is quite intense until about 11:00 or midnight, then it slows down for about 6 hours during the night.

We headed off about 9:00 p.m. to Ga Hanoi Train Station. Jay was busy during the day fixing our reservations because the train company had split up our tour group into different carriages with other tour groups. He spent multiple hours at the train station until our group of 12 were placed in 3 carriages together. Thanks Jay!

Trains classified as SE are the best quality train option apparently. There are 4 main ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper. Only the express trains offer air conditioning. The trip from Hanoi to Hue via express trains takes approximately 13 1/2 hours leaving about 9:30 p.m. and arriving about 11:00 a.m. There are 4  narrow sleeping bunks in each carriage (each supplied with a pillow and a sheet), a tiny table, a narrow aisle, and a door. This is an example of the soft sleeper (highest level) carriage with 4 of our lovely Intrepid group–At the start of the adventure! 

The toilets (which left much to be desired) were located at the end of each carriage. We used them as little as possible! Our carriage was ‘air conditioned’ (or so we were told)…

Here is a short video of our overnight train experience from Hanoi to Hue. You can’t hear the Foreigner child who was screaming for hours. There is a photo near the middle of the video showing several people standing in the hall by the open windows. The air conditioning was either freezing cold or blowing heat during the night. We gathered in the hall to try and breathe and locate somebody to fix the extreme heat variance problem.

We located 2 females working for the train company. One was sleeping on the floor near the toilets and the other one was throwing up by a carriage divider. We were all pretty excited when we reached our destination and disembarked the train! Welcome to Hue!

Hue is pronounced ‘hway’ and the city is located on the Perfume River. This city was the Imperial capital of the Nguyen emperors. Sadly, many of the buildings were damaged and destroyed by bombs during the Vietnam war (which they call the American war). However, we were to discover there is much to see and experience in this fascinating city.

Our Hotel was not ready when we arrived, so we headed to a restaurant beside the Perfume river for lunch and karaoke Jay style! Our guide, Jay, is getting married soon and we convinced him to practice the song he plans to sing to his bride. It was very beautiful and touching for us all.

Our base for the next 2 nights is Gold I Hotel in Hue. This is our view of Hue from our hotel room.  

We settled into our rooms then headed off to visit the war damaged ruins of the Hue Imperial Citadel complex. The Hue Citadel (Kinh Thanh) was built between 1804 and 1833.

Although war damage is obvious, the Citadel  was heavily fortified with 2 m thick walls which ran 10 km in length. Plus there is a moat and 10 gateways.

We walked around the Imperial Enclosure with locals and other tourists. One focal point is the 9 dynastic urns which are huge bronze urns commissioned by Emperor Minh Mang and cast between 1835 and 1836. They are decorated with landscapes, rivers, flowers and animals.  

We saw the Thai To Mieu Temple Complex and the Halls of the Mandarins.

After we completed the walking tour of Hue Citadel with Jay, most of our group chose the optional Cyclo Tour around Hue.

What a fun and relaxing way to get a sense of a community! Each of us sat in our own Cyclo while a male driver behind us peddled the bike. Generally we traveled single file in a long line of 8 cyclists. I feel certain we were quite a spectacle!

We traveled everywhere from major highways to back alleys! Children would run and practice their greetings “hello” and wave when we drove past. We were able to view sites and local spots that we probably would not have known about. I enjoyed the experience so much there is 2 parts to this movie adventure.

Cyclos were tons of fun… but tomorrow we explore Hue on motorcycles!!!


Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure and Meeting our Intrepid Tour Family.

April 25th 2019

The final sounds we remember prior to falling asleep were honking vehicles outside our Hong Ngoc Cochinchine Hotel, and we awoke to the same sounds. This Capital city of nearly 8 million Vietnamese is bustling with life and activity!

Today we have a tour booked from 8:00–12:30ish  “Hanoi Highlights Urban Adventure”. The cost was US $40/person. Then we are trying Vietnamese massages at our Hotel spa. This evening at 6:00 p.m. we finally meet our guide and group for our “Best of Vietnam & Cambodia” 18 day Intrepid tour.

Our Hanoi Highlights tour involved a local guide and 2 other couples. We discovered that one couple was also on our Intrepid tour. Jen and Andy quickly became great friends.  The Hanoi Opera House was the starting point.

Some Vietnamese teachers adorned in lovely traditional dresses were having a photo shoot on the front steps. Our guide suggested I say hello and inform them I was also a teacher. After doing this, one teacher wanted a photo taken together. When she stood beside me, I realized how tiny they all were! As a reference point, I am 171 cm tall and was only wearing runners!

The square was hectic with traffic–especially motorcycles…foreshadowing  much of our experience in Vietnam! We headed towards the Temple of Literature.

This building was originally built in honour of Confucius by King Ly Thai Thong in 1070, a university was added to the grounds six years later. Beautiful colorful flags adorned the entrance. Khu Thanh Dat Courtyards were well groomed and the pavilions, as well as the much revered leader Ho Chi Minh,  are represented on Vietnamese Dong bills.

The Temple of Literature was very peaceful and beautiful. In one location there were stone stelae carried by stone turtles at the base. We learned that the names of intellects who received their doctorate degrees were engraved on to the stones. What a special way to recognize and celebrate this important event. (See photo below).

Our guide pointed out that in the courtyards there was evidence of bullet holes and war damage.

Inside the Temple of Confucius were extensive red and gold symbols and intricate designs. Balance was a key element as were flowers, vases, and metal sculptures of the 4 sacred animals. (dragon, unicorn, tortoise and phoenix ). We saw matched sculptures of tall cranes supported by turtles near representations of Confucius.

The grounds were lovely as were the potted bonsai trees.

Inside one section of the Temple of Literature there was a display dedicated to a favorite principal from the past. As a fellow educator it was touching to see this gratitude.

The apparel was interesting too. The principals clothing was blue with golden dragons. The vice principal’s clothing was blue with flowers and designs. The gold statue with a lion’s head and dog’s body is their mythical creature the unicorn.

The next stop on our Hanoi Highlights tour was to Mau Hoa Do to participate in a traditional tea experience. We were able to select from dozens of Vietnamese green teas and learn about tea creation.

The most expensive of the teas was “Lotus flower” tea so several of our group tried that type. The tea was accompanied by a snack of green bean cake served in tiny paper boxes. The owner of this establishment had written a book which was advertised on a wall. I still plan to locate a copy and read it one of these days!

As we drove toward the Hoa Lo Prison Museum we passed a multitude of motorcyclists. The riding outfits are really unique here–especially for the women.

Somebody has been extremely creative in designing unique face masks (protection from air pollution) and riding outfits for the women which cover their clothing! There are many beautiful designs. Grab taxi and Grab food delivery is quite popular here. We used it successfully many times in Thailand and Vietnam.

The next “Highlight” was a visit through the Hanoi Hilton. I couldn’t resist trying out the giant sized sandals made from recycled tires. .

This historical location Hoa Lo Prison was used by French Colonists for political prisoners till 1954 and later by North Vietnam for American POWs. The prison complex was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American pilots during Vietnam War (1954–1975). Based on reactions from Vietnamese people I’m so thankful we’re Canadian, not American, tourists here!

War history has never been a favorite topic for me… but in Vietnam the reality of generations trying to survive political upheaval and wars is so blatantly obvious, real, and recent! It slaps you in the face and makes you sit up and take notice.

Our guide reinforced the communist point of view reflected in these Vietnamese exhibits. It is very eye opening to see and hear about this very different point of view and recollection of historical events..

This is a video presentation of some of the exhibits we witnessed and experienced at the Hanoi Hilton. Powerful! I couldn’t resist selecting music called “Gotta Find Out”.

We walked to the largest and oldest church in Hanoi for our next feature highlight.

St Joseph’s Cathedral was built in 1886 with an architectural style compared to the Notre Dame de Paris. Ironic as the “real” Notre Dame was just in the news due to damage from a terrible fire.

In spite of 40 degree weather, we continued walking through Hanoi around lovely Sword Lake. We quickly learned to stay in the shade as much as possible during this intense mid day heat .

Hoan Kiem Lake, is famous for The Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son temple. These were our next destinations.

Hoan Kiem Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Gươm, Hán tự: , mean“Lake of the Returned Sword” . This is a huge fresh water lake in central Hanoi. Turtle tower is in the center of the lake. There is a complex legend about a mystical turtle God, emperors, swords, war, and revolts against Chinese which is represented in art as you cross the bridge into the temple.

Turtles are one of the 4 sacred Vietnamese creatures. There is a critically endangered species of turtles which live in this lake. There are only 3 of this species still in existence globally and the previous 2 turtles are preserved and on display in the temple.

According to Wikipedia “The Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei; also known as the Red River giant softshell turtle, the Shanghai softshell turtle, the speckled softshell turtle, and Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, is an extremely rare species of turtle in the family Trionychidae. The species is endemic to eastern and southern China and northern Vietnam. Only three living individuals are known, one in China (captive) and two in Vietnam (wild). No wonder they are revered!

Beauty and peaceful surroundings inside the Noc Song temple.

Our Hanoi Highlights tour packed so much into a 1/2 day. We gathered for a group photo overlooking the lake prior to departing for our traditional Vietnamese lunch of Hanoi Pho at a famous location called “Pho Thin”.

At a recent international summit “Pho Thin” was asked to cater their authentic Hanoi Pho soup. I’m certain the peanut worms would be an important part of that recipe!

Pho Thin was an authentic Vietnamese food experience! There were a few long bench tables which were full of locals having lunch. The restaurant was on both sides of one end of an alley and scooters/motorcycles drove past between the tables.

We all sat tightly together to eat. The tables were simple. There were no decorations. If it rained… We would get wet! It was truly an authentic Vietnamese meal. We ate authentic Pho soup and sweet donut rolls.

After lunch we departed from our morning tour and joined the millions making their way throughout the hectic city.

The roads were loaded with various types of moving vehicles. The sidewalks were easier to maneuver around because less people drive on them and the majority of motorcycles on the sidewalks were parked there!

While heading to our Hotel (for the massages) we managed to locate the very famous cafe where Egg Coffee originated in Hanoi. This was quite amazing considering the tiny opening … We were lucky to discover it!!!

However once through the narrow hall to the cafe, we learned that this cafe had 2 floors and both were packed with very enthusiastic egg coffee connoisseurs! This was a Vietnamese hot spot!!! Remember the name Giang if you want to experience the best Egg Coffee in Hanoi!

 Heading back to our Hotel, here are a few sites around our busy street. Safety is so different in these Asian countries. At least the workers were wearing bright coloured clothes and hard hats  as the 3 men negotiated the bamboo ladder!

It was time for massages, then at 6:00 pm we met up with our incredible Intrepid leader Jay and new tour family. We would be spending the next 10 jam packed days travelling around Vietnam with this group of 12. Followed by a further 8 days through Cambodia.

Meanwhile, after the group introduction meeting, our new “Tiger group” went out to a nearby restaurant for a lovely late dinner and celebration. One special member of our travel group had a birthday today!

Happy birthday dear Jess from England! Who would predict this beautiful young woman would warm our hearts and become my global niece after spending 10 days together in a tour group!!!

It was a packed day in Hanoi, but it was only the beginning of our Vietnam adventure!