The longest train journey you can take is from the south of Portugal, across Europe and Russia, down through China and all the way to Ho Chi Minh city in the south of Vietnam. I’m not about to attempt it, at least not right now, but I always had a thought about completing all the sections, a thought that’s unexpectedly led to nothing this year except the sleeper train from Hanoi to Hue, which I shared with an old couple from Perth. It was one of the most spartan sleeper compartments I’ve seen, but comfortable enough for the night.
We got to Hue at 7am or so and I shared a taxi into town with the Australians. After we’d dropped them off at their expensive hotel I showed the driver where I wanted to go on a map, then he drove me around other hotels for twenty minutes trying to sell them to me until I threatened to get out without paying.
To be fair though, he was the only genuinely annoying person I met in Hue. Everyone else went out of their way to be friendly, if in an often pushy hard-sell kind of a way. After I ditched my bag at the hostel my walk into the pleasantly pastoral and otherwise peaceful centre was continually interrupted by this man on the right here, trying to get me to go on his tour.
I didn’t have anything against his tour, I was just wandering around before lunch, which I had at an apparently famous cafe run by a blind man who makes very good spring rolls and whose nephew took me out on a motorbike tour of the area for the afternoon.
I hadn’t heard much about Hue, except that it was the old capital of Vietnam and that there was a battle there of some sort during the “American War”, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a city of wonders, moreorless. Here are some pictures. I took a lot more but there’s not enough time to upload all the best ones.
As we drove at (hopefully not literally) breakneck speed the sun baked down on my exposed skin. I would’ve had sunstroke if it hadn’t been for the factor 50 – as it was I managed to get a mild burning under the lotion, and a bit of a tan too. The river at sunset was just perfect too, at least from a distance.
Back in town I had some more spring rolls and spent the night chatting to the most genuine, down-to-earth LA resident I’ve ever met, then slept in before catching the midday bus to Hoi An, which mainly took us along the coastal road.
That was all I saw of the beach in Hoi An. I burn too easily to sunbathe and if you’ve seen one tropical beach you’ve pretty much sen them all. (I’m not going to back this statement up too much, but if believing it prevents me getting sunstroke then that’ll just have to be that.) The sun had just gone down when we arrived and I couldn’t be bothered to look around for a place, so I walked into the hotel the bus stopped at and got a perfectly good room for $5.
The next bargain I got was about five minutes or so later when I was dragged into one of the hundreds of tailor shops that populate the small-ish town. By the time I left I’d managed to buy a whole suit, three shirts, one pair of trousers and a winter coat, all tailored to my measurements and instructions, and all for a total of less than 60 quid. I had to post some things home, which cost a little, but aside from that I’d say it would be better value to fly out here than buy tailored clothes in the UK (don’t do this though).
A torrential rainstorm went on for most of the first night, so I hid in a restaurant and watched it fall.
Aside from the tailors, incredibly good cheap food and an absolutely stinking fish market there wasn’t a lot to do in Hoi An, so I spent the day my clothes were being made on a day trip to (go on) My Son to see the ruined remnants of the Cham civilization. They aren’t ruined due to normal wear or tear or abandonment but rather because the American army in the 1960s thought that there might be someone inside who disagreed with their ideas on how to run the country.
The remains were overgrown and looked satisfyingly like a ruined city in the jungle should look.
When we’d tired of wandering round these there was a good drumming show under an awning. The synths and go-go dancers probably made it inauthentic but I don’t really care. The journey back into town was the worst. It must have been near 40 degrees outside and yet the driver wouldn’t let us open any of the windows in the minibus which was crammed full of sweating tourists – he insisted that the obviously inadequate aircon be allowed to do the job. I have never sweated so much in my life.
Before I left Hoi An I picked up my clothes and bumped into the guy from LA again. The bus left in the evening, and was the kind I didn’t want to catch, with rows of beds laid out next to each-other in one big shelf. I had a double to myself until the driver turfed me off it and insisted I sleep next to an attractive German girl at the front. I didn’t mind but an English guy behind persuaded him on my behalf to let me sleep at the back with a couple of snoring locals who were stretched all over my part despite repeated prodding.
The next morning we arrived in Na Thrang and I had breakfast with the English guy and his girlfriend. I was supposed to take another bus to the mountain resort of Dalat but it was 7am, I hadn’t slept properly and the prospect seemed daunting and not worth the bother. A tuk-tuk later and I was at the beach. It looked nice but the heat was absolutely unbearable.
So I turned round and went to catch a train to Saigon.