For the next leg of our journey, we opt to take the train to Hue. It’s several hundred km, and as far as we can learn, much of this would probably have to be on Route 1 – the principle North-South trunk road – with little to see along the way.
We book a sleeper service in advance, unaware that we’ve booked it on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve, which is kind of annoying that we miss out the fireworks in Hanoi, but in the end works out OK.
The day starts early (and hungover) taking our bikes to the station at 8am to check them in. They won’t be travelling on the same train as us but, with payment made and receipt in hand, we feel relatively confident they will be there waiting for us in Hue.
We spend our last day in Hanoi wandering the French district, observing last minute Tet preparations and seeing families out for a walk by the lake, wearing their Sunday best. The carnival atmosphere is building, and it’s a shame to be leaving.
Before heading to the station we eat (a big theme of the day!) really well at a couple of street-food places, and then drink free beer at the rooftop bar of Flipside Hostel.
Our train departs at 10pm. This time our sleeper cabin has 6 beds in it, and we’re on the very top bunks. It takes a LOT of effort (and coordination) to haul yourself up and then, once you’re up there, it’s very difficult to do anything other than lie down. Since it’s so uncomfortable, we head to a seating carriage to read for a bit. Then, at midnight, we check out the buffet carriage, which also seems to double as staff hangout area. We visited earlier on and were invited to come back later so when we do (on the stroke of midnight) they’re massively happy to see us! We are given a heady mix of wine, vodka and some other unidentified spirit to toast the new year – Chuc Mung Nam Moi!
The rest of the journey is spent sweating out the booze in a coffin-sized bunk with little in the way of air and a steadily rising temperature. It’s not the most comfortable night’s sleep but we wake up in good time and OK shape to disembark at Hue.
Retrieving the bikes is complicated by the fact it’s New Year’s Day and there only appears to be one person on duty in the entire station. When, after about an hour, the queue at the ticket office finally clears, the man scoots off to retrieve the bikes, which have made it safely, as we knew they would. Excited to be re-united, we cycle into town to see what Hue has to offer…
As it turns out, lots. We love the wide, flat streets, perfect for exploring by bike. We also do a day trip to the nearby Thuan An beach (around 30km round trip), and a quick trip to the Thap Phuoc Doyen Pagoda, about 5km out of town, and better by bike than paying for a taxi or dragonboat to take you there. The citadel, while impressive and a nice place to go, is perhaps not the greatest way to spend 105,000 dong, but you kind of have to do these things…
Accommodation tip: we stay at a place called Imagination for $10, in a lovely room overlooking the courtyard and outdoor pool. Very pleasant indeed! Then, when we’re bored of the pool, we stay at a place opposite for $7 which is much more basic but sometimes that’s all you need. At Imagination, we meet a couple with two kids who are cycling, with the kids on the bikes, one in a trailer, one in a bike seat. Wow!
As for food, we eat a lot of meals at Cafe on Thu Wheels, which does great omelettes for breakfast. Take, a Japanese place, is also good, and Rose2 is good for veggie options. Indeed, we fuel up at Thu Wheels before we get back on the bikes, ready to take on Route 1…