We took a pretty comfortable overnight train from Hanoi to Hue in Central Vietnam. Book this a few days in advance as they tend to sell out. The train ride was a great way to save money on accommodation costs and to see the diverse Vietnamese countryside. We saw jungles next to rice paddies next to rivers. It was beautiful.
We arrived in the sleepy village of Hue mid-morning and immediately liked it. It was so peaceful compared to the hectic bustle of Hanoi. It is here that you can appreciate even more of Vietnam’s rich history as it takes you back to before French Colonialism to Vietnamese Imperial Rule. We crossed the river that runs through the centre of the town to visit the Imperial Enclosure which has palaces and temples that made up the emperor’s residence. Unfortunately most of the site was bombed during the Vietnam/American War so there is a lot of rubble and half-standing buildings. It would have been magnificent to see it in all its glory, however, the parts that have remained intact are pretty wonderful and it is nice to get a sense of Vietnamese history that doesn’t include Communism or French Colonial rule.
We really enjoyed our time in Hue and found it relaxing and interesting. Here you can rent scooters that you drive down to a town further south called Hoi An, while your bags go on a bus, all for US$20. Crazy cheap. So we enjoyed a relaxing night in Hue before heading off.
We started our journey down to Hoi An pretty early but still got caught in huge streams of scooter traffic. I was nervous about this because we were driving on the wrong side of the road (the right hand side) and the traffic in Vietnam does not seem to follow any rules – basically you just toot a lot. But once we were out of the town we found it a lot easier. There were a lot of fun places to stop along the way and it was great to be out in rural Vietnam.
Our favourite part of the trip down was the ride over the Hai Van Pass, a very windy road through the mountains. Being the inexperienced scooter driver that I am, I struggled with the sharp corners and had to go pretty slowly in order not to venture into the opposite lane! It was also pretty misty so we had to be quite careful. Despite all this it was incredible! We loved the journey and the scenery. It was a huge highlight of our trip to Vietnam.
Once we arrived in Hoi An we picked up our bags, found a place to stay and then went exploring the town. Hoi An is an ancient port town and has a lot of the similar ancient architecture that was present in Hue. There is a river running through the centre of the town and is where all the bars and restaurants are. At night it lights up with hundreds of lanterns scattered everywhere. It is a place full of charm.
Hoi An is also the place where you can get clothes and suits made. There are lots of stores to choose from and a quick search on TripAdvisor will point you to the best ones. Here the local beer is even cheaper than in Hanoi and I also discovered my favourite Vietnamese dish. It is the local specialty called Cao Lau which is a pork broth served with fat yellow noodles, slices of pork, greens, bean sprouts and pork crackling on top. It is one of the best dishes I have ever had and I ordered it every day!
Our time spent in both Hue and Hoi An was magical, and huge must-dos for any trip to Vietnam. The small towns had so much charm and less of the hassles that you experience in bigger cities in South East Asia.
Cost wise Hue and Hoi An are very cheap, you are looking at less than US$35 (NZ$50) a day.
Editor’s Note: Visited Vietnam in 2014, updated in 2017.