We had heard that Hoi An was one of the most incredible places to visit in Vietnam, and after our amazing experience in Hanoi, our anticipation was sky high. The only thing between us and this historical town was 500 miles of Vietnamese railroad…
In order to get from Hanoi to Hoi An, we had two options: fly via one of Southeast Asia’s many budget airlines which would take about 1.5 hours, or take an overnight train along the coast and through the mountains of northern and central Vietnam which would take about 16 hours. You may think this a is a no-brainer, but with Lu’s (extreme) phobia of flying and our desire to see as much of this beautiful country as possible, we opted for the train.
We arrived to the chaotic Hanoi station about 5 minutes before our train departed and quickly located our train. We were sharing a 4-bed sleeper berth with a Vietnamese man, his toddler daughter and another Vietnamese teenager as well as a variety of local insects (i.e. cockroaches and bedbugs). We had expected to find a mix of people on the train, maybe some Westerners backpacking through country like us along with some Vietnamese people and business travelers, but we came to find that we seemed to be the only non-Vietnamese people on the train. This meant that our fellow rail-riders would walk past our berth and look in at us like we were an exhibit at a zoo… After getting used to our new found “fame” we settled into our bunks and let the rhythm of the bumps, jumps, twists, and turns of the historical Reunification Line lull us into a restless sleep. The train was a fascinating experience as we got to see a beautiful mix of lush jungle, steep mountain sides, untouched coastline, and many small villages. We got off the train in Da Nang and took a car the remaining 25 miles to Hoi An.
Hanoi was a non-stop swarm of people and motorbikes…Hoi An was the polar opposite. The sun beat down upon dusty roads flanked on both sides by beautiful aging yellow painted stone buildings with tile roofs. It felt like we had stepped back in time. Our AirBnB was actually a mini-hotel, with only 3 rooms, run by a Vietnamese family who also lived on the property that provided both bikes and scooters (and breakfast!). And after dropping our bags in the rooms and changing into appropriate clothing (Hoi An is hot in June), we headed out on bikes exploring this lovely beach-side town.
We spent our days in Hoi An strolling through the many shops and restaurants in the Old Town, riding a scooter through rice paddy fields outside the city, and sipping tropical drinks under thatched umbrellas at An Bang beach.
One of the highlights of our time in Hoi An, and all of Vietnam, was getting clothing made in the textile market. Our travel “shamans” Lily and Erin who we met in Portugal, recommended we stop by a specific stall in the textile market called Future Shop run by a woman named Ha and her sister.
Following their advice, we stopped by Future Shop and ended spending a couple hours there talking to these wonderful women and eventually ordering some clothing made to our specific sizes and fabric choices. The clothes were perfectly made in less then a day and they also recommended an incredible little stall to eat at in the local food market where I tried Cao Lao, a dish you can only eat in Hoi An and one of the best things I ate the entire trip. Ha and her sister were two of the nicest people we met on our world journey and we cannot thank them enough for their kindness and hospitality while we were in Hoi An.
After three glorious days in Hoi An, we had to bid it farewell for our next destination, Hue, a city 4-hours drive north of Hoi An which at one time served as the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty. To make the most of our drive, we chose to ride with a tour which would stop at the Marble Mountains, Hai Van Pass, Lap An Lagoon, and the Japanese covered bridge outside of Hue. This ended up being a great decision because only two other people were on the bus so it was essentially private tour of central Vietnam.
For our short stay in Hue, we chose to stay in a Hotel, called Hotel La Perle. For less then $20 a night we were treated to the level of service you only receive at the finest 5-star hotels in the United States. We had two nights in Hue but only one full day, so we made the most of it by renting a scooter and zipping over to the Citadel where we toured the Imperial City and marveled at the incredible architecture unlike anything we had ever seen. Touring the Citadel was enlightening, but also heartbreaking as we learned that Hue saw some of the most horrific violence and destruction in the Vietnam War. Learning of Hue’s prominent and then troubled history made our appreciation for this city grow immensely as we met some of the friendliest people and had great experiences there.
Hue was our final stop in Vietnam and I don’t think Lu or myself can close this chapter of our journey without expressing our gratitude and appreciation for this enchanting country. From the people to the places, the cuisine to the natural beauty, Vietnam was gripped us from the moment we stepped off the plane in Hanoi and I can say that we will without a doubt be back one day.
Traveling to Hue: