We decided to set an alarm so we could enjoy the pool for the last time. So we got up at 7.30am and went for a swim before brekfast. We left Orchid Garden at 10.30am to catch the 11.50am train to Hue. Because we had such a nice time and because the place and staff are so lovely we were really sad to leave.
We booked our train tickets in advance when we were staying in Saigon through the travel agency in our hotel. It’s slightly more expensive that way but it saved us the trip to Saigon train station and gave us a peace of mind. We asked the agent to book two aircondiditoned soft seats on the SE2 for us which he picked up from the station that night and we just had to pick them up in the morning before we left.
Once we boarded the train (with a slight delay), we were a bit surprised when we realised that he had booked us two soft sleeper beds without telling us. Turned out that all soft seats were fully booked and that these were the next best option. He didn’t charge us anything extra so I suppose he took the more expensive fee away from his commission which was extremely nice. The train remained in the station for around 20 minutes. With the aircon not working properly in our coach it was absolutely boiling inside. The windows didn’t open either and with an outside temperature of 40 degrees it felt like a sauna inside. Thankfully, we had plenty of water with us which at this point had reached boiling temperature. Well, it felt that way anyway. The three Vietnamese guys in the next sleeper room went searching for some cooler air and found it in the next coach. One of them came back to let us know as well obviously realising that we were melting away. So we took it in turns to cool down next door until the train lady managed to get the temperature in our coach down as well.
The train wasn’t really what we ecpected it to be. It’s old and dirty and nothing like the modern pictures we have seen online prior to our trip. Because we got on the train in Danang the sheets and covers of the person who used the bed before us were still there. Sheets only get changed at starting points for the long journey from north to south and south to north, namely Saigon and Hanoi. If you’re lucky enough no one would have used the sheets before you but chances are that unless you have a sleeping bag you will be sleeping in someone else’s sweaty sheets. If another person’s sweat doesn’t bother you, then the state of the matress under the sheets might. I was brave enough to lift the cover and what I found underneath wasn’t pretty and once again I was relieved I didn’t book the overnight journey from Saigon to Danang. The mattress was mouldy and there were some pretty interesting larger sized stains all over it. It’s probably best not to spend too much time thinking about what they are. I really thought I was an adventurous person but that was definitely too much for me. I spent most of the journey either standing up or sitting on a pillow to avoid any possible contact with said mattress. Toilets and wash rooms are available in all coaches and handy if you’re braving out the overnight trip. Whilst they’re not the cleanest either they are perfectly useable. You could always use sanitising wipes before you use them.
Apart from the train itself the journey between Danang and Hue is easily the most beautiful train journey I have ever been on. You are rewarded with amazing views of Danang, the coast and the mountains as the train winds along the narrow paths. The trip makes for perfect scenic photography. You’ll need to find an open window by the doors though as the windows in the carriages are quite dirty and scratched. Be careful when you go from one coach to the next as the gaps between the coaches can get really wide in corners, so just mind your step.
The trip takes around 3 hours which really isn’t too bad. It cost us 120, 000 dong each but there is cheaper transport to Hue available if you’re on a tight budget.
Once we arrivee in Hue we went straight to the booking office to book our trip from Hue to Dong Hoi the next day. Ordering the ticket is eash enough although staff speak little to no English. Just tell them which train you want to go on, on which date and what kind of seat. If you’re not sure about the time there are train schedules available on the left hand side to the booking office. Navigating them is easy. Trains are listed by type (ie SE2, SE3 etc). It shows you the arrival and departure time. Once you have decided what train you want to take you can check prices for the different types of seats by train on the right hand side. If you want to play it very safe just write all details on a paper and pass them to the booking officer.
From the station we took a taxi to the Google Hotel which we had booked through Hostelbookers in advance. It’s the worst hotel we have stayed in so far. However, it only cost £10 and it was only for a night so we just went with it.
Upon arriving we were immediately bombarded with questions about our plans for the rest of the day, the next day, whether we want to hire their motorbikes, if we need any train tickets booked etc. We kindly declined everything having stopped listening some time through the sales pitch. The staff is generally friendly but a bit too pushy when it comes to their tours.
We finally escaped and made it upstairs to the room which had a functioning AC to cool us down. We were initially planning on putting some water in the fridge but decided against it once we had opened it as it absolutely stank of rotten cheese and and foul eggs. Disgusting! Also the “garden room” that we booked turned out to be overlooking some kind of flat roof with no garden in sight. The bed was hard but comfy and the wet room reasonably clean.
We quickly got ready to enjoy the last few hours of daylight. At the reception we asked for a map of Hue as the Lonely Planet ones always have street names missing which can be really annoying when you’re new to a city and trying to locate your exact position. The map given to us wasn’t the best of maps either and additionally was more of a leaflet of their tours than something that can help you find your way around town. Again they tried to sell us the half day tour for the next day and asked about our onward journey. Because we had everything in place already we only asked them whether they could book us a taxi for the next day from the hotel to the station which they said wouldn’t be a problem.
We eventually went off to explore Hue and Dieu De National Pagoda which is across the perfume river and the Dong Ba Canal. It’s very peaceful around the pagoda’s park but not overly exciting. There are other more impressive temples and sights outside Hue (such as the Royal Tombs and Thien Mu Pagoda) that can be explored with a tour or on your own by bike which I suggest you do. We just didn’t have the time for it.
On the way back we wanted to stop for some shopping at Dong Ba Market but didn’t fancy it in the end because of the soaring heat. Instead we went back to the hotel for another shower and to decide where to have dinner.