The state-owned Vietnam Railways operates the Vietnamese railway system, which serves a large swathe of the country bar the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands. There are seven rail lines but only three are usually of interest to travelers. The single track North-South Railway is the principal line serving the country and connects Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City 1,726km away. It was on this line that I was going to be traveling for around 13hrs on the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Hué, in Central Vietnam.
A mind-boggling plethora of trains run on the North-South line from express to local trains. The main classes are hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper with a few subdivisions for things like air-con and lets just say you get what you pay for. The cheapest class is hard seat, a wooden bench to be exact, and it is may be some what surprisingly the first to fill up. Soft sleeper is the most comfortable class, in theory anyway, with beds in a 4-bed configuration and a door with which you can secure the room. I suspect though that unless your compartment co-traveler is a serial killer the trains are safe enough and well if he is then a door isn't going to be of much use either.
So I was pleasantly surprised to arrive in a place where the smiles are genuine and everyone wants to know if you'd like to go for a motorcycle ride (albeit for a fee of course). My digs for my stay were in the South Quarter, so once I'd had breakfast and freshened up it was time to go and explore.
The Perfume River crosses the city. It gets its name from the fact that in the autumn flowers from upriver orchards fall into the water, giving it a perfume-esque aroma. I can't say I was graced with that smell but walking along the waterfront watching the boats was very peaceful. Some of you may have heard of this river from the 1987 movie "Full Metal Jacket". You can take dragon boat trips along the river but I was happy to use my legs on solid ground.
On the banks of the river there are several Royal tombs. The tomb of Tu Duc built from 1864 - 1867 was for the 4th Emperor whom had the longest reign of all in the Nguyen dynasty. It is set in some beautiful serene grounds including mounts and lakes with the fragrance of frangipani following you wherever you walk.
The guard of elephants, horses and mandarins are interesting to look at as is finding out that this is likely not the last resting place of the emperor. He was apparently a bit of a playboy with many many wives and many concubines. Perhaps the reason no-one has actually found him buried here was because he requested not to be found by any scorned women?
Interesting tidbit I learnt about Hué: you know those pointy conical hats (Non La), the one that you're dying to buy but know you would never ever have a use for? Hué produces the finest in the whole of Vietnam! I'm open to requests should anyone be looking to add to their hat collection, providing you wear it of course.....