Train to Hue, Vietnam

Breakfast at the Long Life Riverside Hotel in Hoi An is the typical buffet with a decent selection of Western and Eastern items. Depending on what you like for breakfast, some of your favorites may be missing. No cereal or yogurt, not much cheese, a soup but no congee. There is, however, a nice selection of fruit and breads with omelets and pancakes cooked to order. Overall the quality of the buffet is appropriate for the class of hotel.

After a leisurely breakfast we spent the morning just hanging out and organizing before our early afternoon train to Hue. Don went for a run and I wrote a few post cards. We had an early lunch at Mango Mango. While the small café has a comfortable patio overlooking the river and the Japanese Bridge, the food, priced in dollars, is more expensive than at other similar establishments. Our normal $10 lunch cost $20. We tasted three small plates – tuna tacos, tempura fish and duck soup.  The tuna tacos were a disappointment. (I really should know better than to order tacos in Vietnam.) One flat tortilla with a heaping mound

Tuna Taco?

of well cooked chunks of tuna (best part of the dish), pineapple and tomato served in a ketchupy-tasting sauce with a drizzle of sour cream and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.  An odd combination of flavors and impossible to eat as a taco. The other two dishes were successful. The tempura fish was fresh hot and crispy with sesame seeds in the batter and served with sweet sautéed onions. The soup was a duck version of pho, rich and flavorful with Vietnamese spices. We finished our casual lunch with an iced coffee. With condensed milk to sweeten and soften the strong freshly brewed coffee the mixture is poured over ice and tastes just like a frappuccino. Yum!

I wasn’t expecting much from our $5 train ride to Hue (that is $5 for both tickets), but my expectations were still too high. The train station in Da Nang is small but busy.  The main hall was filled with Vietnamese waiting for the train with just a handful of Westerners mixed in.  A large fish aquarium sits in front of the ticket counter. I watched a little boy about three years old spend 20 minutes slapping the glass at a fish which was playing a game with him by passing by his head. Our train arrived about 15 minutes late and we boarded a coach of soft seats. The oldest, dirtiest train I’ve ever boarded – the seat covers stained, the interior in need of paint, and the windows filthy. We find our seats, not without difficulty because, as a kind passenger pointed out, the numbers are on the back of the seat underneath a cloth protecting the top of the seat back.

Scenery Through Dirty Window

It’s a pretty, slow ride up the coast to Hue. The tracks hug the coastline most of the way through the jungle-covered mountains, passing brilliant green rice fields and a rocky shoreline dotted with empty pristine sandy beaches. A few fishing boats bob in the rough sea. Very few houses or other buildings until we get close to Hue.

At the train station in Hue we take a metered taxi to our hotel without incident. Yeah! Villa Hue is a hospitalities college in a large white building on a narrow street near the center of town close to restaurants and the Citadel, Hue’s main site, just across the river. The lobby is modern, open and bright. While we wait to check-in they serve us a lemongrass, lime and honey tea. Our room is also large and brightly decorated with dark modern furniture. A very comfortable place to pass a few days in Hue.

Dinner was at Confetti, listed on Tripadvisor as the best restaurant in Hue. While full (we were lucky enough to get the last table), the food is nothing remarkable. Large brightly colored contemporary paintings decorate the small dining room. The eager staff, women and men, all wear a pink button-up shirt with a ruffle tie at the neck. The menu is Vietnamese with a listing of local specialties. We tasted the crispy pancake stuffed with pork, stir-fried pumpkin, stir-fried rice with mushrooms, mackerel in banana leaf, and the grilled chicken with lemon leaves. Only the chicken dish is worth commenting on, pieces of moist grilled chicken served in a lemon sauce with a touch of sweetness. The menu also has a selection of reasonably priced international wines. We departed from our usual beer and enjoyed a New Zealand Pinot. A good dinner, but not worthy of the number one rating.

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