I travel on foot a lot and of course a lot by plane but there are the times I have the need for rail travel. Forget about the grind of a daily commute and I have had my eyes opened in the past on some fantastic rail journeys for example. Let us take a look at travelling through Vietnam in a unique way.
Instead of flying during your Vietnam tours, why not take the train? The railway line runs the length of the country, near to the coast much of the time. If Vietnam is one of several countries in South East Asia you are planning to visit, you may want to plan where you start the trip to be as convenient for the rest of it as possible.
If crossing the border from northern Thailand, perhaps start in Hanoi. If coming in from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, perhaps begin in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon).
Once you’re there consider hiring bicycles in the destinations you visit. Cycling is a fantastic green alternative to tours by motorbike and has the added bonus of helping to keep you healthy.
There are many beautiful cities along the railway route in Vietnam. In ten days to two weeks you’d be wise to include the following gems:
Hue is a beautiful town on the banks of the Perfume River. It has UNESCO World Heritage status. Get a map and cycle around the various ruins.
The easiest to cycle around are the Imperial Tombs, as they attract a lot of visitors and therefore have good roads around them.
The Imperial City is a must visit. Entering the walled Citadel through the statuesque Ngo Mon Gate, we stepped into the bowels of the imperial city.
Young, brightly dressed boys performed a mix of martial arts and sword fighting in a courtyard. It was a complex dance full of arcing arms with outstretched swords, swirling red and yellow sleeves and formal turn taking. It was arresting to watch.
The Citadel itself was stunning; dilapidated but still beautiful. Wonderfully restored buildings, ornate with Vietnamese architecture, still remained.
The lacquered red wood and decorated ceilings of the To Mieu Temple were a highlight, as were the tourists playing Emperor dress-up in the Mandarin Buildings. The dressing up box was for those that wanted the photos and you had to pay for the privilege.
Tourists bobbed past, laden with gilt yellow dress robes, which added theatrics to the ancient setting.
The Perfume River in Hue takes its name from the scent of the flowers, which drop into the water during the autumn months, perfuming it.
Hue is set on the banks of a river, so it makes sense to include a boat trip during your stay. Take a boat tour. It’ll take you along the river, stopping off at least one pagoda.
Hoi An runs with a river of tailors, as well as the estuary of the Thu Bồn River. There are shops upon shops manned by tailors ready to create anything you like, dresses, trousers, jackets and more.
They’d probably even make silk boxers if you wanted them to. All in very little time. Most have English language catalogues from which you can choose a design that can be expertly copied.
You can even pick out the fabric you’d like used to make the garments from the rolls and rolls of cottons and silks on the shelves covering the walls in each outlet. You can also get shoes designed and made here.
Cycling around Hoi An is very pleasant. It is not too busy and the architecture is fabulous, a mish mash of brightly painted French colonial buildings (many with patisseries inside) and old Vietnamese architecture in the Old Town.
One of the best features is the old bridge. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city. Keep vigilant if you opt to hire a bicycle here, as the city is well known for being one of the most motorbike-overrun cities in the world and accidents are common.
Away from all the noise is the mausoleum, which holds the embalmed body of Ho Chi Mihn. Ho Chi Mihn was prime minister and later president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which he devised.