We took the North-South Express railway from Hanoi to Danang. The train journey was a genuine experience itself. Other travelers might think they would save time by using internal flights. However, an overnight train ride from Hanoi to Danang actually saved time compared to flying, because the train left Hanoi center in the evening and arrived in Danang in the next morning.
The most magical part of the journey was the world-class scenic section between Hue and Danang. The train run along the South China Sea, snaking from cliff to jungle-covered cliff past beaches and islands, then headed through the lush green mountains via the Hai Van Pass to reach Danang. We got the real insight into Vietnam when travelling by train, both urban and rural, which we would not be able to from 35,000 feet.
There were service staffs selling food, snacks and drinks throughout the journey. I remembered the last time I took this train was like five or six years ago. The memory from childhood suddenly rushed back. We went to the train canteen for some porridge and Pho to start the day.
And the best companion with a long train ride when your buddies enjoyed their sleep would be no other than an iPod and a good book.
We reached early in the morning. Right outside the train station, we can find a lot of “Xe-om” (bike taxi) waiting to fetch people. And of course, we settled on two bikes into Hoi An ancient town.
It took us quite some time to figure out the exact location of our hotel. Soon after we “threw” out bags down, we started to plan where to go for food and where to explore.
Our roles were divided neatly 🙂
1. Hoa – Chief Finance Officer CFO
2. Xoi – Chief Operational Officer COO (GPS)
3. Myself – Chief Marketing Officer – CMO (camera)
We headed out and our motto was to eat AMAP. So we stopped by different street food vendors along the way and tried everything they had to offer.
Light rain cleared the streets and tourists as well. Lesser people were around and we had the whole town for ourselves.
Fukian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien) was the first place we went. We enjoyed the visit with most interest being stimulated by the art works that were present. The gardens were nicely presented and tranquil.
Japanese Covered Bridge looked beautiful on the outside but boring on the inside. We ear-dropped the guide explaining about the bridge. It was first constructed here in the 1590s by the Japanese community to link them with the Chinese quarters.
We kept walking and exploring around the Town, dropped inside those craft stores to see silk-making, etc. It was really fun.
It got dark real fast so we decided to head back for a warm shower first. And then went out again to enjoy the night in Hoi An with lanterns and night market.
We woke up early in the morning to utilize the time (to try more food!). So we fed ourselves with Mi Quang, which is a Vietnamese noodle dish that originated from Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. In the region, it is one of the most popular and nationally recognized food item.
We went back Fukian Assembly Hall because it was closed yesterday so we did not manage to explore the inside. It was worth spending time there.
As our primary goal was to try all the local delights, we kept eating as we go! And walking a lot made everything possible since energy was used positively. We had mango sago, red bean soup and glutinous rice ball in hot sesame soup. They were just so good!
We went inside Artisans and Old houses to see how silk embroidery was made, pottery and lantern making.
And, we ate again! We had banh beo (literally “water fern cake”) is a variety of small steamed rice cake or rice pancake in Vietnamese cuisine. It is white in color and typically features a dimple in the center, which is filled with savory ingredients including chopped dried or fresh shrimp, scallions, mung bean paste, crispy fried shallots, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and oil. It is considered most typical of the cuisine of Hue, the ancient royal capital located in the center of Vietnam.
We also had Tao pho, (douhua in Chinese) which is a snack made with very soft tofu. It is also referred to as tofu pudding and soybean pudding. And the flavor was enhanced by jasmine flower and sugar syrup.
We stopped by a Silk store and had a really good chat with the young boss. She recommended us places to go and food to try. So Hoa and Xoi quickly noted down for our next itinerary.
The problem with Hoi An was that, the more we ate, the hungrier we became :P. So soon we realized it was dinner time. I guessed we had five meals a day. And we also had a good ice-cream and cake to celebrate our birthdays in advance (we have a close ones, 7 Sep for Hoa, 26 Sep for myself and 10 Oct for Xoi).
Breakfast started with a feast. We had “Banh bot loc“, which is a small, clear-looking, chewy tapicoa dumpling in Vietnamese cuisine that can be eaten as appetizers or small snacks. They are usually filled with shrimp and pork belly, often being topped with fried onions and served with sweet chili fish sauce.
We also had Hoi An fried wonton, which is covered in a salsa-like topping of vegetables and sweet and sour shrimp are crispy, mouth-watering works of art.
We rented bicycles and headed to the beach. It was chilling cold as summer was over but we had some fun time enjoyed a fresh coconut and the breeze.
The next thing we knew was… LUNCH!
We had Hen tron banh trang – Clam sauteed w/ sesame rice cracker. The baby clams were fresh picked from the river earlier that morning. The meat was so sweet and firm. The clams were lightly sauteed with no seasoning just some fresh onions. It was eaten with rice cracker and “mam nem” (fermented fish sauce).
We went to explore My Son sanctuary, which is a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century AD by the kings of Champa. The location and the sacred nature of the site ensured that the monuments have remained intact within their original natural setting, although many have suffered some damage over the years. The place was indeed stunning.
The last day of our trip, we escaped from Da Nang city and spent the day on the beautiful Ba Na Hills.
It was great to marvel at the exquisite architecture of the Linh Ung Pagoda and feel refreshingly cool weather and gorgeous countryside views.
I loved this photo below, taken at Linh Ung pagoda the most. It was just like the monk and the cloud immersed, leaving a peaceful view.
We had a great dinner in a restaurant nearby with Rice Noodle Rolls and a movie to end our awesome trip.