It was another warm, misty, humid day for the four-hour train ride from Huế to Đà Nẵng. We passed through some of the densest jungle I’ve ever seen – parts of the Amazon and Borneo are my other points of comparison. We were moving along the South China Sea coast for much of the trip and the terrain was beautiful. There were several Australian tourists on the train but it was mostly Asian passengers.
I hired someone from the hotel to help get me on board the train as when it stops you have five minutes to board – no longer. No way could I get through the crowd, find my seat, and schlep two bags without help. My helper was a bright young Vietnamese guy named Linh. He was very talkative. His English was good and he was learning to speak French. Linh was curious about life in the US and asked lots of questions which I tried to answer with as many facts as possible.
Two young Vietnamese girls in my train car sensed my apprehension and helped me move one bag to the overhead bin. I managed to stuff the other behind a chair near the exit. I like traveling on the trains but getting on and off is tough with two bags and everyone seemed to have as much luggage (or more) than me. I imagine it’s easy to get left at the station or dismembered trying to get yourself settled within the five-minute time frame which seems to be strictly followed.
Unlike my earlier train ride from Hanoi to Huế, the restaurant car was pretty scary – full of a bunch of rough-looking Vietnamese eating rice, smoking cigarettes, and drinking beer. There was an unfriendly woman behind the counter and when I asked for some tea she shook her head that they didn’t have any and pointed to the rice, which I declined. The girls sitting next to me on the train treated me to some sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf. It wasn’t especially appealing but it was sweet of them and I thought it would be rude to refuse. I ate as much as possible.
We arrived in Đà Nẵng at about 2:00 p.m. Unfortunately during the few days spent in Huế I felt ill, but am better now and ready to explore Đà Nẵng. Although Đà Nẵng “harbors few specific sites of its own beyond the Cham Museum with a unique collection of sculpture”, it’s a great base for exploring the South China Sea coast.
With a population of about 900,000 Đà Nẵng is one of Vietnam’s largest cities. US military personnel at the local air base helped spur its growth. Today leafy boulevards and colonial buildings along the riverfront are reminiscent of an earlier French presence. Some of Vietnam’s best beaches are near Đà Nẵng.
Đà Nẵng is a major port city and its location at the mouth of the Hàn River along the South China Sea makes it the “commercial and educational center of Central Vietnam. Its accessibility on Vietnam’s National Route 1A and the North-South Railway connection make it a key transportation hub.”
Đà Nẵng is an unexpectedly amiable place to explore. It’s within 60 miles of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Imperial City of Huế, Hội An’s Old Town, and the Mỹ Sơn ruins.” Historically the city was known as Cửa Hàn (mouth of the Hàn River) during its early domination by the Đại Việt (royal dynasty) and later as Tourane during French colonial rule.”
Tomorrow I take a bus to Hoi An – about a 30 minute ride. I’m spending two days here in Đà Nẵng and then on January 12th it’s on to Nha Trang, a Vietnamese coastal town.