Saturday, 18 April 2015

Hue to Danang, Vietnam

The journey between Hue and Danang only takes 4 hours so we hopped on a morning train and arrived by lunchtime. The scenery on the way down there was ridiculously beautiful especially when the tracks got super close to the coast. I spent plenty of time hanging out by the door in-between carriages marvelling at the view which also meant that I got to take a break from a) the slaughterhouse video they were showing on the communal TV (Seriously!!!! I literally couldn't believe it was happening!) and b) the man we were sharing a table with who had his dirty flaky feet on there for the whole journey. Ugh.

Bags all packed and ready to go.

We arrived starving (and happy not to be looking at that dude's feet any more) and walked straight to the nearest vegan place. One thing I always do before travelling to a new city is check the Happy Cow app and take screen shots of the details of three vegan friendly spots that are close to the station, port or airport so that I know where I can go if I'm too hungry to find a hostel or hit the hotel I've booked first. That way when you're wifiless you aren't also lost and hungry and if the one place you had your eye on is closed then you have backups.

Karma Waters have two locations, one in Danang and one in Hoi An, and we were excited to check it out. We started with fresh juices, carrot and apple for me and pineapple for Nick and neither of us could resist ordering the hot dog. I got mine with the pear and peanut salad and Nick chose the chips.

The hot dog was an excellent choice, the bread was super fresh and the dogs were flavourful but what really made it great was that instead of being topped with the ketchup and mustard listed on the menu there was a delicious caramelised onion and tamarind sauce spread inside the bun which we both loved. Normally I find such menu deviations annoying but it worked out super well in this case. My salad was pretty great too, it was covered in garlic, the slices of pear were nice and crunchy and the peanut dressing was delicious. It was also about a million times bigger than I was expecting which is always a win when food is concerned.

After we'd eaten and dropped our stuff off at the hotel we headed straight for the beach because that's just what you do in Danang. It's a weird city, there's the downtown area one side of the bridge which, from what we saw briefly on our walk, is full of cute independent cafe's and restaurants but if you read any western guidebooks they say theres nothing really over there for tourists and that it's not worth bothering with. Across the bridge to the east there's the touristy area which, as far as I can tell, is in the middle of some kinda high rise coastal development spree. There are no ATM's on this side but there are plenty of tourist focussed bars so that's useful. Not. The beach is perfectly pleasant and our favourite moment was when it hit about 4pm and hundreds of local people came flooding down to the shore for a dip, apparently this is a good time for a break if you work in the hotel / restaurant industry and I guess it's also when school's out for the day because there were tweens and teens everywhere.

After a while we were joined by an older gentleman who talked to us in Vietnamese for about half an hour. The only words we think we understood were sky and sand as they were illustrated with a lot of waving in the first case and throwing sand about in the second. Nick and I both left the beach that evening wishing that we weren't leaving the next morning. I'd have liked to explore the downtown area more because contrary to what the guide book says there seemed to be plenty worth looking at and exploring.

The Tay Bac Hotel managed to whip us up a pretty decent vegan breakfast before we left for Hoi An and my Vietnamese pal Cici tells me that these are Bánh Bèo which are a type of steamed rice flour pancake. Traditionally they'd be made with shrimp /prawn / fish sauce but the hotel veganised them with soy sauce and peanuts. I was also pleased to see steamed sweet potato on the breakfast buffet and as we just got in there before breakfast ended I ate it all so that it wouldn't go to waste.

We booked a car to get to Hoi An when we were in Hue which we slightly regretted because it turned out to be quite a lot more expensive than a taxi would have been. Still it was really easy and if you're going to get ripped off whilst travelling I don't think getting scammed for a tenner is too bad... I probably can't find it within myself to be that annoyed about it because I used to spend that much on nail polish and I think the dude running the car company probably needs £10 more than I needed more nail polish. Also this way we were able to stop at the Marble Mountains on the way which was fun. It was a really clear day so we went up in the elevator to check out the pagodas and were able to see for miles around.

I'm really glad we decided to stop overnight in Danang rather than grabbing a cab from the train station to Hoi An as soon as we got there, it gave us a chance to check out somewhere new even though it was a flying visit and our afternoon at the beach felt like a great peek into local life. 

I'm currently in Ho Chi Minh City but my time in Vietnam is coming to an end this afternoon when I hop on a plane back to Thailand. There's still more Vietnam to come on the blog though, I just started writing about Hoi An (spoiler alert: I loved it) and then I have posts on Nha Trang and, of course, Ho Chi Minh City to come. I've also started working on my Travel Talk for Vida Vegan Con which is (slightly terrifyingly) only 6 weeks away now so do leave a message in the comments or drop me an e-mail if you have any burning vegan travel questions or issues that you'd like me to try to cover.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Cherish Hotel in Hue, Vietnam

After a not so comfortable delayed 16 hour day train from Hanoi our arrival in Hue was a breath of fresh air. We sped to the hotel in five minutes in a taxi and despite the fact that we were scheduled to arrive at the reasonable time of 8pm the front desk staff at the Cherish Hotel happily checked us in well past 10. We booked our City View Deluxe Double at the Cherish Hotel via Agoda for £21 so to say that I was somewhat surprised and overjoyed when I saw the room would be an understatement. It really did look like the pictures online! I happily collapsed into our super comfy double bed and awoke refreshed and ready to explore the city.

Photograph courtesy of the Cherish Hotel management team

Because we'd arrived so late and were a little dazed from our epic train journey both Nick and I forgot to mention our dietary requirements to the front desk staff upon check in. I always recommend this as it gives a hotel some time to prepare something for you if they're so inclined. After scoping out the options on offer at the Cherish's frankly enormous buffet station I piled up as much mango as I felt polite taking and located the restaurant manager to ask some pressing questions about whether there was fish sauce in the veggie fried rice.

The answer was of course yes but after a discussion about what we could and couldn't eat restaurant manager Michael, we were on first name terms pretty fast, said he was going to pop to the kitchen and make us something. He came back a little while later with a whole plate of veggie fried rice, no egg, no fish sauce, and even insisted on serving it to us at the table.

We were pretty impressed at this point as usually you have to spend a whole lot more before anyone's going to go out of their way to make you a special vegan breakfast. 

The next morning Michael was happy to see us again as he'd made us something else special for breakfast! Vermicelli with vegetables with a side plate of sautéed courgette and mushrooms. I might have used the word hero that morning! 

He was also excited to chat with us and practice his English and recommended that we visit DongBa Market where we could get an idea of where the locals shop. We went immediately after breakfast and had a great morning wandering around marvelling at the sheer amount of dissimilar things being sold alongside each other. You really can buy anything at DongBa Market, from tools to clothes and from industrial kitchen equipment to jewellery. It's definitely a must visit spot in the city and I wasn't surprised to read that it's the biggest commercial centre in Hue province.

On our last morning when Michael popped up again to tell us that he'd made us some noodle soup with vegetarian broth my mind was kinda blown. This was a delicious and filling start to the day and I was beginning to wish that we were staying here forever! 

The view from the Cherish Restaurant isn't too shabby either and whilst we didn't have dinner there I'm sure that with a little advance notice they would be able to prepare an amazing vegan meal for you. 

I really can't recommend this the Cherish Hotel highly enough, the staff went above and beyond, the food was wonderful and I loved getting to stay in 4* luxury for a bargain price. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post Hue was the tipping point between me enjoying exploring Vietnam and really starting to fall for it. The wide Perfume River and it's cosmopolitan south bank dotted with eateries including the veggie and very vegan friendly Bo De was a joy to amble along and I adored the afternoon I spent exploring the Imperial City.