I must say that I miss my specialist rail holiday organiser - Railbookers - they've managed to get me all the way from London to Beijing without once having to hassle with ticket purchases or sort through endless accommodation options. Unfortunately, their reach doesnt yet stretch into Indochina so I'm having to procure my own rail tickets & search out my own accommodation.
The hassle I had getting a rail ticket from Beijing to Hanoi really emphasised the value of a specialist rail operator when in foreign lands. However, the little Phung Hung hotel in Hanoi simply picked up the phone & rail tickets to Hue were delivered to the hotel within a couple of hours - its always who you now.
An internet search found the decent looking Mondial hotel in Hue, which is near the station, so I pre-booked it for $45 a night. I asked if I could drop my bag off because I was arriving at 8am & check-in is normally 2pm. Moments later I got a reply saying they would pick me up from the station at 8am, I could have breakfast on their rooftop terrace & they would check me in as early as possible which turned out to be 10.30am. What incredible customer service - & I didnt even ask for any of it.
I'm bowled over by the Mondial hotel staff, they are just so dammed nice. Their genuine personal interest in customers outclasses almost every hotel I've ever stayed in. I'm struggling to find words that don't sound cliched; maybe I'm becoming a mug but no one sounded like they were paid to be nice, they're smily, happy, love their jobs & seem to find visitors really interesting.
Hue is a relief from the bedlam of Hanoi, there's plenty of bike traffic but its not so insistent or constantly in your face. The Mondial is ideal when arriving by train, however its not in the heart of the restaurant & bar district (which can be a plus), but the traffic free riverside walk into the centre is really pleasant & only crosses one road.
Like communist China, Vietnam has also found that its their old imperial history that interests visitors & not their politics. Both countries are as commercialised as any western State & there are no shortage of con-men so its pretty hard to see any principles of communism in action - apart from China's free speech blog blocking!
I met a regular 'crossroads con-man', on my first day in Hue. They usually target lone travellers & their patter is very standard - where you from, how long you been here, I'm a teacher or student (if younger), they often know a town near where you live & are deperate to have a chat or invite you home to meet the family.
These guys have a regular crossroad haunts near major tourist attractions so they can scan all directions for punters & they're invariably over-effusive & riddiculously over-friendly.
They pray on politeness - which is a difficult line to walk - as everyone should be polite to strangers but you need to know when this can be your downfall. I was pleased when walking away a few lads on parked motorbikes shook their heads & indicated he was a dodgy charater they knew well.