You have two options of getting to Hue from Hanoi. Either a 14 hour overnight train or a flight for about an hour. The difference in price is minimal, the flight was approx $10 more each. Obviously you need to get a hotel in Hue but I would recommend flying as you will get to experience the overnight trains later on your visit.
For the more adventurous and with time on your hands, from Hanoi you can actually go north west up to Sapa where I believe the treks and rice fields are pretty impressive so this is worth thinking about. As I had been to Banuae in the Philippines we skipped but looking at the photos, I sort of wish we’d have gone there.
Anyway, back to Hue. This was the start of the new places for me. We had 3 nights lined up staying in Valentine hotel $18 per room. Our two days itinerary involved a bike ride in the countryside to visit the Imperial City and Thanh Toan Bridge/Village, as well as a boat trip on the Perfume River.
Hue itself was very nice and Grain Restaurant was frequented 3 times it was that good, however the two trips mentioned were poor. We paid $80 for a private tour on bike to the Imperial City and to say our guide was pretty useless is an understatement. He didn’t have any plans and kept asking us what we would like to do. In a new city you sort of want your guide to take the lead and show you what is the best sights however, it wasn’t this way and we wasted so much time waiting for him to decide what to do. The Imperial City is nice, however, having travelled extensively through Asia I personally didn’t find it that awe inspiring. Simple tip, hire a bike from your hotel for $1 and park it outside the City, or even easier walk the 20/25 mins.
The Perfume River Boat trip was our plan for day two but I cannot say too many positive things about it. There was very little input from the guides (all seemed to be from 1 large family) and most of the excursions where additional. To top it off the food was poor and we looked forward to getting back into the city where a few beers at DMZ Bar washed away the memories. There is a good mens shop selling Abercrombie and Hollister gear reasonably cheap. Nowhere else seemed to have this sort of thing so buy here rather than waiting for Saigon.