For many Americans, train travel is not a familiar experience, particularly overnight trains or long train journeys. When looking into destinations for our Vietnam trip, we heard from a couple of friends that trains were an easy, cheap and scenic way mode of transit; however, this was coupled with distasteful stories about the sanitation of the bathroom and the culinary options offered on the food cart.
Most all of the above statements turned out to be true.
Following a thorough discussion of pros and cons, we decided to plan one leg of our journey by train. Thus, we set forth from Nha Trang to Hoi An (via Da Nang) early one morning.
Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam
We arrived at the station about a half hour in advance, and thanks (again) to the Beautiful Saigon 3 for organizing our tickets, all we had to do was wait. You’ll notice the price of our tickets was 671,000 Vietnamese dong, which is the equivalent of $31.50 USD, to travel 325 miles.
The holding area was much like a doctor’s office waiting room, aside from being a little dirtier and it being 5AM. Conveniently, our incredible resort had made us a take-away breakfast box including sandwich, fruit and yogurt. We were thankful for that later on. We were also prepared with homemade snacks I had brought.
As it got closer to boarding time, they opened the doors to the one boarding platform where everyone moseyed out to wait. Thankfully, people weren’t quite as forceful as Koreans about shoving their way around people. We patiently waited as the sun rose, and the train not-so-quietly pulled into the platform. We found our way to our little four-bed cabin, two bunks on either side, and unloaded into our little “home” for the next 9 hours or so.
Not much later, our bunkmates loaded into the cabin. Surprise! We’d be spending our day with a Vietnamese family of four. We gave each other an… interested?… look, not really knowing how this would play out. Since our train was a day train, we didn’t have to worry about not getting rest with two people sleeping above us. Oh, that’s right, I should mention that we were assigned the bottom two bunks with the family of four bunking above us.
Surprisingly, we had a relatively pleasant experience with the family. The two kids were quiet and entertained themselves by watching Frozen in Vietnamese. Other than that, we could barely hear them the entire time. This also could have been a result of spending a great deal of time with my camera lens out the window, trying to record the incredible beauty of the countryside our train was slowly (but not slowly enough!) traveling through. That and I was engrossed in The Quiet American, a famous fictional novel about the Vietnam War. It’s a quick and poignant read I recommend for anyone traveling in Vietnam.
Notice the cute pajamas?
Seriously, seeing the incredibly beautiful and diverse countryside of Vietnam ranks in the top things I’ve ever done. Mountains, lush fields, rice paddies, ocean views, small towns, and everything in between, you just can’t get sick of staring out the window. Check out a video of our views below:
After our experience, I’ve got some train travel tips if you also decide to get on board:
– Buy out the whole bunk if you’re concerned about traveling with strangers
– Traveling with random strangers in your bunk isn’t going to be as bad as you think; in general, passengers don’t make much noise
– Purchase your tickets in advance through a hotel or travel agent
– Arrive about 30 minutes early just to make sure you get to the right place
– Don’t lay down (personally, I got nauseated only when I would lay down because the train sometimes would rock side to side on the tracks, causing my stomach contents to slosh from top to bottom)
– Pack snacks as the food cart probably won’t have things that sound good
– Bring wipes with you and be prepared for a less than ideal bathroom situation
– Arrange transportation to pick you up when you arrive at your destinations; taxis can be hectic
We were warned that train travel is unpredictable and we would potentially face unexplained delays, but our experience was pretty good. Everything was right on time and we were able to enjoy more time than we anticipated in our next destination, Hoi An. Can’t wait to show you the beauty of this place in my next post!