Remember when I was writing my first post about Vietnam 5 months ago? I think I said I would have the rest of the posts up in the next week. Well, I definitely didn’t make that deadline. They will all get written eventually, maybe…
Here is, at least, one more post. This time, I am going to write about my experience taking the over night train in Vietnam. Laura and I needed to travel from Ha Noi to Hue in the most time efficient way since we only had a total of 7 days in Vietnam and we wanted to make the most of our time. There are 3 different options for traveling inside of Vietnam; highway bus, plane, and train. We figured we would take a night train so that we could save on one night’s accommodation, get an extra half day of sightseeing in both Ha Noi and Hue, and travel between the two cities.
The tickets are sold at different prices depending on the type of seat you want and how comfortable you want to be. There are hard plastic seats that are unassigned, soft and assigned seats, and the sleeper cabins with 4 beds and a window. We decided to splurge and get the cabin with beds. After all, we wanted to be rested for sightseeing in Hue since we only had a day and a half total there.
We found our way to the train and the platform with no problems. After living in Japan for a combined 6 years between the two of us, we could probably navigate a train station blindfolded on one leg if we had to.
Once we found our cabin we both were surprised at how comfortable it was. Our cabin had reasonably soft beds with a nightstands and outlets for each person. There was space under the bunks to keep luggage. Each cabin had a window and a locking door, as well. We promptly jumped in our beds and took some pictures as other passengers started piling on the train.
Before getting on the train neither of us really considered the fact that each cabin had four beds and we would only be occupying 2 of them. Once sitting in the cabin though it suddenly occurred to us that if we were both sleeping we would be vulnerable to whoever else was in our cabin. We took our money out of our bags and put it in our belts and strapped them on under our shirts just to be safe. We watched the other passengers getting on the train and hoped for trustworthy companions.
We saw from the window of our cabin 2 young female backpackers getting on the train. Laura pointed them out and hoped they would be our cabinmates. We watched them make their way up the hallway looking back and forth at their tickets and the cabin numbers. As they walked past us we both sighed and exclaimed our disappointment. After about 5 minutes they came back and started to enter our cabin and introduce themselves. Lucky! They had passed the cabin by mistake.
They were 2 college students from Australia on summer holiday in Vietnam for a month. We couldn’t have been luckier. As the train pulled away from Hue we watched the countryside from the window. We explored the train, complained about the smell of the bathroom and the (lack of) toilet paper. We stayed up in the evening sharing food and swapping stories about traveling around Southeast Asia. They were so nice and just as I was thinking about how great an experience the train had been we came to a sudden stop because we had hit something.
The train now stopped and people peering out into the hallway, we tried gathering information. After about an hour of being stalled, we found out that the train had hit a stalled car on the tracks. The driver of the stalled car noticing the train coming had abandoned the car and ran to safety. The car was totally annihilated, but the train was perfectly fine and we would continue an hour behind schedule.
We eventually settled into our beds and went to sleep. Early in the morning, we awoke as our train again came to a sudden and abrupt stop. We had gotten into another accident! Unluckily, our train had hit a stray water buffalo crossing the tracks. We knew this because the train had stopped so that he was directly beneath our window. It was so sad. Apparently this kind of accident with an animal isn’t so uncommon. Eventually, they removed the water buffalo and we continued south. Now 2 hours and then some behind schedule.
The problem was we were now on a completely different time schedule than we were supposed to be. Our tickets said we disembarked at 10:05 am in Hue. That time was now unreliable and the stops all seemed to look the same with no announcement on board or readable signs telling us the station name. We found a man working on the train and asked him to inform us when the next stop would be Hue. He kindly agreed and because of him we managed to get off at the right stop.
It was definitely an experience. In many ways, it was very similar and as comfortable as taking the train in Japan. At least sleeping in the sleeper cabins was comfortable. If you are really on a budget and book a hard seat it would obviously be different. The ride of the train was smooth (except for the 2 accidents), our beds were comfortable, and they even had food vendors wandering the aisles selling things to hungry customers. Of course, there were a few unexpected crashes which caused our train to be about 2 hours and a half late… That is definitely not like the SCARILY perfect safety records of Japanese trains. I honestly didn’t mind the accidents that much, though. It’s all a part of the SE Asia experience!
I might be posting more about our trip. Might not. It depends on how I’m feeling next week 😉
Much love to you!