Train between Saigon and Hanoi
More train! Saigon to Hanoi this time!
Most of you know that I love a good train travel when the opportunity presents itself. in 2016 I was lucky enough to travel between London and Beijing on the Trans Siberian and Trans-Mongolian rails. At the beginning of this year, I traveled by train from Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. So when the opportunity came to travel from Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon to Hanoi, Vietnam, I didn’t think long.
All aboard for Saigon to Hanoi!
I was way too early at the station. And so was the train. By 6:30 pm I could get access to the train already. I arrived in my cabin, pleasantly surprised to only see four berths. When I researched the code on my ticket, it was defined as “hard sleeper”, and those come in 6 per cabin. I pushed my backpack under one of the berths and found that I’d be sleeping in one of the upper beds for the next 36+ hours.
Having only four beds, however, didn’t mean that there would not be 6 people in the cabin, this IS Asia after all. A Vietnamese family with mom, dad, a son of 5 and a daughter of 2. With a software engineer from Montenegro, our cabin was complete. The amount of people that fits in a train in Vietnam depends on creativity, not on tickets …
The family came well prepared: rice and chicken. And while I gently declined the offer to join them for dinner, we started a conversation. A bit of English by the mom, and some words I had picked up before. And, a lot of pointing and showing.
Happy New Year
Everybody took advantage of having nothing to do, and by 9 we switched off the lights in the cabin. Close to midnight, a Vietnamese voice came over the speakers. As this is the first day of Tet, the Vietnamese new year, the conductor was so kind to wish all of us on the train a happy new year. Doing that over the PA system was a little less of a good idea, doing it at midnight, finishing his long public address with Abba’s “happy new year” can be seen as a questionable choice. But after having listened to the last note of the long version of the song, the train went quiet again.
The next thing I know, someone is grabbing my foot and twisting my toe. I need time to wake up, and this was a bit too fast for me. It turned out to be a lady from the town where the train stopped. while she was shaking my foot, she called “coffee?”. That sounded like a nice plan. So pretty soon she was back with a cup of sweet coffee. I have either much overpaid that coffee, or she has messed up changing my money. Either way, I had my coffee.
Since the train was still standing in the station, and the staff was on the platform, I went out to stretch my legs. Another train was standing on the other side of the platform. All of a sudden I noticed a woman crawling out from under that other train. She was bringing more baguettes and coffee. And as time is money, even in Thailand, these vendors go back and forth under the trains to get more supplies in their shops. I cannot accept the idea not to taste a baguette that was hauled under a train, so I order one myself on the platform. 7 am is a good time to have breakfast after all. The place where we seem to be now is called Qui Hon, if my GPS is anywhere correct.
On the platform, garbage bags are in front of every door, and most people take advantage of disposing of their waste. What a difference with Russian or even Thai train, where these facilities are inside the train, and where the staff takes care of getting the waste out. But not less efficient. Unfortunately, the route from Saigon to Hanoi is littered over almost the complete stretch. Vietnamese people don’t seem to grasp the issue with throwing stuff out of the window of the train. Vietnam deserves better…
Life on board
In the early morning, the train staff is selling tickets for food. Using sign-language, pointing and the five words English and Vietnamese we knew from each other, I decided to order me one. I pay 35,000 VND (Not even US$2), and I’ll see what’s up for lunch later.
Having a train filled with kids, and many travelers looking for things to kill time ends in peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek and all kinds of variations in our wagon. One thing is for sure, by the time we’ll travel through the second night, these kids (and many adults) will have a good night sleep, no matter what.
Around noon, lunch is served. Turns out I ordered rice, chicken, some kind of very tasty spring rolls and Chinese cabbage. I should stop doubting ever to get into the local street food (or train food in this case) and just go for it.
Views on the train Saigon-Hanoi
Once the train has passed Da Nang, the landscape changes and the train meanders alongside the sea. Spectacular views:
In Hue many of our new Vietnamese friends left us. My friend from Montenegro and me went on to the restaurant wagon to see what that was all about. After crossing 12 wagons, we found a smokey, small compartment where only beer and instant noodles were sold. We went back to our place, and at the next stop, we bought a freshly cooked meal on the platform of the station. After dinner and a beer, time for bed. Around 5 am, I felt the train had stopped, watched out of the window and indeed: Ga Ha Noi (Hanoi Train Station) it said on the sign. Grabbed my belongings, walked out of the station and was ready to meet Vietnams capital: Hanoi!