A sharp squawk and some frantic scuffling caught our attention on the train in Vietnam. Subtly peeping between the seats, we saw a lady scrabbling around on the floor. She was berated by a member of staff and everything quickly settled down again.
She had been sitting quietly, snacking on an orange and stuffing the peel up her nose but we doubted that was the reason for the commotion. It was only as she was leaving the train that we spotted the live chicken in her shopping bag. We also later found out that orange peel is a traditional remedy for travel sickness.
View From The Train
The Hanoi To HCMC Train In Vietnam
A single train line stretches the length of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. The full journey takes around 35 hours and many of the staff stay on board for the whole trip, sleeping in any spare space when they have the chance. While we did travel the full length of the line, we stopped at various places en route taking several weeks to complete the journey.
An Introduction To Rail TV
Leaving Hanoi, we got our first taste of Rail TV. So loud it was hard to ignore, we watched couples argue passionately in a drama so simple it didn't matter that we couldn't understand a word. We even recognised city scenes from our home country in a documentary about the Titanic, which had been dubbed into Vietnamese.
The highlight was a series of adverts attempting to undermine Vietnam's illegal wildlife trade. Inevitably a young man would proudly show off his latest acquistion: bear bile, tiger penis or rhino horn. He would then be thoroughly and publicly humiliated as a reminder that these products are no longer socially acceptable in Vietnam.
The Rail TV certainly served to distract us from the man sitting opposite. Reclining his seat, he fell asleep with his legs up on the table and grubby bare feet just a few inches from our faces. In Thailand, pointing your bare feet at anyone is extremely rude so nobody does it. We wished this was the case in Vietnam.
On The Train
Buying Snacks On The Train to Hue
Every now and then, a cart would trundle through the train selling tea or banh bao and other snacks. Feeling peckish, we bought some nem chua, cured pork sausages, sheathed in plastic and bundled together in a banana leaf. As soon as we unwrapped our package, the stench of garlic began to waft around the carriage.
Drawing some curious looks from a group of girls sitting across the aisle, we were worried that the smell had disturbed them. On the contrary, they had just noticed we were shamefully unprepared. From the depths of a handbag one produced a bottle of chilli sauce, which she offered to us with a smile. She had clearly done this before.
Da Nang To Nha Trang On The Cockroach Train
Standing on the platform in Da Nang, we checked our tickets, which confirmed we had booked seats in carriage 2. When the train arrived however, there was no such carriage. Instead, we ended up in carriage 2a where the conductor managed to find us some unoccupied seats. Sadly, our new carriage was infested with cockroaches.
We watched the roaches scuttling around on the floor, enthusiastically stamping on any that came close enough. At first this was a fun game but as night fell it got a bit more challenging. As soon as we stomped on one, another appeared. They crawled onto our seats, scaled the walls and repeatedly tried to break into our bag of snacks. It was quite a relief to escape when the train arrived in Nha Trang nine hours later.
Nha Trang Train Station
Heading for Ho Chi Minh City
The final section of our journey took us to the terminus in Ho Chi Minh City. For the first time, having already travelled around 1,400km by train in Vietnam, we were served a meal on board. Free meals were being trialled as part of a plan to improve the train service. Needless to say, we thought they were a great idea.
As we munched on fried chicken and rice, our train chugged past verdant fields and groves of rubber trees. Row upon row of wooden posts were completely obscured by the leafy pepper vines that entwined them. Long snaking cactus stems had been tied to tall posts with cerise dragon fruits dangling from the ends. The occasional person pedalled past in the sunshine.
The fine weather didn't last long though. The skies darkened, the heavens opened and after a torrential downpour the train track had flooded. On the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, our train ground to a halt as we waited for the floodwater to subside. An hour later, we finally pulled into Saigon station, the final stop on our journey by train in Vietnam.
Travel Tips For Taking The Train In Vietnam
Taking the train in Vietnam is both easy and cheap. Most trains have standard seats (hard or soft) and sleeper carriages. Book your ticket in advance to secure your seat.
Food trolleys pass through the train at irregular intervals. If you want to buy anything, make sure you have cash to hand. Alternatively, bring some snacks with you.
When the Rail TV is on, the volume may be turned up quite loud. Bring earplugs if you don't want to be disturbed.
Although some carriages have power sockets, some do not. Make sure any batteries are fully charged before you board.
How To Book A Train Ticket In Vietnam
There are two easy ways to book at ticket for the train in Vietnam.
1. Book your ticket in person at the train station. You will need to show your passport so make sure you take it with you.
2. Book your ticket online. If you choose to do this, ensure you use the official Vietnam Railways website. A lot of other travel companies sell train tickets online but they are more expensive.