Sunday, January 15

Midnight Train to... Danang?

Upon arriving back in Hanoi from Halong Bay, we headed straight for the train station. We had purchased two tickets for the night train from Hanoi to Danang. Once in Danang, we would make our way to Hoi An, a quaint and charming little town and another World Heritage site. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the train ride. Actually, first the map to remind you where Hanoi is (northern Vietnam), and show you where Danang and Hoi An are (central Vietnam):

Now, the train ride:
Traveling by train actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in Vietnam. Vietnam is a tough country to travel in. Before I get into this, I want to be careful to explain that we entered Vietnam with an open mind and no preconceived notions. But once there we were disappointed to find that it was difficult to trust people. More often than not, if a local was being nice to us they wanted us to buy something (or simply give them our money). It's very easy to feel like a walking dollar sign in Vietnam. We also found that many of the guides, vendors, and taxi drivers weren't particularly honest, and that we had to be extra alert and assertive.

But it was different on the trains. For starters, the trains were free of touts, which was so nice. Saying "NO, thank you!" 30 times an hour can get exhausting. We also found that the Vietnamese we met on the trains were incredibly nice, helpful, and generous. For example, on our trip to Danang we met a group of young Vietnamese lecturers traveling on business. They admired the scenery with us and taught us how to say "It's beautiful" (about the scenery) in Vietnamese. We would have taught them phrases in English but there wasn't much to teach them - their English was excellent. They had a bag of fruit with them and offered us a little yellow fruit that tasted like a sweet lemon, and another fruit that looked like a crabapple but tasted like a bland pear. They were friendly and fun and made the last couple hours of the train ride fly by. To top it all off, when we arrived in Danang they helped us figure out the fastest and cheapest way to get to Hoi An.

The caption of this picture should be "It's beautiful" in Vietnamese, but I forgot how to say it. Stupid American.

View of the train, from the train.

The seas were much bigger than we expected, and certain parts of the coastline (like this) reminded me of Big Sur.

The lecturers weren't the only great people we met on the trains. On another trip further down the coast, we walked into our cabin to find we shared it with 2 Vietnamese businessmen relaxing over a beer. We had barely set our bags on our bunks before they offered us a beer too! It turned out their English was as good as our Vietnamese, so Tom busted out the handy "Southeast Asia phrasebook" and we spent almost an hour laughing and stumbling through conversational basics.

Along with good company, the trains offered surprisingly comfortable berths. We traveled by soft-sleeper, which is the priciest option but still downright affordable at about $30 for a 770 km train ride, especially considering that was our lodging for the night!

We made our beds...

And lay in them.

The one downfall to the trains: the food. Ugh. It was disgusting. Every meal came with a pile of white rice, and that was really the only edible part. The other stuff smelled like feet, or looked like feet, or tasted like feet. Or all three. We quickly learned that if you're going to be on the train (or any form of public transport) for more than 4 hours, you've gotta bring snacks. Our snack of choice was mini loaves of bread that you could buy from street vendors for about 1000 dong (Vietnamese currency), or approximately 7 cents/loaf.

Tom attempting to eat the train food.

Mmmm, bread and beer... backpackers' staples!



At 6:35 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Tom, when are you heading to SOAC? The SE Asia trip sounds like it was great, looking forward to reading about the Cambodia leg. Did you make it to Angkor (Wat not the beer)? By the way I put a link to your blog on ours: Hope y'all don't mind.

At 3:31 AM, Blogger jazzytraveler said...

I totally agree, the train trips are the best way to travel in every S.E. Asian country I've been too so far...oh, and China. And yes, snacks are muy importante, but most important would have to be a bottle of what we liked to call "firewater". It gets you through the long ones...


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