Saturday, December 19, 2015

Train from Nha Trang to Saigon

Nha Trang Station

The journey from Nha Trang to Saigon takes about 8 hours. I had initially thought of doing another overnight journey, but the schedules were awkward, and I didn’t want to arrive in the wee early hours fo the morning, or leave in the middle of the night, so I bit the bullet and decided to ride out the journey form 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. I booked by tickets while still in the U.S. with a travel agent online. Though I paid a premium for this service, I'm glad I did it because the first-class sleepers were filled every time I rode the train.
Though this was a day journey, I assumed I might want to sleep on the train, so I purchase a sleeping berth, and am very glad I did. After spend 2.5 hours in a  soft seat from Hue to Da Nang, I never wanted to do that again.
I was lucky to have a bed to rest in during the 8-hour journey, and my berth buddies, a young, English-speaking Vietnamese couple, were really cool, but the carriage itself was anything but first-class. It was even grubbier than the train from Da Nang to Nha Trang, which the added feature of bars on all the windows, obstructing the view.

View through the caged windows of the train

I wrote the following in my diary from the train:

“I am on the train now and this is our last train ride in Vietnam. I am certainly grateful. I still love trains and prefer them to all other modes of transportation, but I have learned that I cannot sleep on them, and should not use them for overnight journeys. This was only a day journey, but a long one. 8:30-4:00 roughly. I reserved a sleeper car, anticipating that I  would want to nap on board and I am so glad I did. After the first journey I worried that it was a waste of money, or that it would be awkward with two berth mates. But after riding from Hue to Da Nang on the first-class seats, I realized that I made a good choice. The seats were so narrow, dirty, and uncomfortable that I could hardly enjoy the mere 2-hour journey. It was crowded and I felt people in my space all the time. Better to have room to deal with two strangers than 60. It ended up being the right choice.

The only gripe is that our train carriage is physically inferior to the first one we boarded in Hanoi. It seems that the further south we go the worse the condition of the trains gets. DaNang to Nha Trang was only slightly worse than Hanoi to Hue. With no small reading lights, no TV, no trashcan, and no storage under the bed. This train is of a completely different class. The table is much smaller, too small, in fact to do any real work. The walls are stained and old. The windows have cages on them, so it is not possible to look out into the countryside without seeing it through grid wires. Though I can feel the AC, there is an old, dusty fan overhead, probably not is use for the last few years. I believe this is an older carriage, perhaps one of the originals, and thus it has quite deteriorated. I was spoiled and naive to think that all the trains would be as nice as the first one we rode. But I don’t mind."

Our grubby beds

Hallway of the train

"Today I walked through the entire train from our car 10 to car 1 - the dining car. I need dot get lunch for the two of us. When I got to the 7th care I began to hesitate, not want to go further. A staff member saw me and tried to ask why I needed but he didn’t speak enough English to understand my response “food” or “eat.” He was smiling and friendly, he wanted to understand. So I tried to mime the word “eat” for him. First I bit into a hamburger, but he didn’t understand. I pretended to put barrier in my mouth, but he didn’t understand. Then I got the idea to pretend like I was slurping a bowl of noodle with chopsticks - and then he understood! He motioned for me to go ahead. The dining car was further. I walked through the hallways of the first class sleeper cars, the second class sleep cars (which were newer and nicer than the first class, but contained 6 beds instead of 4), and then the soft seats, with which I was familiar, and then finally the hard seats. This was like a journey back in time. From modern comfort to prehistoric simplicity. The hard seats were crowded with people, and more crowded with their many belonging, mostly large bags of rice and grains and crates they were hauling on their long journeys.  I tiptoes around bamboo floor mats, many of which were occupied by sleeping passengers. I stepped over a woman’s head while wearing a dress and surly flashed her. When I got to the ding car, I found it filled with old men smoking. I ordered from the menu, and received two large trays of food which I had to carry with both hands. My journey toward the dining car was much simpler. When the train swayed I could balance myself by grabbing hold of the edges of seats, but with the tray sin my hand I could not. I bent my knees and walked slowly through the aisle, but still I sway to each side with the train, almost falling over every time. The passengers on the hard seats kindly pushed me along so I wouldn’t fall as I stepped over bodies sandbags of rice. I kept my gaze low to the ground and repeated “thank you” in Vietnamese.  From behind me I could here their chuckling of approval at my attempt. It almost sounded like a cheer.”

Iced coffee on the train

Raw papaya and spicy salt on the train

Lunch set mean of pork belly, egg, and greens

Lunch set meal of chicken, pork belly,  and greens

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