Friday, January 8, 2016

A Few Words on the Vietnamese Train Experience


I took four train journeys in Vietnam, 2 day rides and 2 overnight rides, starting from Hanoi and ending in Saigon.


To read about each experience go here:
Hanoi to Hue
Hue to Da Nang
Da Nang to Nha Trang
Nha Trang to Saigon

In this post, I will share my general observations of the journey from north to south.


Clockwise from top left: Hanoi, Dn Nang, Hue, and Nha Trang Stations


Stations

The quality of train station improves from north to south. Hanoi has one of the worst train stations I have ever seen. It appears to be little more than a freight station that was converted into a passenger station as an afterthought, or perhaps out of necessity.  There are no restaurants, and the only places to buy food are from street vendors intent on overcharging foreigners. The layout of the station is confusing, with multiple “waiting rooms” with no purpose.

Compare this with DaNang, in the middle of the country, that has a proper loading and unloading zone, that has a bilingual arrival board, that has free bathrooms and even a bookstore.

Compare this with Saigon, that has real platforms, so passengers don’t have to jump three feet from the train edge to the ground. Saigon also has escalators, a coffee shop, TVs, and multiple restaurants. It is definitely the most advances and cosmopolitan station in the country.

Train Quality

I rode a first-class sleeper three times, and the quality also deteriorated from north to south. I suppose this depends on which train you get.

At best, you will have diming lights, trashcans, storage under the bed, working AC, windows with no cages on them, clean sheets, a TV, and a shelf next to your bed. 

At worst you will have none of these things.

The S19 was superior. It has the cleanest cabins and was the newest.

The S7 Version 1 was a similar style to S19, but was grungier, dirtier, and a bit more basic.

The S7 Version 2 was appalling. I feel bad for people who only ride this train.



Left: SE7 hallway; Right SE 19 hallway

Left: SE 19 berth, Right SE 7 berth


General Comfort and Ease

All four of the train rides I took left precisely on time, and arrived precisely on time – to the minute. Never once did I have my ticket checked by a guard or staff member.
My travel agency sent me a scary letter of telling me everything that could go wrong on the train. People stealing my berth, scammers trying to overcharge me, thieves. But I experienced none of these things.

Recommendations

I do recommend taking the trains in Vietnam, and definitely booking a sleeper carriage instead of a soft seat for longer journey. I also recommend the travel agency Vietnam Impressive, as they were thorough and delivered the tickets to my hotel each time. I recommend buying food at a restaurant in town and bringing it on the train. Vendor near the station my try to overcharge, and the quality of the food on the train is questionable. It can be a very fun experience with a group of four, but there is a good chance you will get lucky and have cool berth mates if you are only a couple or solo traveler. 

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