I got my first taste of cross-country train travel during my quintessential college Eurailing experience. Seeing Vietnam by train has been equally enjoyable. The train is such a great way to see more of a country and its landscape- often one of the most beautiful and unique aspects of a place.
Apparently you can get a very cheap open-ticket for a bus along the same basic route, but you miss much of the scenery, and you don’t get a chance to sleep in the train!
It’s not only a nice way to avoid a night’s hotel cost, but also a very relaxing way to travel and spend the night. The cost is even cheap enough to enable one to spring for a soft sleeper with air conditioning (Nam Mem Dieu Hoa) for many parts of the journey. But you don’t need it for the short bit between Da Nang and Hue, which also might be the prettiest. The train curls along the side of beachfront cliffs, hugging the edge of the green mountain. What views!
On one of my journeys, I made friends with the little Grandmother sharing my cabin. Since I had a middle bunk, she invited me to sit on her lower bunk with her in the morning while we ate breakfast.
I had the chicken rice soup from the train’s food trolley, and she had brought her own rice and chicken. After I thanked her for the taste she gave me, she then cut part of her chicken meat off the bone and chucked it onto my plate. I have to admit it was better than the train food. Then it was time for peek-a-boo with the little girl in the cabin next door. I encouraged her to pose for some photos, and when I handed her my sunglasses to wear, she immediately put one hand on her hip, and assumed the pose of a runway model.
I’ve got some great video of her parading up and down the train passageway. At one point, I thought I wasn’t going to get my sunglasses back. Despite the language barrier, we all got along very well and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to spend time with ordinary Vietnamese citizens.
The train can be a great way to meet people and immerse yourself in a country. Plus, it just seems more, I don’t know, romantic and traditional than a bus. There’s something to be said for traveling “old-school”.