Friday, May 30, 2014

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The train was due to leave at 7 pm and the hotel staff took me out to the street and organized me into a taxi that took me to the station for about $1.50. Bu the way, you can arrange to have the hotel arrange to pick you up at the station.

 I had been told to go to the waiting room and as I arrived the other passengers were starting to file through a door that said  international Trains. I followed along, showed my ticket, found my carriage and was let on board. I was glad I had very little luggage because it would be difficult to climb on board with big heavy luggage.

There was no air-conditioning until 6:30 pm but then it was turned on which was quite a relief. There had been quite a downpour about 5 pm which had cooled things down a bit, but it was still hot and humid. Some Vietnamese music also poured forth from a loud speaker and over the course of the next 30 minutes, three Vietnamese men entered and took the other three bunks in the compartment. Fortunately I had a lower berth.

A power socket that worked.

The train moved off on time with quite a swaying and bouncy motion. Quickly the train was into the southern suburbs which even at night, looked quite different from down town Hanoi. There were even car dealerships that would not be out of place in America. I have never seen large scooter dealerships in America however.

I can't say it was the best night I have ever spent in a sleeper but it was a lot better than the trip down to Hanoi from the China border. The occupants of the compartment changed several times. Some snored. One spent quite some time cracking his knuckles and toes. The air-conditioning cycled between freezing cold and nothing. However I slept. Just before I had left the hotel I had been talking to four older women from Bordeaux. They were taking the overnight bus to Hue and were not looking forward to sitting up all night. They would have been much better off in a four berth train compartment.

When I woke up, one of the berths had been occupied by a Vietnamese woman and her young daughter. A food vendor went past and the woman bought a couple of these eggs and the child started to eat one. Feeling peckish and thinking that if the kid could eat it, I probably could and so I bought a couple.

They were salty and somewhat revolting but I managed to force them down. Not something I would want to have again. I told my Airbnb host in Saigon that I had eaten them and she said she would never eat them.

The Vietnamese woman also bought a cob of corn and offered me a piece. It was ok but not as good as New Jersey corn.

We were out in the paddy fields in a flat landscape. Most of the double pane windows did not open and when I did start taking photos from an open window, the attendant asked that the window be shut.

Water buffalo. Power lines constantly got in the way so you are going to have to put up with them at times.

As it has been done for hundreds or thousands of years.

Eventually the vegetation became more lush.

There were lots of rivers like these. Every day there is a storm that may only last a few minutes but drops a lot of water which has to go somewhere.

It really is pretty countryside.

The train made quite a few stops. I never got out since most of the stops were only for a few minutes.

As I went to sleep the night before I thought I could hear some Scottish accents. The next morning, I started talking to the owner of one of those accents and we stood at a corridor window looking at the passing scenery. On the right hand side of this photo is a large war cemetery.

For quite some time we passed by cemetery after cemetery. From what I could tell, some were Vietnam War cemeteries, but others looked older.

I suspect these are more recent cemeteries, but the graves are quite elaborate. Being buried in the paddy fields seemed to be the trend.

The compartment had a booklet showing all the Vietnamese trains. I was on SE1 (far left).

Adrian originally came from Portsmouth but moved to Aberdeen about twenty years ago. He ran a printing business. We talked about the move for Scotland to separate from the UK but he did not think it would happen.

During one of the periods when the air-conditioning was not operating, a drinks cart came passed. I felt the cans and they were icy cold so I got a can of beer for about $1. By the way, when I get to Sydney I will be looking forward to some wine for a change.

There was a definite tropical French style to the houses.

I poked around to try to find out more about this woman but could not find anything.

The mountains were getting higher.

For about twenty miles north of Da Nang, the coastline becomes spectacular.

Seat61 has a nine minute video of the trip. For this section, go to about 4 minutes into the video.

Da Nang off in the distance.

The Scottish couple left the rain at Da Nang. Most westerners I met were going to several places in Vietnam, a few days here an few days there. It's a cheap holiday in Vietnam even considering the air fares.

When the train stopped at Hue that morning, the other three occupants of the cabin departed and a Buddhist monk joined me. Unfortunately, he did not speak English, but we manged to communicate. I noticed that he sometimes would get into the lotus position so I tried to do it which caused him much amusement.

Here he is. His only luggage was the little bag and he was going to Nha Trang. At one point, he asked me how old I was and was surprised that I was 11 years older than his 55. There was something wrong with his right hand and right leg that occasionally caused him real pain. I showed him some photos of our house and some of Australia, but I had the feeling that they were beyond his comprehension because they were so different from Vietnam and his life as a monk. He was shown great courtesy by all.

Before I leave Saigon, I will transfer some photos from my computer to my smart phone so it is easier to show people pictures.

I have no idea what these are.

During the afternoon, two boys came into the compartment. The older boy (16) spoke English and soon we started up a conversation. Very soon his older sister and parents were crowded around and you could tell that they were so proud of their son speaking English to the foreigner.

He hopes to go to the USA to study more English so that he can become an English teacher.

I was offered some strange fruit that they said was guava but it was more like an apple than a guava to me and I see there is an apple guava. I enjoyed it.

Late in the afternoon, the train stopped at a station for a while and a bunch of women hopped on board selling various food items. I finished up with two small baguettes and a cup of hot strong coffee. The baguettes came with a pack of those Vache qui rit wedges that had been warmed. Usually those wedges are not my favourites but I was hungry and warmed up it was better than I thought it would be.

Cheese is not common is SE Asia to my knowledge. Interestingly, much as I enjoy Asian food, I will be glad to start eating my regular Mediterranean style diet when I get to Sydney. Wine will also be good.

The monk got off at his station. He still had another trip to take that would take a further four hours. In the meantime I settled down for the overnight trip to Saigon. One of the passengers was a young lady who was in the berth above mine. The carriage attendant was extra courteous to her.

For most the trip, the train had been running about 30 minutes late. By the time we all got off the train at Saigon Station, it was close to an hour late at 4:45 am. It was still dark but I had no trouble getting a taxi and was delivered to the end of a little alley. My Airbnb host had given me instructions about ringing the doorbell of Number 4 and soon I was inside my comfortable room.

This is one of those train journeys where you have to be prepared for anything. It's certainly not a sterile environment with many people using the same pillow, bed-sheet and cover through the course of the night. At one stage the bunk across from me was being used by a woman who was obviously sick. The toilet seats were a step down from the Trans Mongolian which is saying something. Still, the scenery was great and I really enjoyed meeting the monk and the 16 year old boy.

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