Vietnam Travel Stories
A spectacular train journey from Danang from Hue.
Caroline, our hostess at the Hue Hotel, is exceedingly accommodating. Whenever we enter the foyer of the hotel we are greeted with a cool towel, freshly squeezed juice and our hostess asking if we might need anything, anything at all.
Train tickets from Hue to Danang would be great actually, we say, but as it’s a Vietnamese holiday that weekend the only tickets available are the “worst” ones. She apologises profusely. We assure her there really is no need.
The next morning Hue station is overflowing; most are locals but there are a few sun-bleached travellers in baggy patterned trousers. I find an official looking man and show him my ticket. He waves me away: “You wait.”
I return to Jono and our bags, and wait obediently. An American couple spots us and hopes we might be able to tell them where to go. One look at their tickets shows us they planned more than one day ahead and won’t be travelling with us.
Half an hour later a train pulls into the station and the throng of people moves towards it. We’re pointed towards the front of the train but upon further investigation of our tickets we’re soon redirected in the right direction, towards the farthest end of the platform. We roll our bags past the tourists, and past the seated sections of the train, past the soft sleepers, and join the locals in the last part of the train.
Each of the hard sleeper cars has six fold out beds, unlike the more comfortable four-bed soft sleepers or the even more comfortable and most expensive “tourist” carriages which include air-conditioning and a pot noodle for breakfast – no coffee though, that’s extra.
In the hard sleeper, we are sharing our cabin with three Vietnamese men, a woman and her child. We take our spot sitting bent forwards on the rock-solid bottom bunk – there is no way to sit up straight – the sheets of the previous inhabitants bundled in a corner.
After ten minutes I decide I’m going to be more comfortable standing in the corridor. I try and find a space where I can look out of the window but, as a food cart passes through the carriage, I find myself backing up into another cabin where a group of eight have squeezed in and are happily sharing food and playing cards. The men look up, then decide to ignore my intrusion. A small child stares at me. I smile at him and then at his mother who is smiling and encouraging him to wave at me.
Once the exit becomes clear again I take up my place for the next few hours standing against the window and as we approach the spectacular Vietnamese coastline, I’m joined by the other men and women holding up children against the window, pointing at the jungle, the blue waters and jagged cliffs; just as in awe of the beauty of their country as I am.
As the train turns a corner I see the silhouettes of the people who got the cheapest tickets of all, sitting on the roof of the train, not even flinching when the train goes through a tunnel which, from where I am, seems to just skim past their heads. The deceleration of the train approaching Danang is their signal to climb down the side ladders and jump onto the ground which responds with a dusty cloud.
Our journey ends a few moments later, as we reach Danang, and catch an overpriced taxi to our next destination.