Today we are leaving HCMC and heading by train to Hanoi
Baguettes for breakfast with some fellow travellers at Longs Guesthouse in Ho Chi Minh. We met a lovely girl from Argentina and another called Beth from England who’d met on the road and had been looking out for each other. It’s one of the things we’ve noticed amongst some travellers the support they give each other when away from home. There’s a real sense of community.
After breakfast we went shopping at the market at the end of the alley. It’s a great little market. Last time we were here we’d pop in for fresh pineapple everyday. We know things are fresh because every night the market shuts and the food section turns into a restaurant. The early in the morning the fruit and vegies start being delivered. The little local markets in Asia are awesome places to visit, with family groups selling all sorts of things from little stalls, sometimes with so much stuff packed into a stall it’s hard to actually see what they have for sale so its better just to ask. This market sells fresh fruit, vegetables meat and fresh fish (so fresh last time we were here I caught and escapee trying to swim back to the river). We love looking through all the different market stalls, to savour all the different smells of spices, sometimes wondering whether something is animal vegetable or mineral. There’s always a a buzz about the place with the stall holders perched over their items chattering to each other and laughing. It’s one of the things that big American style supermarkets are threatening throughout Asia and we hope that the takeover is unsuccessful.
Lunch at a German restaurant called Toba, which was a bit of an all international affair. Two Australians eating Vietnamese food at a German restaurant, with Chinese fittings, Japanese staff, in Ho Chi Minh City. Michele had a Vegetarian Red Curry which was really flavoursome with a very slight chilli and I Phò Bò which was tasty to the very last drop. It’s quite easy to see why this restaurant had such a big write up in the German papers.
We hung out at the guesthouse for the rest of the day, doing a bit of washing, some blogging, and catching up with family on FaceTime. As we’d been pretty busy over the last few days it was time to do some catching up as we would not have the Internet again until we arrived in Hanoi in a few days.
Just on dark we headed back out in search of a restaurant for tea. We walked up and down the street through tiny alleys we didn’t know existed until we came across a cafe aptly named Asian Kitchen. The one thing about Asian cities is there’s always tiny little alley ways with something to discover just around the corner. Michele had Fresh Spring Rolls and I a local Vietnamese dish, the name of which looked like a bad hand at scrabble.. Both meals were really nice, and cheap as chips at a miserly $7.30 including a few drinks.
We met up with a Canadian bloke, Daniel, who was in the early stages of pre-parenthood. His girlfriend was in the early stages of pregnancy, 6weeks in, sick, lethargic and he was feeling a little helpless but trying to find a way to help. He was after advice and probably just a bit of reassurance that everything would be ok. Obviously he was a bit of a local as the barman and the local travelling masseuse knew him…… Probably the right blokes to help to de stress. The best advice we could give him was relax and enjoy the journey, because parenthood is one of the most wonderful journeys in life.
At 10 o’clock we booked out of Longs Guesthouse. The new girl booked and escorted us to the taxi, which was service with a smile. It was funny how when she started two days ago she was really shy and wouldn’t say a word and we were unsure whether she spoke english or not but now she was chatting away happily. we caught a Vinasun Taxi which we have found to be the best in HCMC as they always use their meters and have a reputation of honest trustworthy service.
We arrived at the train station as requested an hour before departure time, to find the doors to the platform firmly locked and barricaded with a water cooler. The staff inside milling around smoking. One half an hour later they unlocked the doors and we were boarding the train, no ticket checks, just find your own way. We booked a soft sleeper, between a hard sleeper and premium, which cost USD$175 through Vietnam Impressive. While they are above what you would pay lining up at the station, they organised the tickets while we were still at home and delivered them to the hotel so we were happy to pay the bit extra for that,
The compartment was a four berth sleeper and we had the two bottom bunks. The colour scheme was a green grey colour which reminded me of some paint we swapped for a box of seafood when I was in Vietnam on a Navy ship many years ago. The bunks were made with a bottom sheet, a pillow and a doona so quite comfortable.
We were warned not to let anyone in the compartment, as there have been problems and are people riding the train without tickets. We were also told to be wary of people trying to scam for money but we didn’t have any problems especially when two Swedish Guys topping 190 cms and built like brick outhouses lobbed up. They travelled with us to Nha Trang, and we chatted late into the night and into the morning about travelling through Asia, buses and the problems of being big when travelling on transport.
Around 6 am the train pulled into Nha Trang and we said our goodbyes and then met a German lady, who with her husband is travelling through China and across the Trans Mongolian railway and on to Germany. Crazy people…….lol
The Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi train has been described as one of the most beautiful train journey in the world and I can understand why as the train travelled through some of the most beautiful verdant green rice paddies, fringed with palm trees with rolling hills in the background. The railway follows the coast so as we passed out of fertile agricultural areas the scenery changed as we wound around the hills overlooking little coves with shear cliffs, rolling waves crashing on vacant sandy beaches, fishing boats anchored out waiting for tonight’s fishing, offshore islands, fish farms and salt ponds. As we passed into different areas the train intercom would burst to life with Vietnamese music and a story about the region.
As we passed through Hue we travelled close to the Citadel, part of the old Imperial Palace, remembering a few years ago where we met a nice young local bloke who happily chatted with us practicing his English. Hue was a great place to visit, we really loved it. As we crossed the Perfume River railway bridge we spotted covered sampans, much like the one we did a trip on two years ago and wondered how the Vietnamese family and their kids were going.
One of the things about spending two nights on the train is how to keep clean. Although we weren’t running about sweating heaps, for me going two days without a shower or wash was out of the question. But how to wash ourselves? In our carriage we had access to basins with running cold water, there was also a toilet with a hose, and there was also a boiling water point. The basins at the end of the carriage were ok for washing the face and cleaning teeth but people object when you strip off to wash the nether regions. The solution was actually quite simple. I cut three small holes in the lid of an empty 1.5 litre water bottle. I then half filled it with cold water from the basin and topped it up with boiling water. Then in the toilet, I just wet myself down with about a third of the water, lathered myself with the soap and washed off with the remaining two thirds of the water, which drained of through a hole in the floor. I then used the hose to wash any remaining soap build up down the hole.
We spent the day playing cards, eating, enjoying the view and entertaining a little Vietnamese boy. For some reason he was fascinated with us and kept coming in and talking to us in Vietnamese. I was trying to count in Vietnamese and he was racing through the numbers sounding nothing like what I was saying.
Did I mention we spent the day eating, well it felt that. Every 15 minutes a cry would go out and a trolley would come through with all sorts of food. There was the bloke with the tv snack trolley filled with popcorn, biscuits, chips, soft drinks, coffee. After him would come the cooked meat on sticks lady, and the yoghurt lady. The rice dish lady would come through after them. At every stop ladies would board the train selling baguettes, bananas, cheese, fresh vietnamese coffee and other goodies. We purchased some snacks and food before we left to take on the train, but we needn’t have bothered. There was absolutely no way that the train staff were going to let us starve. We enjoyed bananas on baguettes, fresh coffee, yoghurt and some other snacks. We bought a bag which we thought contained Pods (chocolate outside caramel inside) weren’t we surprised when we found they had coconut outside and peanut centres wooooh what the?…….
We ordered beef and rice for dinner for 35,000 VND and a tray arrived with a nice slice of braised fillet in gravy, steamed vegies, a big serve of rice and cabbage and tiny weenie dried shrimp soup. Michele kindly let me have her soup and most of her rice so I was happy.
Later in the evening we were joined by a young Vietnamese couple and their two kids. We’d locked the door as instructed and when I opened it I dunno who got the biggest shock. They had two girls, one little baby and another about threeish and they were so cute. They jumped up into the top bunks despite me offering my bottom bunk to the lady. A gentle lullaby drifted around the cabin sung in a soft vietnamese voice, it was quite angelic. The kids settled down and were asleep very quickly. Unfortunately for them the train staff didn’t change the bedding so they slept in second hand sheets…….. Yuk. Our advice for anyone travelling on the train not commencing from HCMC is to take a sleeping bag inner, you can buy them quite cheaply then you know what you are sleeping in.
We woke around 5.30 am and although the train was due at 4.30 am we still had a few miles left to run. The train attendant came past about 15 minutes later and slid the door open said something in Vietnamese, which we took for “Wakey Wakey” and about 6ish we arrived at Hanoi station. We were surprised seeing all the taxis parked on the platform, ensuring no passengers escaped. The first thing we noticed as we stepped off the train was it was cold, nearly everyone was wearing thick padded winter coats and hats. The second thing we noticed was how all the vehicles were grubby from all the road grime, it reminded us of winter in Europe.
We had written google maps instructions on a piece of paper so turned right out of the station and started walking. We’d gone about 500 metres when Michele needed to go to the toilet, and like a shining light a taxi appeared. We gave him the address and he offered to take us to the hotel for 50,000 VND. We readily agreed, as the hotel had said it would cost 80000 although it was probably more than the meter. It was dark, nothing was open apart from the free WC at the train station (which smelt so bad that we were lucky not to throw up as we passed it.)
The hotel was miles away in the opposite direction from where we were picked up, so for the first part of the journey we were looking at each other wondering whether we were being ripped off, but once we got into the street we were happy. The Tu Linh Palace had a big roller door covering the front of the building, so we thought we were locked out and would have to find a cafe until the place opened. A lovely lady passing the building pointed to the buzzer on the wall which we pressed, the roller door raised and the young man at the desk, checked our booking. Although check-in was at 2 o’clock he had a vacant room ready for us and he promptly showed us to our room and said although breakfast was included for our three nights here we would have to pay $3 each for this morning . We were more than happy, for $6 we could have a shower, breakfast and a nap before heading out.