We were woken with a start at 4am by loud, discordant music filling our carriage. It announced our arrival at Nha Trang station, but it would not have sounded out of place on the soundtrack of the Hunger Games. We disembarked, tired and disorientated, wanting to make the most of Vietnam’s top beach resort, but really just wanting to go to bed.
I had read a bit about Vietnam’s overnight trains on various blogs and travel websites before the trip. As our tour included three journeys, I wanted to get an idea about what they were like. Reviews were mixed; some said they were fine, while others mentioned problems with fellow passengers and sleepless nights.
Our first train experience was the journey from Saigon to Nha Trang on the Reunification Express. Vietnam isn’t a large country, but the developing transport networks mean travel between cities takes a lot longer than a similar distance in Europe. We boarded the train at 8pm for our nine hour journey to Nha Trang and found our cabin, a four bed soft sleeper. This is the equivalent to first class travel; other options include a six bed hard sleeper, or rows of wooden benches. The first class carriage cost about 620 VMD (£20) but this is out of reach for many Vietnamese people. The cabin itself was pretty good; the bedding was clean (no need for the sleeping bag liners!), there was space for bags, and bottled water was provided. The real problem with this train was the air conditioning. It didn’t work for most of the night, which made sleep impossible. I eventually got to sleep at around 3am, only to be woken by music reminiscent of the Hunger Games film. You know the music they play when they announce the dead tributes in the arena? It’s really disorientating waking up thinking President Snow wants to kill you. Anyway, it was 4am; our guide looked at his watch in total confusion and told us the train had arrived an hour early. Apparently this never happens, and meant we needed a caffeine drip for the rest of the day.
We had been warned that the second train, between Nha Trang and Danang, would be the worst we would travel on. This proved to be correct, but only because of the large cockroach making itself at home outside the toilet, and the mouse in our carriage which ate an entire portion of rice during the night. No music though.
The final train was very similar to the first, but luckily the air conditioning worked. This journey was longer, leaving Hue at 14.30 and arriving in Hanoi at 04.00 the next morning. This trip passed without incident; we had a relatively good nights sleep and no insect sightings!
Have you experienced train travel in South East Asia? Feel free to comment below!