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Friday, March 29, 2013

Traveling by Train in Vietnam

If you are tall, like some luxury in your travels, love the opportunity to stretch your legs, don’t mind to pay a bit more, like the services of a working toilet and like easy access to good food, then you would have definitely tried the trains while traveling in Vietnam. They are a bit expensive when compared to the buses, but the excess cost is totally worth it, or at least that is my very personal opinion.

Here’s how it all started though. I took a night sleeper bus from Mui Ne to Nha Trang, but the sleeper bus was so cramped for me that I decided that I would never take the sleeper bus again in Vietnam and that is why I started taking the trains in Vietnam. The sleeper buses in Vietnam (I call them the capsules) are ideal for travelers on a tight budget and/or for those who have short legs and thus can sleep comfortably.

But, aside from the comfort factor of the trains, I would recommend the trains in Vietnam for 2 broad reasons: one, the ability to meet and interact with the locals and second, the ability to see some of Vietnam’s stunning natural scenery, especially the ride from Danang to Hue, which allows you to see Vietnam’s coastline from on top of a cliff.

Before we go into the details, I would like to help you understand the types of seats/berths one can get in a train in Vietnam. All of these may or may not be available on all trains or routes. There is a hard seat and a soft seat. The soft seat is typically air-conditioned. The seats are the cheapest tickets on the train and is much preferred by the locals (due to less cost) and for short trips by the tourists. The sleeping berths come in hard sleeper and soft sleeper. The hard sleeper is a coupe of 6 bunker beds, 3 on each side, while the soft sleeper is a coupe of 4 bunker beds with 2 on each side. The hard sleeper costs lesser than the soft one, but the interesting thing here is that the lower berths cost the most, while the middle costs lesser and the upper one costs the least. This is because, the berth seats do not allow you to sit during the day and the one with the upper berth ticket has to always be in the upper berth all day or night. This can cause some inconvenience as there is hardly any space for moving around.

Ticket booking is pretty transparent and can be booked easily from the train stations. People speak English in the larger cities, but it can be a little difficult to explain your need in the smaller cities. Thankfully, there are no scams anywhere in the train stations, though as a foreign tourist, you pay a different price for the same ticket, when compared to a local Vietnamese.

I took quite a few train rides in Vietnam – Nha Trang to Danang, Danang to Hue, Hue to Ninh Binh, Ninh Binh to Hanoi and Hanoi to Lao Cai…five in all.Each journey had its good moments. In the hard sleepers, you will definitely come across a local person or family and in the soft sleeper, you will come across a like minded traveler. You will get to see the countryside pass by through the large windows, you will get to experience the narrow corridors, you will see the small markets at each station that the train stops and much more.

A journey to Vietnam is not complete without traveling on its trains. The trains might be a tad slower than the bus, but it saves you the hassle of traffic, is much more safer than the roads of Vietnam, is luxurious if you are old, tall, like to frequently use the toilet or like a good night’s sleep and overall provide a good value for money. I will always take the train whenever I am in Vietnam and I definitely would recommend you to try it or at least the Danang to Hue bit for the sheer natural beauty and spectacular views.



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