Thursday, 6 October 2011

The train South to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The Sunday lunchtime trains to Siagon were all full so I had to settle for the 21.56 train (SE7) from DaNang arriving the following day around 15.00, which actually is more sensible than the lunchtime trains that arrive at 04.00 in the morning. The soft sleeper ticket cost $50US & I decided on a $13 taxi ride from Hoi An to the station rather than the bus.

This train is also full, good job I bought my ticket the day before. When I throw open the door of my cabin a Vietnamese family look horrified as I squeeze in & climb onto the top bunk, there's no room for my bag so it goes on the bunk with me.

They're a young couple with a baby and someone's brother of about 16. The boy plays his MP3 phone, the baby is grizzling, the wife is curled up & seems unwell as the husband is fanning her while crooning a song.

We all settle down around 23.00 & I sleep OK, surrounded by luggage, but the family are up & about at 05.30 (dawn). Outside the window are fields & fields of rice & on higher ground there are banana, mango, coconut palms & a host of other fruit trees.

An old granny comes in & out, occasionally throwing annoyed glances at me but my usual multilingual smiling tactic doesnt seem to work. Various attempts to communicate fail but the one success is the boy writing down - How Old Are You? Thinking age must be important I try to find out how old each of them are, but that disintegrates into endless confusion.

I'm offered some crackers & peanut brittle waffers, fortunately I bought some very tasty sesame seed jelly-type nibbles, so was able to offer those around.

We arrive at NhaTrang at 07.50 & quite a few European backpackers get off. I gave serious thought to stopping off here but was put off by the high-rise hotels on the sea front & the Lonely Planet intriguing warning about 'kamikaze hookers'.

The countryside is spectacular, 6 hours north of Siagon we're in a wide almost flooded valley with steep mountains on both sides. The valley floor is full of paddy fields with lots of people working in them - some with hand tools & water buffalo, others with old fashioned looking machinery. There are egarets everywhere and great flocks of white ducks - presumably domesticated.

A regular stream of food sellers ply the corridors, some of the options are hard to fathom but when I see rice, chicken satay, vegetables & something else I jump at it for £1.50. It was served in a polystyrene box with a spoon & was OK as train food goes although I never worked out what the something else was.

The Vietnamese family want a photograph of me & the boy so he puts his arm around me like an old friend & they all screech with laughter. I'll probably figure in many funny family stories in years to come - 'do you remember that strange foreigner who couldnt speak properly....'.
3 hours north of Siagon there are miles & miles of broad leaved forest stretching from the edge of the track back up & across a series of rolling hills. Then there are miles of cleared forest with miles of crops that look suspiciously like marijuana - but it can't be, surely?

Ho Chi Minh station is quite posh, with escalators & a smart but pricy coffee shop. Its the usual bunfight of excited taxi-bike operators & touts who know someone with a taxi but the police keep them out of the station concourse except you have to face them eventually. I sit out the main scrum with an overpriced coffee & then take a surprisingly cheap taxi (£2.20) to my hotel the Indochine in District 1.

I just plucked the Indochine off the web as looking reasonable & in a good location. It is in fact very nice - a decent 2 - 3 star quality for $36US including a small but fresh cooked breakfast. Its clean, spacious with a desk, air con, a good shower & WiFi - I'm happy.

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