Train travel in Vietnam: From Ho Chi Minh to Hue – An experience report

The back story of our Vietnam – train trip

It’s 12.01.2020. We have been in Vietnam and have already explored the island of Phu Quoq and the city of Ho Chi Minh. explored. From Phu Quock, we have unfortunately seen less than hoped, because Max had to stay in bed for a few days with flu and fever. Vietnam belongs one of the countries that like to bring out new flu germs once in a while. Many people in rural areas live closely with animals, especially poultry. poultry. Waste and sewage disposal leave much to be desired in many places. leave much to be desired. Added to this are the large cities and the increasing mobility of the people. In short, anyone walking through the streets of Vietnam will always hear someone someone coughing somewhere. So it is not surprising that many people on the streets wear mouth guards on the streets. Fortunately, Max got well a few days before our train ride healthy again.

It’s much easier to get around in Vietnam by plane of course Airplane ahead and unfortunately flying is also cheaper than train travel – at least, if one does not want to sit 23h in the wooden class in the train. But where would be the Adventure, if one always decides for the easiest way?

Booking our train ride in Vietnam

Vietnam is not a super digital country, but still by now it is on a quite good way. Accordingly, the state railroad company offers an online booking platform. This is available in Vietnamese and English.

The platform offers a variety of trains, which also still have different classes – from wooden class to sleeping compartments.

Our train tickets cost 68€ for a room in the 4-person Sleeping cabin in a TN 4 train. So they are not cheaper than a flight. We are also more about the experience.

There is another slightly more modern train on the route that stops less often. However, the SE is even more expensive, and the time savings are minimal.

We book and pay with our American Express Credit Card. We then get the tickets sent to us by email. They have a QR code that is scanned at the station. It is not necessary to print them

The train classes in Vietnam

The two most common train classes in Vietnam are abbreviated as SE and TN. The SE class trains are currently being gradually replaced with more modern ones, so you have the more modern trains here. The SE class trains stop less frequently than TN class trains. The time savings would not very high in our case. Because the TN trains have more stops stops, there are also more wooden class compartments here. The trains of TN class are slightly cheaper.

The train ride – check-in

You would think that the main train station in a Metropolis of millions like Ho Chi Minh City to find immediately. But we have to spend almost 10 minutes of research to find out where it actually is. The main station is very inconspicuous, marked on Google Maps only as a station and from the not signposted from the outside. Even our native grave driver drives once past it.

There is a large parking lot in front of the station building.

In the station itself there is an information desk and a few stores on the first floor and an area where you can book rides on the second floor. The building is gloomy and somewhat run down.

We are a good half hour before the departure of our train at the Train station. The lady from the information desk instructs us with a slightly annoyed acting head nod us already in the queue to the trains to queue.

The queue waits at scanners where people scan the QR code of their Ticket scans to get through the barrier. They are the only devices at the station – in fact, the only one at all at the station, including buildings and trains – that appear modern.

We got the tickets on our cell phones. When we get to the rows come, an employee takes the cell phones from us and holds them for us over the QR code scanner. One trusts it the passengers in things digitalization probably yet not quite so.

Our train is already on track two. There is no overpass there is not, only a place where it is easier to walk across the tracks. After a suspicious look to the right and left, we scurry across the tracks as quickly as as possible across the tracks. A lady in front of us wears leg braces and struggles to cross the tracks slower across. Fortunately, there is not much traffic in Ho Chi Minh’s Central Station.

Our train is already waiting at the track. We have the last Cabin in the last compartment of the train. A railroad employee is waiting at each of the doors of the train, who checks the tickets of the arriving passengers again. He indicates us with an unmotivated hand gesture to our cabin.

Our cabin

We booked the bottom two beds in a quad cabin. booked. The upper batten are clearly less popular because you have to climb up somewhat awkward to climb up, has his luggage worse in the eye and from the Air conditioning is blown on.

The cabin is not four square meters. There are right and left two beds on top of each other. The mattresses are about 60-70 cm wide but 1.90m long. They consist of typical sterile mattresses with plastic covers plastic cover, as you know them from the doctor. Over it a cotton sheet was laid. This does not make them more comfortable, but at least you do not stick to them with your skin. the skin to it firmly.

A blanket and a pillow lie neatly folded on each seat. neatly folded. Out of pure self-protection, not because I really believe in it believe, I assume for once that the covers are freshly washed. Si smell a bit, though. Fortunately for us, we seem to be the first station of this trip. Accordingly, the train is still very clean when we get on. very clean – a condition that will change in the course of the trip.

Each bed has its own extremely bright reading lamp with its its own light switch. In addition, there are above the door and under the table two electrical outlets each. The cabin can be locked from the inside.

We are lucky and have the cabin to ourselves for the time being.

Infrastructure on the train

The train has a food car, we researched that in advance. However, we don’t know where this is in the car lineup. So, shortly after the train departs, I make my way through the train.

At the end of our carriage I come across two washbasins and a toilet cubicle. All in all, the “bathroom” makes a decent impression. There is hand soap and toilet paper, the water at the tap and the toilet flush work. Only the door of the toilet cubicle is defective. You have to to close it with an improvised hook. The works reasonably well, as long as people in the corridor don’t curious to look into the cubicle through a remaining slit. Max also manages also manages to carve his finger on the door lock.

After I have left the bathroom area of our compartment behind me two more similar carriages follow, but then the comfort of the Comfort, however, already noticeably decreases from car to car. With the six-bed sleeping cabins there is only a small toilet and on the corridors is clearly more going on. There the compartments with seats. Here, too, there is more activity and it is louder. More and more often my way is blocked by people who are putting away luggage, chatting or lying on the lying on the floor. The fewest make an effort to get out of the way or to let me through. let through. At the oncoming traffic I notice fast that one pushes oneself little must push through squeamishly. Also I am pushed occasionally somewhat ungently to the side. pushed aside. As a European, however, I stand out in the train like a colorful dog. dog. People of different age groups stare at me partly without expression, sometimes openly curious and sometimes even slightly lascivious, while I am in and chaos of limbs I jostle my way through the compartments as friendly as possible. Compartments remple.  

At the transitions of the individual wagons are in each case the Toilets accommodated. Also the quality of these decreases with the classes clearly decreases. Since sometimes the door to the restroom is right next to the one to the aisle and the aisle, and the sides change from time to time, I suddenly find myself perplexed in a toilet cubicle.

Shortly before I give up and write off the food scales mentally already write off, I see in the distance behind the wooden class a colorful shelf through a glass door. Now separate me only two chaotic carriages, without air conditioning from the kitchen.

The wooden class is an adventure in itself. There are actually Benches made of wood. People are crisscrossing the floor. Children play between them. A woman is on all fours looking for something under a bench, blocking the the entire aisle for several minutes. It smells, it is loud and it is crowded. here. In addition to the passengers in the wooden class, numerous numerous passengers of the rear classes look around annoyed on the corridors, because no one can get through the congested aisle. Finally, a group pushes its way group pushes its way through the people and thus creates a path that resolves the the traffic jam. Somewhat stressed and with the strong urge to shower I finally make it finally make it to the kitchen. Here sit several groups of men, mainly cadets, judging by their age and uniform, are sitting at the benches, drinking and smoking. at the same time.

Eating on the train in Vietnam

I ask if I can take food into the cabin as well. I get two styrofoam boxes in a plastic bag. For me there is the only Vegetarian on the menu: rice with egg. For Max there is rice with egg and chicken. Neither is a culinary highlight, but both are quite edible. The I prefer to leave out the salad garnish, which tastes a bit stale. For me a Stomach infection in Peru was enough.

As in the evening the hunger slowly announces itself again and we shortly before Schnick-Schnack-Schnuck to play, who may fight this time through the Train may fight, we hear from outside Gepolter. In fact, the kitchen staff kitchen staff drives through the aisles with a small serving cart. Once again there is rice – for me again with egg, for Max this time with pork. In addition we can buy some water from the cart. The half liter costs 10.000VND ( 25.000VND correspond to 1€ at that time)

The Night in the Sleeping Car in Vietnam

At about 20:00 it gets a bit humid in our compartment. Apparently the air conditioner is off. It blows indeed still air from the ventilation, but this is not cold. That’s when Max sees red. He is not a fan of buses and trains. The prospect of having to spend the jerky night in our little box without air conditioning in our little box is too much. Grumbling loudly he stomps off and I watch helplessly over the luggage. Some time later he comes back with someone from the staff. After a look at the air conditioner and shortly afterwards a steady draught of icy air flows out of the from the ceiling of the cabin. Max is satisfied and settles in on his bed.

Slowly calm returns in the train – Until against 22:00 in the evening. someone penetratingly begins to sing. It’s right next to our cabin so I throw a I a questioning look at the corridor. There sits an older gentleman on the floor. We had already seen him in the afternoon. He seems to be American. American. He is tall and has thinning gray hair. His whole figure looks a little haggard. He sits against the wall to our cabin and has a mop in his hand. in his hand. The floor around him is wet, as if it had just been mopped. been mopped. He sits on a dry spot in the middle, like someone who, while cleaning accidentally wiped around him and then doesn’t want to step on the wet floor. floor. So he sits with a slightly unsteady look on the floor of the compartment and bawls at the top of his lungs. One look is enough to know that good coaxing and a request for the request for silence will not help us here either.  

I go back to the compartment and tell Max what’s going on. To Luckily, we both have headphones with us and have downloaded a few movies for the ride. downloaded. In the loud rumble of the train and with the earplugs then go also the other noises sometime under. In addition, we have always over longer Time during the trip good Internet – We are thus distracted.

Shortly after midnight, Max and I fall asleep for the first time.

Once and again we are awakened by loud noises on the train, especially all at stops. The train driver puts on an emergency braking before each station which throws me several times against the cabin wall and Max several times almost out of bed several times. Then people get on and off and there is mumbling. There and now and then you hear a small children crying.

So a few hours pass. Finally, at four in the morning, we both wake up from hearing the whimsical gentleman from the aisle yelling partly on the train partly in front of it. We hear several people from the staff talking soothingly to him. “Let me out, I’m starving. Are we in Hanoi? When will we be in Hanoi? We should be in Hanoi by now. Let me out! I need food! “, resounds in a half-hour litany through the compartment. The staff answers the questions again and again. He doesn’t seem to notice them at all. After some time, however, silence returns.

The morning on the long-distance train

A few full braking maneuvers later, which I only half asleep it knocks at our compartment at the door. My first thought is, that it could be the gentleman from the corridor again. So I first wake up Max before I open the door lock. My fear proves to be unfounded. unfounded. A young woman who has boarded the train has reserved one of the vacant seats in our room. With her rolling suitcase, even the last the last centimeters of floor space in our compartment. She climbs into the upper bed and then also seems to have fallen asleep after a few minutes.

A good hour later, she comes tumbling back down from the upper Bunk bed comes tumbling down. One nods to the parting still fast friendly to each other, then she gets out again. Her blanket and pillow remain on the bed as she leaves them and are not changed a bit. changed.

In her place, two young guys join us in the compartment. One of them is watching Facebook with the video sound on at full volume on his bed, the other skypes without headphones with a woman. The connection is poor. He tries to compensate by shouting louder into his cell phone. louder into his cell phone. The night is officially over for us, I would have liked to have would like to have our previous roommate again.

As I walk toward the restroom in the morning, there at the Washbasins just our nightly confused fellow driver and brushes the teeth. He seems a bit fitter and more oriented today.

The toilet survived the night reasonably well, though you really do need shoes to enter it today.

The train arrives in Hue

The landscape that passes us today is much hillier, than when we left. We drive along beautiful stretches of coastline covered with vegetation along, at beaches and at rivers in the rain forest.

Then, little by little, there are more and more houses along the Railroad line. We follow excitedly our last kilometers on Google Maps with – also to know when we have to get off.

Secretly I still cherish a little hope that the people from the kitchen would once again drive through the train with their cart to sell to sell coffee. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Only around noon, when we are only only a few kilometers from our destination, the trolley rolls through the train again and sells through the train and sells again trip with egg and chicken. We pass.

The train station of Hue

When we finally hop off the train in Hue, we have misplaced necks, an urgent urge to shower, are dog-tired and in dire need of a coffee urgently.

Hue’s train station is no bigger than Ho Chi Minh, but not significantly smaller either. On the platform, as usual, there are a few small stalls set up. Instead of only snacks for travelers, however, is sold here rice in large bags and similar everyday needs are sold. Some people on the platform also seem to be here for their daily shopping rather than for the than for the train ride. There is a hustle and bustle, through which we maneuver with our our suitcases must maneuver through.

When we finally reach the exit waiting there already Cab drivers waiting for their customers. Uber and Grab unfortunately do not exist in Hue. The first driver wants to bring us for a usurious price of 5$ to our hotel. We leave him laughing. Instead, we take a metered cab. The distance is not far. Arrived at the hotel it shows 30k, so a 1;20€. So if you need a cab in Vietnam and there is no Grab available, take one with take one with a taximeter, even with a tip it will be cheaper than the drivers that try to wait for tourists.

With a hot long-awaited shower then ends our Adventure on this day.

Our conclusion of the night train in Vietnam

Would we do it again, is the question this there is final to clarify. In any case, the train trip will remain in our memory. We are glad to have made it. It was definitely an adventure. However, it was also the kind of adventure that you have to have experienced once, but rather not a second time.

Our experience by train through Vietnam is also available on Youtube.

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