Overnight Train: Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, Vietnam
When we got a taxi in Ho Chi Minh City, the driver saw our suitcases and said, “Airport?”
We said, “No, train station.”
(Note to self: repeating the same thing, only louder, when the listener doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t help.)
Adventurous Husband said “Choo choo!” and made train noises.
The driver broke into smiles and drove us to the train station.
We took an overnight express train from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Danang— sixteen hours (10:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. the next day) in a compartment with four bunks, intermittent air conditioning, and increasingly stale sandwiches that we brought. (They do have peanut butter and jelly in Vietnam but we had to hunt to find it).
Just like the Hogwarts Express, there were attendants pushing snack trolleys down the corridor. But instead of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, we had our choice of all manner of odd-flavored chips (prawn, chicken, beef with chili, and others we could only guess from pictures); bottles of soda; garlic and vegetable sausages wrapped in banana leaves; steamed buns with mushrooms, noodles, and quail eggs inside; and a giant kettle of unknown soup (we skipped the soup).
Who is on the Chocolate Frog cards in Vietnam? We’re guessing they’re Chocolate Gecko cards here, and Ho Chi Minh is definitely on them.
We tried the sausages but two of the four of us are allergic to garlic. We tried to give them away to our neighbors but no one wanted them. The steamed buns with quail eggs were amazing.
Intrepid Son explored the whole train, and I went with him later.
Some cars had regular train seats (like airline seats), some had compartments with four bunks like ours. Some had compartments with six bunks instead of four. And our family of four was among the six westerners on the train.
No wonder people kept coming by and peeking in our compartment (we left the door open often for more airflow). I can only imagine the conversations as I tried to smile and be a polite zoo animal. “Yo! There’s some crazy white people here! Get a load of this!” When Intrepid Son and I passed two of the guards in a compartment, one said “Where are you from?” Son answered “USA” and the other one made what might have been a rude gesture to his friend — we think someone lost a bet.
We stopped in a few towns. One station had a market set up, and women who came on the train to sell us iced coffees. Word must have gotten out that westerners were on the train, I think we had five different coffee sellers visit us, with varying prices from local to outrageous.
Out the window were miles and miles of rice fields, water buffalo, some long-legged white birds that look like egrets, people in conical hats, villages, and pointed haystacks.
We rattled past towns with traffic that stopped for our train, held back by hand-operated barrier gates on wheels. Lotus flowers flitted by in endless ponds. Jungle-covered hills rolled away in the distance. The sea on one side of the train peeked in and out of the hills, then appeared in all its wide vastness. The South China Sea is to the east, then the Philippines, then the Pacific, then home.
The west is east of here.
We arrived in Danang around 2 p.m., a bit rumpled, a bit sweaty, and a bit tired. And found a taxi waiting for us to take us to Hoi An.