Monday, April 13, 2015

A view from the Reunification Express

Date: 31st December 2014

For the record, it was our longest train ride so far, 31 hours and 30 minutes for 1,726km via Saigon Express which connect the 2 important cities in Vietnam, Saigon to Hanoi. The journey takes 2 nights and 1 full day in train where we boarded at 10.00 pm on 30th December 2014 and arrived at 5.30am on the third day, 1st January 2015. Sadly that we totally forgot about our planned party in the train to welcome a new year, i.e.2015 new year celebration. It was all mainly due to excess of boredom. Instead of being productive, we spent the whole time chatting, sleeping, eating, napping, reading, napping, snapping lots of photos, napping, praying and last sleeping before waking up at the final arrival in Hanoi station.

Train SE4 made various stop at Binh Thuan, Na Thrang, Dieu Tri, Quang Ngai, Danang, Hue, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Thanh Hoa, Ninh Binh before at their last stop in Hanoi. There’s altogether 10 stops beside Hanoi. Rest assured that the train shall arrived at it’s schedule time. I’m indeed very impressed with Vietnam’s Railway efficiency. We shared the coach with locals and towards the end with a Korean girl, travelling solo. We mistook her for a Japanese girl.

The friendliest among all is the grandmother who does not give up in making a conversation with us in her mother tongue expecting us to understand. We nodded, shrugged and smiled most of the times not understanding a word she said. The only thing that we can grasp was when she pleaded to swap the bed with either Anne or me. She smiled happily when I sacrificed my lower bed for her. Anyhow, she is the most adorable, pretty and kindest women that we have ever in contact with since we launched our journey. She even showed her identity card which has her photo at young age. She once look like a famous movie star.

Most foreign visitors, like us choose to travel in a soft sleeper. The soft sleeper compartments have 4 berths, supplied with soft pillow, clean white sheet and duvet with individual reading light. Everyone will sit on the lower berths in day time. We are getting used to similar compartment being a third time travelling in longer distance, which is a pleasant and enjoyable way to travel, especially on the best trains, SE4.  We keep our luggage with us using a space beneath the bottom bunks and in the large recess above the compartment door.  It has a 2-pin power socket for recharging our mobile, camera and laptop. There’s a western-style toilet usually kept supplied with soap and toilet paper at one or both ends of the corridor. I took shower at a very late afternoon just to feel fresh and to enjoy a good sleep for the second night. It was my first shower in the train so far.

The thick glass windows though useful for photography, was not as clear if you can open them wide (hence, please forgive me if the shared photo are not as sharp as I expected them to be). There's also a dedicated large water dispenser (hot and cold water) at the end of the corridor of each compartment, very handy for those of you who brought some powdered soup, instant coffee or hot chocolate, or have bought some dried noodles from one of the stalls at the station. Food trolley services comes regularly serving snacks, coffee, soft drinks and beer, and at meal times a member of the train staff will sell you a meal ticket for around 35,000 dong.  A set meal with mineral water will then be delivered to your compartment from the kitchen car. At night, you'll find a lock and usually an additional security lock on the door.

The next morning when I raised the curtain, the rural Vietnam was galloping past the window. A view of paddy fields, buffalos, villages and farms throughout the daylights beside a different view at the stations. A knock on the door by the sleeper attendant brought in our Livitrans complimentary breakfast, a steaming hot, Vietnamese Beef Noodle, which we refused to take as there’s bread stock that we carried along from Tous led Jous.

Impatiently, I headed out to search for a restaurant car looking for a strong local Vietnamese coffee. A view while passing each car to reach there has taken my breath. What I meant to say is that, I love everything about a living on a train car. It’s people everywhere, surprisingly the train was full, not even a vacant seat visible. There’s a hard sleeper compartment, comfortable reclining soft seats, hard seat or normal seat using wooden bench the same that been fixed in the restaurant car. I’m sharing all those gorgeous view in this entry.

Anne and I were both looking for a sea view that we saw from the internet. When it suddenly appear, we both grabed our headscarf and went outside the cabin to capture a better view of the sea. It was the most spectacular part of the trip which was about to begin, we were approaching Danang, the train was passing by the coastal. The first view was galloping across a flat shoreline with empty beaches and islands to seaward, an occasional house on stilts standing off shore in the blue-grey waters of the South China Sea. The brisk pace didn't last. A few miles further, a spur of the Annamese Mountains (Indochina mountains range) descends to the water's edge and forces the railway to climb and twist and turn, like a snake.

Thereafter, the train slowed to an easy ramble and clambered into the hills, hugging the cliffs with the sea breaking on the rocks below. The wheels screeched in protest at each of the sharp curves as the train wound its way from cliff to jungle-covered cliff. The railway ducked under the higher peaks in a series of tunnels, each with a uniformed watchman at the tunnel mouth, standing to attention and raising a yellow flag as the train clattered by.

Approaching the Hai Van Pass which means "Ocean Cloud Pass" in reference to the area's drifting sea-mists, the train struck briefly inland, clinging to the mountainside, ascending a deep and thickly wooded valley to the summit of the line. On the far side of the pass we began our descent, the train rolling faster and more easily now, past yet more bays, boats and beaches on the final approach to Hue. We passed by and stopped at Vietnam's5th largest city, the stopping-off point for the historic Unesco World Heritage town of Hoi An.

Anne and I chose to walk to the restaurant car for lunch after the cabin assistant failed to bring us our lunch. He made an effort to use his phone application (dictionary) to translate our request for seafood friend rice into local words. After many attemps, he got it right but to our dissapointment he insisted us to visit the restaurant. With a heavy heart we both went in our night pyjama and a cardigan. Apparently the chef cooked a local dishes, rice, vegetables plain soup, fried vegetables and fried fish. It was more than enough to staisfy our tummy.

I hope what I shared thus far would be able to assist, should you are thinking to take similar journey like us 2. Good luck and Peace!

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