We decided that since we’re only spending a short time in Vietnam, a good way to “see” the Vietnam countryside is to take the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh! The only trains I have ever taken in my life were from the suburbs of Chicago to the inner city, zoos, and theme parks… So this was going to be quite the experience! Not to mention how long it would take.
We knew we’d be sleeping on the train for two nights, but Karima and I decided to go the cheap route and get the soft seats instead of the sleeper cars. Some probably think we were crazy (and we might have been), but it really wasn’t that bad. We figured we’d be able to sleep better in soft seats than on a bed made of plywood and a sheet. (And we didn’t want to chance getting stuck in a little room with 2 creepy Vietnamese men.) There was no one sitting across from us the first night, so we were able to stretch out our feet on the opposite seats. The only reason I kept waking up every 2 hours was because my feet kept falling asleep. Karima slept pretty sound it seemed. I also slept with my purse on my lap under the blanket with me… Every now and then it would feel like Roxy was sitting on my lap like she always did. That feeling was so comforting and also just knowing that she was there in spirit with me. 🙂
Another great thing about taking the soft seat tickets (basically third class) is that you get kind of mingle with the common folk. Our first morning on the train, some women got on with 3 little Vietnamese rugrats. They sat across the aisle from us. They were full of energy and were very curious about us. Haha. I noticed that the youngest one definitely wasn’t wearing a diaper (and from the looks of it, the two younger ones looked to be the age most kids are still in diapers). Karima told me that in some cultures, the parents can tell when their kids need to go to the bathroom and just take them. Pretty neat I thought! Later in the day after they got off, there was popcorn scattered everywhere on the floor in their wake.
The landscape is really beautiful! A patchwork of fields dotted with farmers in their little conical hats, sometimes working with Brahman cattle! (Brahman cattle are those cows with a big hump on their back.) We also passed by some rivers with some traditional boats- no motors, just paddles. Then we saw some mountains in the fog off in the distance. It was really grey and cloudy in the northern part of the country the first half of the trip. Later on as we traveled south, we saw clear, blue skies and the sun was out! Going along the coast was really beautiful! We went through some tunnels. Towards the end of the tunnels, you could faintly see the walls and they weren’t built up with bricks like I expected. It looked like they were blasted out and that was that.
During our whole journey, some women and men would come through selling snacks, fruit, and coffee. Around meal times, they came through with hot meals to purchase. You get a little Styrofoam container full of food… Lots of dry rice, cooked cabbage, chicken, and some really ocean-y soup. Besides the soup, the meal was pretty decent, but way too much rice!
Later on, there was a teenage boy that sat across from us. He offered to share some corn nuts with me. I thought they were peanuts, so I passed. (I’m still not a peanut person, but I’ve found out I like pistachios a couple months ago!) He was really curious about the line drawing we were doing. (A line drawing is quite fun! You have 2 or more people making a drawing and you each take turns drawing a line on the paper. Your line can be anything you want it to be, just as long as your pen doesn’t leave the page. You keep taking turns until you decide that it’s finished.) He was also flipping through the book I was reading (Three Cups of Tea… A good read!) He seemed like a sweetie. 🙂
Going to the bathroom on the train is interesting… The seats were ALWAYS covered with water. (I’m just going to assume it’s water, because if Vietnamese men have that bad of aim… I don’t even know.) I had wipes and tissues with me, so I had to clean a few seats before sitting down. (Good thing I had those with me, otherwise going to the bathroom would not have been fun at all… Not that it was “fun,” but you know what I mean.) In this situation, I would have preferred a squat toilet much more than the western toilets they had. And the floor were always covered with water (?), so it was always just a good idea to hold up your pants so they don’t drag on the floor at all. Ew!
Our second night on the train, I woke up in the middle of the night seeing all of these fields of some kind of palm trees. In between the rows of palm trees were rows of lights, completely lighting up the fields. Very strange!
We departed Hanoi at 11 pm January 13th and arrived in Ho Chi Minh at 6 am on January 15th! 31 hours in total!!
For your entertainment, here’s a video I made of our long journey!! It took a long time to make this, but I’m very proud of it and hope you enjoy!!