Updated: Aug 3, 2018
Ever since reading Agatha Christie and Her "Murder on the Orient Express" I've always dreamt to cross Europe by rail. The whole idea of boarding in one city and waking up in another always really thrilled me. It came to no surprise that, when I learnt there was a historic train journey crossing Vietnam from North to South, I wanted to test it. However, this was my first overnight train ride and I may have had my head full of clichés. Would reality differ somehow to what I was expecting?
1. A fancy restaurant carriage
Forget about tasteful meals prepared by chefs, on the reunification railway route, a staff member comes around your cabin with their trolley full of goodies. Expect local beer, instant noodles and other packaged delights. You don't have a dedicated space to eat, your sleeping berth here is your everything! I was a bit sad as I really wanted to test the full "onboard experience" and have a sat down meal with strangers discussing about the meaning of life. I guess this will be for another time!
2. Good onboard facilities
The cabin did have power socket to charge your devices but that was about it… don't expect to come off the train all clean and ready to explore your next destination. As I got deeper into the night, I started to feel the two beers I had drunk earlier and needed to take the inevitable trip to the bathroom. It was pretty horrific looking and I felt lucky I came fully prepared with hiking shoes (I was tempted just to go with my flip flops) as the floor had been turned into a swimming pool and you even had little 300-legged friends coming and saying "hello" on the walls.
3. Beautiful Scenery
Finally, something which met my expectations, this was pretty amazing. The train embraces the coast (just like on the pictures) and with the sunrise everything looks stunning. The only regret is as we were sharing our cabin with two other strangers, and as tempting as it looks to open the curtains, you can't fully enjoy the view. I would advise to wander the corridors (again put your shoes on!) and have a peek from one the windows there.
4. Luxury cabin
Because I was travelling to Vietnam and not boarding the Orient Express, I wasn't really expecting a luxury cabin room for two people with rose scented bed sheets and shower room. The soft bunk sleepers were comfy enough to sleep on, although I recommend bringing your own pillow case if you're a bit sensitive to hygiene (like me haha). The bed sheets were overall pretty clean, and although we had some little visitors at night, I didn't see any cockroaches or very big insects. As an insect phobic, I'm confident to say, it's more than okay to sleep on them but I must admit I slept with a mosquito bag on my head just to be on the safe side.
5. Punctual trains
The train departs on time for sure, but the arrival time is a bit more random. The annoying thing is that I put an alarm at 6.45 to make sure I'd wake up on time for my stop, looking at the window at every stop if it wasn't mine (even starting to think that I'd miss it). My train finally arrived in Dong Hoi an hour and a half late so don't feel too rush when you're supposed to be arriving.
Overall, I would highly recommend travelling this way to Vietnam (just don’t get a ‘hard’ bed, that’s not worth the couple of pounds you’ll be saving). It definitely feels like an adventure and it's a nice way to go around the country while meeting other travellers and seeing lovely landscapes. I'm still after a nice overnight train to do that feels a bit more "typical" and I am thinking to go onboard the California Zephyr train next, linking Chicago to San Francisco. If anyone has been please share your thoughts, I'd love to hear!
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