Monday, July 19, 2010

To train or not to train? Part III

Hanoi 2010. We’ve caught up with old friends and made new ones. Now it's time to make our way to Hue. Adopting the ‘winging it’ method of travelling more and more in recent trips, we had not booked any flight. The price, by Vietnamese prices, was expensive and there weren’t any departing soon enough for our pencilled in itinerary. I had read about Livitrans before arriving and opted to give it a go. The VIP cabins, for two, were only available on runs to Sapa, so it was Tourist Class for us.

One of the hotel staff accompanied us to the station where we entered (a controlled and sanitised room) and waited in a separate area to the local travellers. We boarded. Our roomies were a couple from Holland. Pleasant and friendly. Our cabins were similarly pleasant and friendly, with complimentary water, snack and tooth brushes. Not a bad trip and would probably do it again, although next time, perhaps medicated.

It’s just that lack of sleep thing that gets me every time and the train driver had a habit of slamming on the breaks every hour or so. Arrive Hue.
A couple of days later we biked it from Hue to Hoi An, which is not far from Danang (about 6 hours with scenic stops) and is the end of the line for the Livitran service. Not sure if it’s a north/south remnant left over from the war. From Danang we were headed for Nha Trang, but the trains weren’t overnighters.

I spoke to the girls at the Mango Split cafe (photo) in Hoi An, who suggested stopping in one of two towns to break up the trip. Quy Nhon (will be going there again) here we come!

*Word of advice – check out the price directly from/at the train station, before buying your ticket. Ripped off severely by VN standards....

‘The train trip took about 5 hours to Dieu Tri station, from Danang, which is only about an hour from Hoi An... then a short taxi ride to the beach side town of Quy Nhon. I was taught that if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at I won't say much about the actual train, except that the people were friendly and welcoming. The scenery along the way was nice...I think...that's dirt on the window’ – original post.

At the time I was apprehensive about writing what I really thought, for fear of offending any of our Vietnamese friends that may have been reading our blog. Truth be told, I wanted to get off as soon as I got on. The seats were comfortable enough, large and covered in fabric which was embedded with years of food and god knows what else. The floors were littered with, well...litter! The train didn’t look like it had ever been cleaned, the entire interior was sticky and or gritty. A railway employee walked the aisle motioning to passengers lift their feet so he could sweep the rubbish into his reach, then into a garbage bag while he muttered some type of disapproval. I reckon this was the only form of cleaning that took place while the train ran perpetually up and down the coast.

I was literally almost in tears (travel fatigue) and don’t consider myself to be much of a sook. I swore under my breath to (not at) Stray >;^*%$  filthy  ^$#>@  train  *(?>;^%  never  !@#$  again’. I sat arms folded, being careful not to come into contact with any surfaces. Don't be fooled by the seemingly gleaming shiny ceiling in the photo. I did eventually loosen up and got on with enjoying the ride. That day I broke a personal record, now making it 8 hours without peeing.

Quy Nhon to Nha Trang. (Quy Nhon is a MUST SEE)We, the only tourists in sight, sat outside Dieu Tri Station cramming in a few smokes. I know it’s part of the Vietnamese culture that unacquainted men and women don’t show any signs of familiarity/affection to each other. However, this does not apply to same sexes. A group of local men were sitting and admiring Stray. One in particular came over a few times and couldn’t wait to get his hands all over him. We had no idea what he was saying. A younger bloke stood nearby and translated. His English was really pretty good.

As usual he asked ‘where you from?’. Australia we reply and as usual, in jest, we asked the same. This always cracked the locals up and they would giggle, replying ‘Vietnam’.

‘I’m from KENTUCKY, USA’ he replied. What the? He was on holiday visiting his wife and child, who still resided in VN. Even funnier (to me), turns out he’s a nail technician/artist.
We end up waiting on the other side of the station where our train will arrive. Now one of the guards has taken a shine to Stray...lots of rubbing and patting of shoulders and smiles and winks. OH COME ON, give me a break. By this time I’m actually considering getting jealous.

‘The train ride from Quy Nhon to Nha Trang wasn’t so bad...probably because I knew what to expect.’ – original post.

This was true. Same conditions and same, same but different lovely people. What REALLY gets me is why the government/railway can have such a low opinion of their own people. Passengers arriving in their Sunday best, clean and well groomed, only to board a filthy and unkempt train.

We find our allocated seats, one of which contained a small sleeping elderly woman. A young woman opposite gave her a nudge and she promptly moved to one of the many tiny blue plastic chairs strewn throughout the carriages. During our chat (with the younger woman) we learned that these little chairs were in fact the ‘cheap seats’. One can only wonder how many hours the old woman had to endure on her ‘cheap seat’.
Stray in our smoking area and on a stack of 'cheap seats'.

Stray insisted that they swap and she happily accepted. My first offering of a chewy sesame treat didn't impress her, but her eyes lit up when she saw the peanut brittle. We spent most of the three hours in the dining car so Stray could escape from his toy size seat and we could smoke in relative comfort.

The dining car was reminiscent of those in China and Thailand, but with more of a disco like atmosphere thanks to the...well, disco music, fairy lights and lanterns. Over the course of the evening it filled up with male passengers and uniformed railway workers (hopefully none of them were drivers) who proceeded to down shots of vodka.
It was on this trip Stray announced that he wanted to try one of the cooked duck or chicken embryos (Trứng vịt lộn or Hột vịt lộn) available from the food carts. I suggested that he might like to wait until we had a functioning toilet close by as we had no idea how long ago the little blighters were cooked. He eventually did get to taste them in Saigon where they were freshly prepared by the wonderful hotel staff for their own lunch. What did they taste like? Strays said ‘kind of creamy’ but to be honest I think he shoved a fist full of herbs, equivalent to the size of a small shrub, into his mouth at the same time.

To train or not to train? I think to date the score is even. The experience and meeting interesting people cancels out the condition of the train and any loss of sleep (easy to write when well rested). Will I be doing it again? Who knows, all I can say is never say never.

Disclaimer - To train or not to train? postings are written out of context and with slight tongue in cheek. They are in no way reflective of my TOTAL experiences in that country, which have all been fantastic.

End of the line....for now!


Martyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Stray, that's where those two were heading with the blue plastic chair and their motorbike.

I was travelling on a Thai bus a few years back and had the window seat. It was daytime and I put my head next to the window to sleep, a curtain was in front of me. I shut my eyes but something told me to open them and when I did there on the curtain about four inches front my face was a huge collection of bogeys (nose pickings). I felt sick, like you, I do appreciate a certain level of cleanliness.

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

Martyn...that's just completely gross!