After leaving Halong we headed back to Hanoi, which kindly before we left, our hotel said we could go use an empty room to shower, relax and get ourselves sorted for the train, which made us slightly nervous as to why we should ‘get ready’ for it! Also the man at reception said ‘it is not good for you to wait in the station’!! As we had planned to burn 5 hours just sat around playing cards until our train departed.
When we arrived at the station we immediately saw what the man meant, it was a sea of people clambering to get last minute tickets, accompanied with their baskets of food, clothes etc. We watched from a far and wondered how we would get through the monstrous crowd to our train! It turned out there was another entrance, which only by chance and wanting to find somewhere quiet to let the queue go down, did we find the pre-booked ticket entrance, which was quiet, empty and just one person checking tickets as your breezed through.
The station and train itself was so dated, but really cool in the same sense, like something out of a black and white movie. We found our carriage and our nests for the night. It turned out we struck lucky as we had 4 Vietnamese people in with us as well, where as the french guys next door had a family of 10 with drinks, stove and the kitchen sink. The cabins/rooms are no bigger than a standard garden shed which has 4 bunks, which not by our choice, houses 2 tourists on the top bunks and as many as 6 Vietnamese on the bottom, which we immediately felt very embarrassed about, although they probably paid a lot less than us, as this is a common scam in Vietnam to bump the prices up massively for tourists and making out that cheap tickets are not available, when they clearly are.
Our roomies for the night were a very friendly Vietnamese couple who spoke great English, their Grandfather another guy who ended up getting kicked out halfway by a tickets inspector and replaced by said ticket inspector who kicked him out!! It certainly wasn’t the most solid night sleep i have had, but i have certainly slept in a lot worse. About an hour or so out from our destination, the breakfast man came round, which luckily i had bought with the help of our friendly roomie, a ticket the night before whilst he was doing the rounds. A nice noodle soup to start the day right.
We arrived in Dong Hoi at a reasonable time (as some of the trains arrive 5/6am, not great for hotel hunting) and managed to find ourselves a bed from the choice of 5 hotels! All in all the sleeper train is a great experience and if we could afford it, is something we would do again and again, unfortunately when backpacking for a long time, it verges on the pricey side at $30 average per person! Especially when you can get a sleeper bus for under $5.
—Stay Classy World—ACastling—