Doug's Vietnam

Reunification Express - Saigon to Da Nang

Van's Qui Nhon
Van's Welcome page and Saigon resturant list
Vietnam Travel Guide
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Phu Quoc Island - A trip to old school Vietnam
Life in Vietnam photos
Saigon for the Marco Polo in all of us
The motorbike way
Reunification Express - Saigon to Da Nang
Phu Cat air base then and now
Gia My's photos - Phu Quoc Island
Bus and boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Letter from Cambodia
Bangkok, Thailand
Phu Cat Air base links

- Unification Express - Saigon to Da Nang -

Ga Sai Gon (Saigon Railway Station) is located in a compound, which is about a 15 minute motorbike/taxi ride from city center in district 1. Other than the classic steam locomotive centerpiece perched on an earthen berm outside the station it's about as dreary as a place can get.  Even at night with the crusty old steam engines is high lighted with colored lights its still far from what I would call a happy place.


Im not sure if I remember this right but it seems to me there is one building for buying tickets and another where you board the train. Anyway, I remember the location for buying tickets has a big sign in English saying just that. I also remember this was the last sign I remember seeing in English in the station.  If you need to buy tickets at the station look for the sign saying "Purchase tickets" and if youre already ticketed and looking to board the train, just follow all the folks with the suitcases, boxes and bags to the trains.


We had out tickets and as we sat in the battered little plastic chairs awaiting our train to board.  The energy of the awaiting holiday travelers released a contagious shiver of excitement, other wise the grungy, dimly lit interior would have felt even drearier than the compound we had entered through outside. 


This was my second Vietnamese train trip and as with my first getting a ticket wasnt easy.  Though both times were during the Tet holiday which is a crazy travel time so maybe it isn't always so hard to do. Tet is such a big deal that many of Vietnams businesses close during this period and some even give out bonuses to their employees.  So Vietnamese put the time and money to work and travel on holiday or return to the countryside to visit family over the holiday.


As with my first train trip I enlisted the help of a Vietnamese to purchase a ticket but it made easier this time, as I was traveling with two Vietnamese.   Van, Gia My and I made several trips to the station in gathering information and wandering around.  Then when it came to the actual buying of the tickets, Gia My ordered them over the phone and paid a dollar surcharge to have them delivered COD. No credit cards or online purchases here in the land of where cash is still king.  Interesting to note that most stations are not computer networked together so return tickets or onward bound tickets have to be purchased as you go.  However, according to a government announcement they are in the process of building a factory which will produce locomotives, go figure.


Our seat reservation was for an air conditioned car with soft seats on the SE 6 train car. Leaving Sai Gon at 15:00 and arriving the next morning in Da Nang at 06:30.  The price was 328,000 dong, plus the 16,000 delivery fee or approximately $ 21.50 US and seemed like a hell of a bargain at the time.


The cars running on the Vietnamese railroad are built compactly in order to run on the narrow gauge rail bed the French originally built a zillion years ago.  There dominative size and quant style give them a fairy tale like appearance as they chug on there way.  Though once inside these rectangular boxes, the romantic images faded quickly, and for me where replaced by the uneasy, claustrophobic feeling of confinement.  The cars interiors are laid out with rows of two seats flanking each side, with an isle of about a meter wide running down the center.  The car is further divided with half of the seats rows facing forward and half to the rear. So if your motion sensitive you might try specifying a front facing seat.  No checked luggage here, what ever you have goes with you to be stowed in the overhead rack above the seats, on the wall hooks strategically placed between the windows or were ever else you can find a spot.  Speaking of windows, all are sealed shut with curtains which seem to be always drawn shut as Vietnamese try to protect themselves from that devil sun.  Most places the rail bed is cut into the country side so you probably arent missing much if you can't see out the window but if youre like me you will always be prying open curtains. Our car had two TV monitors one for the front facing seat rows and the other for the rear facing ones. Mostly they were playing Vietnamese language stuff that no one seemed to care about.


You can walk between cars but again the area is sealed except for a little peep hole to the outside.  The cars are all non smoking so the air in these passages can get pretty thick because its also used by the smokers.  As the journey progresses the smoking areas expand into the WC's at the ends of the cars.  Our car had a WC with western style toilet, an improvement over the stand up one on my first train trip four years ago.  On that one you could watch the rail bed pass by under your feet.  Next to the WC is an open closet sized room with communal sink and mirror for your grooming pleasures. About now is Between the cigarettes smoke that bleeds through from the car passageway, an outside the temperature was of 90 plus with humidity to match and an AC unit that either blasts out cold air or mostly nothing the cars air was bad.


While, I sat in my seat focusing on the relaxation technique of drinking copious amounts of tiger beer, a young Vietnamese soldier forced his way past my seat tray into the seat next to me.  While in the process I lost my beer and a good part of my meal to my lap as he flashed me a blank express less face and an oh, excuse me.  While my pants would survive I missed the extravagance of spreading out over two seats. 


To be honest, when the AC was on and before the car started to fill up, along with my seat mate sliding in next tom the train wasnt all that bad.  So dont discount the idea ridding the train altogether maybe its just traveling over a big holiday like Tet was the cause of our discomfort.  Anyway, we disembarked in Da Nang and two days latter took a tourist bus to Hue.  Oh, when it was time for our return to Saigon we passed on train tickets and flew Vietnam Airways.