Taking a train journey with a train obsessed toddler is colourful experience of pleasure and pain. Taking a night train in Vietnam multiplies the experience. As a light sleeper, I’m not a fan of night trains. They rock and jolt about here and there, I’m constantly needing to wee and have to deal with hygienically challenged toilets, and I can never relax – always anxious that someone is going to break into our locked cabin and pinch our stuff. It’s all nonsense anxiety, but it means that night trains and me do not mix. Ben on the other hand sleeps like a baby, and our baby sleeps like a baby too (which is a relief) – so it was only me that arrived at our destination with bloodshot eyes.
We boarded a 10pm overnight train to Sapa, North Vietnam, leaving a rainy Hanoi behind. Vietnam has a fantastic train network of punctual (do you hear that British Rail), well populated and affordable rolling stock that serve a vast number of towns nationwide. You can chose sleeping berths, semi-reclining, padded or wooden seats and encounter food carriages, beverage sellers, variety of soup vendors and even what look liked a “duty-free” type cart that had toys/books/gadgets for sale within the carriages. Recent years has also seen the addition of pure tourist carriages with slightly plusher furnishings and sometimes cleaner toilets. As these tickets were over double the cost of the original standard sleeper fares, we didn’t take these and instead bunked down with the locals in their sleeper carriages. We did book out the 4th berth in our cabin though – just in case things got tough with Zaki, we wanted some privacy. As it was, he loved our journey, and learned lots about the railway. Here are some excerpts of our train chat:
Upon boarding –
Zaki “I’m long. I’m a gouwn [grown] up. I can sleep up three” – pointing to the upper bunk.
Parents “Err, no, your not. You’ll fall off.”
Zaki: “What’s that noise?”
Parents: “It’s people getting on the train.”
Z: “Are they talking to the driver?” ” Does he have a steering wheel?”
Leaving the station. Train starts moving:
“We’re going. Bye bye”
“I said goodbye to my taxi”
“Where’s the front of the train?”
“We’re on the bridge. We went on the bridge. Papa see out here. Papa – what you doing? Papa. Papa. Papa.”
Meanwhile Ben’s got his headtorch out and is examining the airconditoning vent as it’s too cold in the cabin and he wants to manually try to fix it. Give me strength….
Anyway, we reached our destination Sapa at around 6am and wowed by the views. Sapa is in the beautiful mountains of North Vietnam and is a great hillside town.
We spent a few days exploring, we met tribeswomen from the Hmong tribes, brightly dressed women who work hard as trek and village guides, many expertly carrying their little babies on their back as they work, we took a cable car up the highest peak in Indochina (newly opened attraction, prohibitively expensive for locals at $20 a ticket but you do get to the top of the mountain in 20 mins whereas previously it would take 2 days of climbing!) and marvelled at the engineering feat of the world’s longest three wire cable car. Zaki absolutely loved the cable car.
From Sapa we ventured south to Ninh Bihn – a stunning area full of Karst formations that dramatically rise out of the land, and are juxtaposed next to lush green paddy fields, lakes and small villages. It’s stunning. We explored by bicycle, climed high rocks, took boat trips and discovered the Hollywood film set for the latest King Kong movie! We could totally understand why King Kong would be right at home in this region – it is most apt for a giant ape.
After a few weeks of cold temperatures and wearing socks Ben and I were looking forward to heading to warmer climates. I did not come to Asia to wear socks god-dammit. The city of Hoi – An and the beach was calling. Our expert traveller Zaki was a star on the flight South – we’re so proud of how he handles each journey!! I loved Hoi-An. It’s a beautiful ancient town full of Chinese and Japanese merchant houses and a thriving market. It’s also jammed packed full of tourists. Crazily – so. It kind of kills the vibe. Hoi-An is also THE place to get clothes made. Every street has hundreds of tailor shops on it. Some are good, some are bad but all are super interesting and fun to spend some time in! We got some clothes made (well, Ben just got a pair of shorts and I went a bit crazy for trousers – made to measure trousers?? Yes please!) and all shipped off to Australia for the Aussie winter and our 3 month stint there.
We stopped in Hoi-An for 6 days. Enough for Zaki to be loved by everyone at our guesthouse, and do Ben and I to get some much needed down time with and not move for a few days. Travelling is amazing, but it’s also fantastic to put your bag down for a while 😉