Tuesday 27th August: Phnom Penh to Hanoi
Bus Ticket: US$12 with Sapaco buses, bought at the hostel 2 days before
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 09:00 to 15:00
Actual Departure/Arrival: 09:17 to 15:48
Train Ticket: US$115 bought 2 weeks in advance through http://www.vietnamimpressive.com
Scheduled Departure/Arrival: 19:00 to 03:51 Thursday 29th
Actual Departure/Arrival: 18:59 to 04:24 Thursday 29th
Once again I start the next leg of my trip with little excitement, buses do that. Still it’s the last one I’ll have to take.
We leave late at 09:17, after a couple of hours we come to a halt and wait for 15min before being loaded on to a ferry with other vehicles. We are ferried across a wide brown river (I assumed was the Mekong) it doesn’t look as though the ferry business has much of a future as a bridge is being constructed in the distance.
The journey is all down a poorly maintained single lane road which offers sudden potholes to wake everyone up. I managed to claim the back row so had a good snooze through this. We stopped about 1pm for lunch, a tasty bowl of noodles. Then on to the border crossing. The Vietnamese border officials probably winning the prize , Most Grumpy SE Asia 2013.
Crossing into Vietnam the change is noticeable, now on a two to three lane road and iconic conical hats providing shade to those working outside. We entered Saigon about on time but the traffic took hold and we spent over an hour to get to the bus depot.
After changing some money, instantly becoming a millionaire I had some fun with a taxi driver. I directed “Train station please” and got the response “Okay sir”. Judging by his response I wasn’t certain he knew where I wanted to go. This was confirmed when we passed the same rows of shops for the third time. I piped up “train station?” he responded “airport”. Not great but he had exactly one more word of English than I did Vietnamese. I dug out a picture of a train on my iPad and much laughter and train impressions followed.
At the station I picked up my tickets from a young man waiting for me and relaxed for a couple of hours in the coffee shop there. I had a ticket on the SE2 train sometimes called the Reunification Express, which covers 1072 miles between Saigon and Hanoi.
I settled into my lower bunk and was soon joined by a couple of German backpackers on the top bunks and young local mum traveling with her daughter going to her home town. After trundling out of the city we hit the countryside, by this time it was dark so I got into a book before going to sleep quite early.
The train seems to wake just as the sun starts to appear over the hills around 5.30am. People were busy making tea or warming up instant noodles to start the day. We are well into the countryside now and the views are of rural Vietnam. Paddy fields, water buffalo’s and people going out to work on bicycles.
Just before lunch we arrive at Danang and most of the passengers depart, I have the 4 berth cabin to myself now. It’s around then the air con decides to pretty much pack up and the room gets hotter and hotter. Apparently its stopped right up and down the train as a few tourists come into my carriage looking for working A/C. This soon becomes pretty unpleasant, you can’t open the window in the cabin so it turns the wood lined room into a sauna.
From Danang the scenery is quite extraordinary, we travel along the jungle covered cliff face overlooking beaches, islands and the South China sea. In the distance cloud topped mountains tower above. It is a fantastic hour or so.
The views settle back into paddy fields and occasional stops, It is pretty hot and sticky in the train now and I start to count down the hours before a cold shower and A/C in Hanoi. I pass the time reading books, snoozing and occasional taking some of the food on offer at the stations or pushed down the train on trolleys.
Finally 33 and a half hours after departure at about 4.30am , we arrive and a quick taxi trip to the hotel means my reward of a cold shower. Next stop Beijing, I hope it’s not as hot!