The Sleeper Train

April 19, 2010 Vietnam by Steve Martin Edit

Jo decided we need an adventure within our adventure. I agreed. Both of us now don't quite regret it, but the sleeper train wasn't exactly the adventure we envisioned.


When you think of a sleeper train you may well think of romance. Perhaps of the Orient Express, or maybe the Indian Pacific. The sleeper train from Saigon to Da Nang is not quite either of these.

When we arrived at the station it was a bit busy, and like much of Saigon, a bit rundown. The train at the platform looked a little old, but OK.

When we made our way through the crush to get into our "private cabin" the reality sank in. It was, quite simply, dirty. Dirty in a way that showed it hadn't been cleaned with care in some months... even years. Dirty in a way that made it look a bit older than it probably was.

The cabin had four bunks, no seats, a rickety fold out table and torn curtains. It was our home for the next 17 hours.

The air conditioning did work, but only just. Emily broke into yet another sweat. Our little girl doesn't handle the heat too well. James on the other hand was oblivious. He was too excited by being on the train and kept asking if we were moving. The view out the window made it clear we were not, but he kept asking and asking and asking. [who truly knows the mind of a 3 year old?]

Once underway we made our little picnic with the food we had brought. French cheese and crackers, some fruit juice and a jam sandwich for the children.... all amongst the dirt and grime. It was then we saw the first cockroach creeping across the children's bed.

"I'm Sorry" Jo said. "Don't be" I answered. "I agreed to this as well".

After a while it seemed be going OK..... that was until I went to the bathroom. More dirt. The stench of urine. Filthy soap beside a grimy handbasin. Imagine the worst cliched public loo you can and you will have an idea of what we had to use. I wanted to take a photo but resisted in case the locals thought I was a bit weird or had me arrested.

While the dirt was one issue, the fact that children normally travel free at their age became another. The conductor came to the cabin telling us the children were free, and that we had two tickets we didn't need. What she wanted was get those two other tickets and then sell them and put someone else in the cabin with us.

I have always known my little Jo can be a bit fiery at times and just a bit stubborn, but I don't think the conductor was quite ready for dealing with her. A firm "No!" and she snatched our tickets back. That and a stare of outright defiance settled the matter. We had 4 tickets and we had our Private Cabin. 

In the morning she tried again, this time with me. Her attempt was half hearted, and she kept looking past me to Jo. She knew she was defeated before she began.

The good side of the train trip was that we saw lots of rice paddy's.... and I mean lots. Thousands of them in fact. I also discovered that while our carriage was rundown, it was one of the better ones. The other carriages had a stronger stench of garbage than ours, and they had more live chickens trussed up on the floor than ours. I didn't see any pigs though, so that was a minor disappointment.

Finally at Da Nang, and only 20 minutes late, we bundled ourselves off the train and into the care of the driver we had booked. In 40 minutes we arrived at our hotel on the beach at Hoi An.

A massive pool, restaurants, clean bathrooms and king sized beds, all for the next 6 days. [plus the room upgrade Jo swindled] and life looked a bit rosier again.

We all had a shower, we all had some proper food, we all had a sleep and prepared for a real family holiday.