Da Nang (Vietnam), 30.07.2013
After two days in a chic hotel and a big city it was time again to see something else. So this morning at 06:25 I took a train north. The cab driver that drove me to the station was probably the slowest one I’ve ever seen. It took him ages to get to 30km/h after every red light, and we stopped at several ones. But I made it on time to the train, that left Saigon shortly after I boarded. I had booked what was supposedly the most expensive class of seats, a first class berth in a compartment of 4. As I got to my seat there was a mother with her two small children already seated. I admit I’m no fan of trains, to put it mildly. Apart from some high speed trains in Europe the only other trains I took in the last 15 years were a sleeping car in France and a Swedish-donated, pretty rotten train in Bosnia. I find trains dirty, slow, disgusting, and a product of statist run companies that seem to have other priorities then serving their customers well. And this one in Vietnam confirmed my worst expectations, exceeding even the horrors of travelling on Italian state run trains of the eighties that I remember from my childhood.
I slept the first three hours, but then the kids decided it was time to wake me up crying and shouting at high frequencies. Also, the aircon had stopped working. It smelled in the car, so I took a tour to see the rest of the train. All cars were completely filthy already shortly after leaving Saigon. Not just the toilets, but everything. It smelled, with different intensity in the different cars. There were one first class sleeping car with wooden walls and 4 berths per cabin and one more with normal plywood walls, two second class sleeping cars with 6 berths per cabin, 2 second class seating cars, and one third class car with wooden benches. All these had aircon. Then there were three third class cars with wooden benches and just fans. Here people slept on the dirty floors on mats. An atmosphere of resignation prevailed. I found an empty seat in the third class car and spent some time looking at the countryside and writing. Unfortunately the windows were so dirty I couldn’t take any pictures of the beautiful landscape. We passed along endless rice fields in bright green, dotted with palms, cut into pieces by canals. Seen from the distance of the train they seemed very orderly laid out and well kept. This would have been a spectacular country to drive through. Left and right of the train tracks though there were piles of litter. Later in the day hills and mountains covered in lush tropical vegetation passed by. We crossed small villages, with ramshackle houses and people working on the fields.
Back in my cabin, with every stop it started to fill up. In the afternoon, more people arrived until I was surrounded by three mothers, one grandma and six kids of no more then three years of age. They converted the cabin into a kitchen, climbing area, shouting room or playground, depending on the kids’ mood. It smelled, and the floor was covered with litter. My trolley had been laid on that floor and converted into a jump pad for the kids. The day went by sleeping, reading, watching out of the window. And waiting for this ordeal to come to an end. At 23:30 we finally reached Da Nang and I could get off the train and to the hotel. I tried not to think about the next two train rides expecting me over the next days.