My brother, his girlfriend, their mate Dan and I have spent a lovely overnight cruise on the calm waters of the magnificent heritage listed Ha Long Bay and after an equally lovely breakfast it is time for our Junk boat to return us to the solid ground of Bai Chay where I am reunited with my passport (insert sigh of relief here).
I am on my own now as my brother, his girlfriend and Dan will continue exploring Vietnam on their motorbikes. Having given my motorbike away as a bad joke after the first day of riding, I have booked myself on a bus back to Hanoi, which also includes a lunch stop.
My bus deposits me back in welcoming Hanoi at 4:45pm.
While on the Junk, one of the staff was lovely enough to offer to pre-arrange a ticket for me for the evening departure on the Reunification Express. This “express” train will transport me to Hue in 11 short hours – give or take.
On arrival back in Hanoi I collect my ticket which confirms “Ha Noi to Hue”, departure time 7:20pm, booking for Coach 6, Level 2, Berth 24. Cost VND$433,000 (AU$34). I’m all set.
To my surprise, shortly after arriving in Hanoi and collecting my ticket for the Reunification Express, I get a text from my brother saying “Were dropping bikes off in Hanoi. We should be about 2 hours. Can you get us tix 4 your train“. I don’t believe it!
I make my way to the train station by taxi which drops me off on the wrong side of the station (yeah… welcome back to Hanoi !!). This means a 500 metre walk to get around to the other station entrance. I know that’s no big deal but can I put something out there for the suggestion box… a station overpass here would be useful (hmmm).
Eventually I (literally) wrangle 3 more train tickets for the others. I am not sure there is much familiarity with orderly queuing here in Hanoi and the old fashioned concept of “take your turn”. I only manage to finally get me some tickets after I begin to utilise my backpack and techniques involving extended elbows to keep people from pushing in from the side… when in Rome alright!
I text my brother “I have 4 tickets. 7:20pm leave. There are 2 stations – north and south bound. U want south bound on “Le Duan Street”. All separate sleeping births – tried but all I could get.”
If only Alex were here. I text Alex to update him: “Ha Long fantastic. Would you believe I am back in Hanoi. Getting Reunification Express tonight to Hue. Will only take 11 hours (that’s express?). Others have now ditched bike too.”
I meet up with the others and discover that today (being their first full day of riding on the motorbikes) was a nightmare because of the traffic and not being able to read road signs etc and it all became too frustrating and too hard so they decided to hand back the motorbikes in Hanoi. I somehow felt quite vindicated that they only managed to last two more days on the motorbikes than I did… and they actually know how to ride a motorbike!
Finally we find the right platform, having walked over two sets of train tracks and in front of (stationary) trains.
We find our carriage, board the train and are on our way to Hue. Our 4 berth sleeper is a decent enough size and our cabin is clean. A couple of carriages down we can get something to eat and drink. Probably not surprisingly, communal facilities on the train were filthy and let me tell you it is tricky to manage not to touch anything while travelling on a moving “express” train. Having left Hanoi in darkness we couldn’t see much but we did get to see some of the countryside through our scenic size cabin window in the morning as we approached Hue .
The Reunification Express was a real experience which I loved. Our arrival in Hue – 9:30am.[showmyads]
For previous Vietnam post see Ha Long Bay, Vietnam – a magnificent World Heritage Site
For next Vietnam post see Hue, Vietnam and the royal tombs of Emperor Minh Mang and Emperor Khai Dinh