Today is Sunday, August 5th, it is 10:10 at night and I am writing this article on board of the King Express train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, Vietnam, a journey of approximately 7 hours. The trip had been planned with much anticipation as part of my summer vacations with my daughter Silvana (11) and son Pablo (15), whom I do not live with, but they either travel where I live in China each year, or we plan to meet somewhere in the world and travel for a month. This summer, our trip consisted going to Singapore for 10 days and enjoy the beauty of that small Southeastern country, along with its very organized structure, extremely clean streets and my most favorite, the huge variety of delicious food there.
After leaving Singapore, we flew to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, or commonly still called by many, Saigon. During our short stay there, we rented two motorcycles and rode to the Cuchi Tunnels, the place were many Vietnamese soldiers and civilians hid during the bombardment of planes and from the United States soldiers during the Vietnam war. Visiting the tunnels and walking through them, I could feel how horrific it must have been for those people hiding for months on end in those tunnels, while the shaking of the earth resounded through the ground. Back at the city, we had the opportunity to try our favorite dishes, Vietnamese Pho and Banh Mi, which I never seem to get tired of them.
After staying three nights in Ho Chi Minh, we flew to Hanoi, the capital of the country, where we relaxed for a night, continued eating delicious Vietnamese food, visited their night markets and prepared for our journey the following day by train to our next and final destination, Sapa.
having booked the tickets online with plenty of time in advance on their webpage http://www.vietnamrailwaycorp.com had proved an easy task. The tickets had been purchased so much in advance that they had sent an e-mail in reply stating that our tickets were not ready for release, but they would send them later in the month of July, all without any problems.
Today, we took a taxi to the train station about one hour and a half in advance to our departure, where our physical tickets waited for us at the ticket office. We waited for less than 30 minutes, checked in at the gate and began our walk to our assigned train, wagon and room number. I had previously read about this trip and traveling with kids, the best way was to do it by train on a soft sleeper bed on the King Express, where each wagon is divided in small rooms with two bunk beds.
If you are traveling with big luggage, it may not be a good idea, but each room has plenty of space for at least four medium size (airplane caring size luggage) or backpacks for the most adventurous travelers. Each bed is conditioned with an individual light, as well, the room has a ceiling light and a small lamp on top of the desk at the center of the room. Each room is also equipped with an individual air conditioning system, enough to keep all four passengers cool enough during the long night trip.
Although a bit bumpy throughout the journey, the train is comfortable enough to sleep well and wake up fully rested at the final destination, in our case at the train station of Lao Cai, about 300 kilometers away. Each bed has clean sheets, a nice pillow and a cover to keep you warm. There is also a courts in on the window of each room to keep all lights away while you sleep comfortably to your destination. If you are hungry during the trip, no problem. On the table of your room you will find some cookies and water and if you have a bigger appetite, you can simply walk out of your room and look for one of the assistants who can help you with a wide variety of snacks and beer.
Each wagon of the train is also equipped with two sinks to wash your face and brush your teeth, although for safety, I would not recommend anyone to drink the water coming out from the faucets and bringing at least one bottle of water per person is highly recommended. Each wagon also has another wash and a decent enough toilet equipped with a powered flush. The odor coming out from the tank below may be a bit strong, but what can you expect from a wagon which is at least fifty years old. I think the railway company in Vietnam has gone beyond their limits to accommodate people so well (particularly tourists wanting to travel comfortably) on their trains. Somehow these people have managed to restore and keep operating these old trains in a way that my own country failed to maintain theirs and which throughout the years, the huge railway service along the long and narrow South American country was cut little by little to its final extinction, leaving no other options other than by bus or air.
Before boarding, my kids where particularly worried about the person who would share the fourth bed in our room, something which sort of worried me a bit, but we where lucky enough to get assigned a young French girl named Margaux Hazan, who apparently was traveling alone in Vietnam and which happened to live in Spain and spoke perfect Spanish. Apparently she was quite tired, because along with my kids, she fell asleep within the first hour of the journey.
The rest of the trip last night was quite bumpy and after sleeping with my head by the wall where the window is located, I knew something was quite wrong. I quickly realized that because my head was resting right on top of the metal wheels which constantly made noise while making contact with the track and the shocks above them absorbed all the motion of the wagon thus making sleeping almost impossible. The solution to this problem was easy, I had decided to change position and place my pillow and head on the other side of the bed, facing the entrance to the room. From that moment on, my sleep was much better, although I did not sleep much because I wrote most of this article during the journey.
As a final recommendation, If you are a light sleeper and any noise wakes you up, riding the train the way we did, may not be the best option for you, although if you are in for the adventure and loosing sleep most of the night, then you should be fine.
I hope this information is able to help many people wanting to travel to Sapa, Vietnam and your comments are always welcome.
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