Tag Archives: Ninh Binh

On the Reunification Express – round two

Three days after my first experience on the Reunification Express (read here), I decided to give it another go.
This time SE8 from Ninh Binh to Hanoi. Less than three hours, afternoon journey.

Did I book my ticket online this time? Nah. Last minute decision, plus Ninh Binh doesn’t seem enabled for online bookings.
So I turned up at the station 20 minutes before train departure time, only to find out that the ticket office wouldn’t open until 1pm.

Hold on! The train departs at 12:52 but the ticket office opens at 13:00??? How is that going to work?!
“No worry madam” a local man told me “you can buy ticket before train. Sit please”.
Mmmmmm, does he know that the train is very late and all will be fine? No idea, I was not convinced and he wouldn’t explain. I had no choice. Sit and wait.
Not that I managed to do that for more than five minutes! I was completely restless and kept moaning so I decided to start the queue at the ticket window.
I. Am. First. In. Line.
Well, I was. Until some locals decided to arrive from the sides and push to the front. Heeeey! There’s a damn queue here!  I live in England, the land of orderly queuing, do not mess around with me! After a few minutes of me moaning at them very loudly (and everyone watching me) they all backed off. Yay!
When the ticket lady finally decided to grace us with her presence at 1:30pm (and still no sign of the train, luckily), I only managed to buy a ticket for a hard seat coach. No soft seats available. Oh well. For 58,000 dong (less than US$2) I can surely sit on a wooden bench in a crowded coach for just over 2.5 hours!
And so I did.

Hard seats area
Hard seats area

It was crowded (but not as bad as it could have been). Loud. Dirty. Smelly. Very hot. Luggage everywhere. People everywhere. Food everywhere (mainly on the floor). And I was surrounded by a group of very loud ladies who kept shouting on their phones and at each other. Deaf now.
But it was all part of the travelling experience (I am a spoilt Westerner, after all) and I regret nothing of it.

Also I met a superhelpful Vietnamese lady who – in great English – gave me lots of tips and info about Hanoi.

The little note from the Vietnamese lady
The little note from the Vietnamese lady

And this is what I love about travelling!!!

The amazing landscape around Ninh Binh

When Tom and Norma, whom I met at the Nguyen Shack homestay in the Ninh Binh area, asked me if I wanted to join them for a half day trip to Trang An I said Yes even if I had no idea what was there to see. After all I had no plans for the day.

We rode our bicycles for about 5Km on very muddy and rough terrain (Tough Mudder, here I come!) and when we arrived at the Trang An pier we paid 150,000 dong entrance fee and got on a small boat, joined by a Vietnamese men.

For the following two and a half hours, our boat woman took us around (rowing sometimes with her hands and sometimes with her feet!) amongst amazing limestone hills. We visited several grottoes, where we often had to duck down, we got off the boat to see pagodas dotted along the river, but mainly we enjoyed the fantastic scenery.
This is Ha Long Bay on land!

Inside one of the grottoes
Inside one of the grottoes
On the river
On the river
More limestone hills
More limestone hills

There were several other boats on the river, but overall it wasn’t busy. The area is mainly visited by Vietnamese tourists, while Westerners seem to go to Tam Coc instead.

After the boat tour, we cycled further to reach Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam (10th-11th century), but we decided not to visit. We had been advised that there was not much to see there. So instead we turned into a side road and through two tunnels to reach the “secret valley”. In front of us another set of limestone hills like a natural theatre. Absolutely stunning!

Your travel blogger in the "secret valley"!
Your travel blogger in the “secret valley”!

After this, I think I will give Ha Long Bay a miss! ;-)

Update 27 June 2014: at the 38th session of the World Heritage committee (15-25 June 2014, Doha) Trang An was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

On the Reunification Express

There is a pot with flowers on the small table by the window. I have never had that before on a train.

In my train cabin
In my train cabin

This is the SE20 Reunification Express train from Da Nang to Hanoi. I have got on board in Hue’ and will get off in Ninh Binh in the morning – a 12-hr overnight ride for $46.
Memories of my “epic journey from Da Lat to Hoi An” (click here) make me pray for an uneventful one.

The train itself – when it finally arrives in Hue’, 45 minutes late, not too bad for a start I am told – doesn’t look bad. It reminds me of trains in Italy in the early 80’s. Very basic. But it’s clean.

I booked my ticket online on the Vietnam Railways website and the ticket was efficiently delivered to my hotel in Hue’. A lot of Westerners told me that they had tried to do the same but not found the correct website. So I am grateful to my local contact in Ninh Binh for sending me the right URL!

My berth
My berth

I have a lower berth in a 4-berth soft sleeper cabin. An Australian girl is already in when I get on board. A Vietnamese man joins us an hour later and spends the whole night coughing and spitting. But there are no other disturbing factors.

The cabin is initially very hot but at some point the a/c kicks in and I have to make use of the blanket provided. I wonder how often blankets and pillows are washed/changed. But I don’t see major causes of worry.
I spot one coackroach in the morning but I guess it could be worse.
And it’s quiet. Quite unusual, a regular ‘commuter’ tells me.

We arrive in Ninh Binh at 9:30am. 45 minutes late. It’s ok.
All in all a fairly smooth train journey!