Posted by: rob | July 24, 2007

Welcome to Nha Trang

We’re now in Nha Trang, Vietnam after a fun filled journey from Hoi An. Before arriving, I only knew of Nha Trang from the scene in Apocolypse Now where Martin Sheen receives his beachside mission orders to hunt down Marlon Brando. And that now it is filled with red shouldered sun seekers on holiday from Birmingham.

[Interruption as a fat American in Hawaiian shirt and panama hat refuses to pay US$0.37 for using the Internet for 45 mins. He shoves down $0.18 and walks off in a huff]. We have an hour until our train to Saigon so are using it here at the internet.

We probably haven’t made it clear that we’re doing the Vietnam portion of our trip from north to south. Vietnam is such a skinny country – 1800km long but only 50km wide in places – that you can’t help but do the regular trail in one of two directions. It is a long stretch from Hanoi to Saigon so the regular stopping points are Hue (12 hours by train from Hanoi), Hoi An (3 hours further on), Nha Trang (11 hours further) and then Saigon (9 more hours). This convenient position is about the only good reason to visit Nha Trang.

There is no train station at Hoi An, the nearest is Da Nang 45 minutes drive away. Transport costs about $6 by private air conditioned taxi.On the way you go past China Beach which was once a bad TV show about a vietnam war evacuation hospital.

In China, it poses a difficulty that train tickets go on sale only 4 days before departure. In Vietnam, it poses a difficulty that locals buy all the train tickets weeks in advance. We managed to buy soft seat tickets on the slow train (TN3) only. $12 for 11 hours on the train. The only thing soft is the cushioning, the rest can be hard going even after the 250 hours of travel we’ve done to get here from London. The hard seats, as we saw in the next carriage, are basically row upon row of wooden park benches. People travel the entire 35-40 hours from Hanoi to Saigon on these benches.


Our seats were already occupied by two Vietnamese octogenarians who barked and motioned that they were not going to move and we should use the seats opposite. There is a lot of chopping and changing of seat positions in these trains and spare seats are auctioned off en route (ie, the train guard resells empty seat upgrades to hard-sitters and pockets the money). 

As there are 60 seats in the train carr

iage this usually means 58 Vietnamese and the two of us. Half the seats face forward and half back so for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the trip you can watch the whispers flow that there are foreigners and spot some craning necks to get a view of the white people. Half the vietnamese put their feet up on the top of the seat in front. It is all good natured, though. On the previous trip, a man wanted to give me several cans of beer (even though it was 10am) and some dried fish to munch on, just because thats what they do here. On this trip a young girl came over to practise her Spanish with us. She was disappointed we only spoke English. It all settled down quickly, one of the octogenerians opposite fell asleep on the filthy floor of the aisle and the 6 year old boy in front bounced up and down for the next 11 hours.

Not much to speak of for the rest of the trip other than thirty minutes of violent puking four rows down. Some young woman must have emptied half her body weight into plastic bags. I know, because they kept taking the used bags past my face. The illness was no surprise, as the train also operates as the most unsanitary kitchen I could imagine. Barbequed pieces of mystery meat are put on skewers and thrown into a giant bucket that is pushed along the floor of the train. People finger and inspect the food before deciding the pieces that they’d like to buy to eat with their mystery vegetables (free). A stench trails the bucket down the aisle. I’ll never complain about airline food again. When we come to a station stop, everyone hops out and buys a cob of corn each to inoculate themselves against disease. 10 minutes later they each have a toothpick to the mouth. Another 5 minutes and out come the face washcloths that everyone carries with them. Other passengers also operate as pantries of goodwill. One man had a gigantic jar of pickled eggs that was passed around the carriage for people to take one each.

Our usual strategy is to eat a big meal just before getting on the train, and one soon after arrival. This time, we arrived in Nha Trang at closing time. We had a bowl of French Fries next to an empty lot full of rats the size of cats. Kim has a photo of one of the rats staring at us.

The hotels here are also a bit on the dodgy side. Double the price of the excellent hotel we had in Hoi An, but not even half the quality. Our door to the balcony, which is accessible from the corridoor, does not lock. The hot water doesn’t work. The shower leaks everywhere. There is no where to lock your valuables. Welcome to Nha Trang.

Despite all this, we didn’t mind the town so much. It’s just like a scrappy and down at heel version of Brighton with some sand and almost as many Brits. It was a good place to recouperate for 36 hours before heading to Saigon. But for any Northeners who have stumbled on this journal and are thinking of visited Nha Trang, do yourself a favour and spend the time in Hoi An instead!

– rob



  1. Its so good when people such as yourself put so much effort into a site. I am researching a train journey from Vietnam to London by train on behalf of my techno-phobe brother who probably still fears that the computer’s sole purpose is to take over the world and enslave humanity…
    Took a lot of info from your text, so thank you for that!
    I was just wondering if you had any tips upon the best route for him to take and any advice on the train companies to approach. Also, is there a any bargain one ticket journey deals? If you have the time could you maybe suggest a few pointers, many thanks…Ian.

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