Posted by: rob | July 25, 2007

Don’t miss Saigon – the 5 Star Express

To you this may look like an average couch in any waiting lounge but for us, after 250 hours of train travel through Asia, it was luxury. This is onboard the 5-Star Express train, “The most luxurious train in Vietnam”. It runs between Nha Trang and Saigon, a trip of 8-9 hours.

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We’ve caught 14 trains from London to Saigon, the only non-train stretch being a short hop over the China-Vietnam border by bus. I’ve lost count but we must have travelled around 20,000km. From here on in, we won’t see much in the way of trains. They are virtually non exisitent in Cambodia. Since we started the trip in style on the Eurostar we thought we’d reach Saigon in style.

The 5-Star express is a private train that is priced out of reach of most locals and as it isn’t in the guide books it doesn’t see too many foreigners either. Most of the foreigners were aboard as part of a resort package. The locals looked “monied”, the woman across from us was weighed down with various diamonds and so on. Since there is almost no information online about this train I thought I’d fill in the gaps for anyone stumbling across this page. We sat in the Club section, seats here cost 450,000 Dong ($30). We were aboard “Train #3” in Coach C1. The carriage only has 30 seats, but they are comfortable leather couches and each has a wood table. Unfortunately they don’t recline. You get a couple of cushions. Since the carriage was only half full, most people decided to spread out on to the double seats for a nap. Four english speaking staff look after you so there are plenty of blankets and beverages available throughout the trip. There is a power socket per seat, if that matters to you. A reasonable dinner appears to be served but since we are vegetarian we asked for a “no meat” meal when we booked the tickets. Of course this meant we got fish! There is a “multi-purpose area” that shows films in another carriage but in the seating carriage cartoons are played endlessly over hanging TVs.

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While it was all very comfortable and stylish, it was also boring and sterile. I felt like I was napping in Starbucks. If you want to relax and sleep this is the train for you. If this is your only chance to catch a train in Vietnam the regular services are definitely more interesting. On two occasions a regular service pulled up next to us at stations. It was as if the passengers on the other train had seen a spaceship with everyone waving and pointing at us. And several passengers in our carriage, who obviously hadn’t enjoyed normal asian travel travel, were startled by the conditions in the other train. At risk of sound like a Recreational Slummer [*], the regular train service would be my choice next time.

[*] Recreational Slumming: The practice of participating in recreational activities of a class one perceives lower than one’s own: “Karen! Donald! Let’s go bowling tonight! And don’t worry about shoes…apparently you can rent them.” – Douglas Coupland, Generation X

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Responses

  1. Looks a bit like the train I get into Kings Cross each day.

  2. Does it have Sky? Only joking, I wish the train to Waterloo was the same.

    JB

  3. That train is so funny!
    I shall be writing to Ken Livingstone to see if he can purchase a couple for the Circle Line!
    Mark


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