rice paddies

Rice paddies along the Reunification Express tracks.

Train Travel Thorough Vietnam

Perhaps it is the desire to see the place that I am traveling through, perhaps it is the people I always end up meeting along the way or perhaps it is the desire to travel in an environmentally conscious way; whatever the reason, I am drawn time and again to overland travel instead of the air.

So, once more I found myself desperately trying to cram my oversized rucksack into the tiny space allocated for luggage beneath the bottom bunk before I could climb up to my bed above it. This small space, with four beds and three other passengers would be my home for the next couple of days as I travel from Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam, to Hanoi, the capital in the north.

I alternated between sitting on the bottom bunk, staring out of the train window, and standing in the corridor outside the cabin, staring out of the other train window. Occasionally I got up to get myself another cup of tea, or some instant noodles, from the unlimited hot water supply at the end of the carriage, but mostly I was content to simply watch as the world outside the window unfolded then disappeared from view.

Green rice paddies stretched out to the horizon, unfamiliar trees hung heavy laden with ripening fruit and huge, round haystacks, adorned every passing field. The world outside was distinctly unfamiliar to my foreign eyes and I was totally captivated by it. Even the simplest things to locals were fascinating to me; the water buffalo being ridden home by children and the motorbikes impossibly stacked with cages containing chickens and ducks.

Men and women were working in the fields in wide, cone-shaped hats, just as I had imagined before I had ever stepped foot in Asia. They were carrying huge baskets, pulling out green shoots and tossing them into a pile on the dirt track beside them. I could not work out as I watched from my little bubble if it was weeds being thrown out or crops being harvested.

The landscape changed with little warning. I saw mountains and hills, blue-grey in the distance, I saw that extraordinary turquoise that only the sea can be in coves otherwise deserted. Forests, more like jungle, rose up and swallowed the train whole.


Villages along the Reunification Express tracks.

And periodically of course, there were the towns and cities. Tall buildings, not quite skyscrapers, in the distance and, in their shadow, ramshackle shelters built of old bits of wood and corrugated iron propped up against the railway line fence. All the while, I was hurtling or shuffling along beside, allowed for a brief time to witness and wonder about the lives of those I have passed by and to be awed by the beauty I have seen.

Until finally, on the morning of my third day, I was awoken by the lights and a loud announcement in a language I cannot understand.
We had arrived in Hanoi.

Descending the steps of the train into the station felt at once disorientating. The calm of the train, another world floating through the countryside, is replaced with the startling reality of early morning Hanoi.

Written by: Laura Ricketts

Laura Ricketts picLaura loves the wild places of the world and is always looking for journeys that will take her to the remote corners of the globe. She enjoys traveling slowly, taking the time to explore a place before moving on to the next. When she is not writing, she likes to cycle, rock climb and camp on beautiful beaches. Follow her at:



All Photo Credits: Laura Ricketts

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