Yes, we took a second class Vietnamese sleeper train. In my defence, I booked First Class tourist tickets for this overnight train from Hanoi to Hue. I absolutely did not book second class tickets, at least not on purpose. There was certainly some kind of scam going on here.
Hannah thought the sleeper train was a great adventure. Emma also thought it was cool but wouldn’t take it again. Ben and Rob were laid back about it and had no complaints.
I barely survived. And I was a bit pissed at the scam going on.
Hanoi to Hue – First Class Sleeper Train Adventure
Like Halong Bay and the Old Quarter in Hanoi, the First Class overnight sleeper train between Hanoi and Hue is on the ‘must do’ list when you visit Vietnam. Flights are often less expensive than the train, so consider that.
The Livitrans and Violette first class tickets are generally for tourists, they’re in a separate car on the regular train and though not luxurious, they’re clean, bright and comfortable. Most appealing to me, they have white bedding (that’s important).
There are also First Class cars intended for locals that cost substantially less.
The second class sleeper tickets cost just a fraction of the price of the first class tickets and are geared to locals, though some budget back packers also buy them. As such, they’re abysmally uncomfortable and equally unclean. They’re actually called ‘hard sleepers’. Like a rock hard. And are narrow — made for Vietnamese size people.
Of course we were taking the Livitrans or Violette First Class sleeper cabins.
What Happened? – WhoTF Knows
I started the booking online myself but I could only reserve four berths at a time. Each cabin only had four berths and I didn’t want to be too separated. So I deferred to the expertise of our hotel trip desk. Five first class tickets on the tourist car were paid for. We’re pretty sure the hotel staff were not part of the scam. And they already reimbursed the price difference.
Anyway, we arrived at the train station a couple of hours before departure oblivious that our printed tickets were in a second class car. Thirty minutes before departure I finally figure it out but by then it was too late. The ticket manager had no sympathy and told us to contact the hotel.
Suspicious of a Setup
I’m not sure exactly when we became so mistrustful of locals involved with tourists but it happened shortly after we arrived in Vietnam. The three kids and I were all in the same crappy little cabin. Rob was in an adjacent cabin with a lone female local. Just the two of them.
I feared a setup and bribe girl guy type thing going on so to my later dismay, swapped spots with Rob. My cabin mate was odd. Shy and timid, no eye contact, pushed by us in the aisle with a huge suitcase type odd. Turns out she wasn’t the odd one.
Hot Stuffy Train Car Anyone? – Manipulation by Air Conditioner Deprivation
Shortly after departing the Hanoi train station, the whole train car got pretty hot and stuffy. Very odd since the other cars were nice and cool. I checked. Turned out there were quite a few tourists in our car and the train staff were trying to up-sell them to the first class tourist car.
It also turns out – wait for it – they had FIVE empty berths. Those are our seats being sold off one by one to the highest bidding too hot traveller.
I tried to jump in there and offer to buy them all up, the little f***ers, but I couldn’t muster bad enough manners to nab them out of the hands of others.
Once the first three tickets were gone, I did consider buying one for myself and abandoning my family…
When the crooked train staff sold off all five of our first class tourist seats and divvied up the US dollars, the air conditioning magically started working again.
Oh the joy of small comforts.
Defeated, I settled down on the lower berth of the kids’ cabin. Rob offered me a beer from his backpack. He was afraid of me.
Oh yay, warm beer.
I took the beer and felt a thrill of pleasure to find it was still cold from the hotel fridge. Small comforts. Rob may have been a bit disappointed that he had to share all his beer.
Thirteen Hour ‘Express’ Line – Not!
Hue is just under 670 kilometres from Hanoi. But no problem, the express trains only take 13 hours. I can’t imagine what the non Express trains are like but this one came to frequent screeching rumbling stops all night long. With long and loud announcements to go with each one.
At one of these late night stops, I got two new cabin mates. A local couple.
First they flicked on all the lights.
Shy odd girl gave them some Vietnamese verbal abuse. I appreciated this because the lights soon went out. I was armed with ear plugs and a sleeping mask but nothing could block out the noise of the TV show, the loud cell phone calls, and them jabbering to each other. An hour of this later, I may have got upset and I may have yelled at them. They ignored my English lashing and carried on.
Once the horking started, yes disgusting and they were both doing it, I was out of there. I shared a few parting words and the man lunged at me from the top bunk as I exited the cabin.
Crowded But Way Better
Ben was kind enough to share his tiny bunk with me. Surprisingly I dozed away most of the rest of the night on our slab of hardness.
I could go on. The train staff were rude and passively hostile. We could feel their disdain. They threw trash out the train window. And scowled as they went about their duties.
Overall, it was a completely unpleasant train ride. The uncomfortable cabin is one thing. I could handle that. The scamming though. And the dirty underhanded scheming to sell already sold berths. Especially the air conditioner thing. Clever, I’ll give them that.
The worst is the complete feeling of being totally unwelcome. Trapped on a 13 hour train ride. Never again!
How about you? Have you ever been scammed? Uncomfortable and trapped for long hours?
Thanks for reading!