It is roughly 1,726km by rail from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (it is still called Saigon by most), significantly less than the distance traversed by the trans Siberian link. Our train journey was split into four train rides and when we disembarked in Saigon Ruth proclaimed that she was extremely happy that we decided not to undertake that latter trip (as we had been thinking of doing).
Each train that we caught had originated in Hanoi and as our boarding points moved further south the condition of the trains reflected the distance traveled. It did not bother me too much but Ruth tends to be a bit fussier and did struggle, particularly on the last leg from Nha Trang to Saigon where the two days of prior occupation did tend to show in the condition of the berths and especially the bathrooms.
It was an interesting journey, the landscape was constantly changing and we had some interesting experiences along the way with our fellow travelers. I found that holding a conversation via Google translate is challenging, especially when the other person wants you to use the microphone. Instead of coming out as “how long have you been in petroleum exploration”, it would come out as something extremely inappropriate such as “I would like to marry your sister”. However, we got there in the end, kind of, and by the end of the trip; ages, family details and a lot of other information had been exchanged.
There is one aspect of Vietnam that started out as a novelty but can to wear you down. The motorcycles, the volumes have increased as we moved south. The otherwise very polite and serene Vietnamese people take on a different persona when astride their motorcycle. We learned today that there are 60 million motorcycles in Vietnam with 6 million in Saigon, I think we have encountered all of them.
As a pedestrian you are at the bottom of the “foodchain”. The Vietnamese don’t walk, probably because of the heat, and I suspect they consider people who do walk to be mentally deficient and fair game as road or footpath kill. In Saigon they do have footpaths but as we quickly found out, they are considered an extension of the road by motorcyclists who ride up behind you and beep their horn for you to get out-of-the-way. Others motor past at pace and very close to you, Ruth got swiped by one but survived to tell the tale.
We were happy to leave Saigon behind and head out into the Mekong Delta where we again had a combination of boat and bike transport. Both were great and reinforced that getting “up close and personal” in the countryside, has been an aspect of our travels that we seem to get our most enjoyable experiences from.
Travel through the Delta has been slow, the roads are terrible and choked with bicycles and motorcycles but the sights and experiences have been memorable. People are well fed but by western standards very poor. However, compared to most western countries, including our own, they seem far happier.
We are in Chou Doc tonight, 3km from the Cambodian border. The guide we had dropped us at the hotel with the advice that we won’t find anyone that speaks or understands English. “Just point” was his advice. Hopefully we will get to the boat for our trip up the river to Phnom Phen and not end up getting married to someones sister instead.