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Published: June 11th 2017
It's about 7:30 am and I'm typing from my top bunk on the Reunification Express, heading to Danang (where we will transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An doesn't have a railway station). We are on the somewhat optimistically named "sleeper" train. Each very small cubicle has four narrow beds, two up and two down as you'll see from the photos. The beds come with a sheet and a comforter and a pillow, but the cleanliness has a lot to be desired. Best not to think about it too much!
I slept pretty well here on the top bunk, after the rest of our partying group quieted down about midnight. We brought a six pack of "333" beer on board, and Bryden and Kim (our roomies) had a bottle of Johnnie Walker and others had vodka. I think there may be some hungover members of our group this morning! The last thing I wanted was to feel crappy on the train (plus I didn't want to be clambering down from the top bunk to the not-very-happy-loo at the end of the car in the middle of the night) so I just had one beer. There is a western style toilet at
one end of the car and a squat toilet at the other end. I used the western one exclusively, I can't imagine using a squat toilet on a moving train! This is not exactly a smooth ride.
We had bought baguette sandwiches from a cafe in Saigon to bring on board, which we had for dinner, and chocolate and almond croissants which we had for breakfast. We also had the really good small bananas they have in Southeast Asia, and Kim and Bryden had the three in one coffee packets so we had coffee too.
We expect to get into Danang about 11:30 (we left at 7:30 last night so it will be a 17 hour train journey), and I think it's 40 min or so to Hoi An. We will go directly to our hotel for much appreciated showers, then go for an orientation walk around Hoi An.
Yesterday we met our group at 7:30 am, having packed up and checked out of our rooms. We had 3 rooms to store our luggage in and later to freshen up in before the night train. We drove out to the Cu Chi tunnels, an hour and a
half or so drive from Saigon. These are an extensive set of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war. The Viet Cong were extremely resourceful and very ingenious in devising ways of protecting themselves and living in the tunnels.
We were shown a very small entrance to the tunnels, which had a wooden cover and once covered by leaves would be very well camouflaged. I had a go lowering myself down the entrance - it was very small and dark inside!
We toured the site for a few hours (it was quite a sunny day and very lot and humid). At one point we could go into the tunnels, which I did for a few hundred metres (Susan didn't want to go, I think the heat and humidity were getting to her). The tunnels were very low, so we had to be very bent over as we clambered through. It was a relief to get out of the tunnels and I can't imagine spending any length of time down there. We sampled a staple of the Viet Cong, roasted tapioca root, which was ok ... the cat who was there liked it more than I
After the Cu Chi tunnels we drove back to Saigon where we had a fast and very tasty lunch at Pho 2000, where Bill Clinton ate during a visit when he was President (there is a sign there telling people what he and Chelsea ordered!) I had a really good vegetarian Pho (pronounced "fah" here), Susan had chicken Pho, and we both had an iced coffee.
After lunch we drove to the War Remnants Museum, which had numerous American military equipment on the outside, a replica of prison cells, and many different displays of photographs of the war inside (the photographs of civilian casualties and victims of Agent Orange were particularly distressing. The effects of Agent Orange were felt for many generations). After awhile I just couldn't face another horrible photograph of a terribly disabled and disfigured child.
The theme of the museum, not surprisingly, was very anti-American, and though I certainly have no support of the American involvement in the war and the effects on the population and the environment were truly horrendous, I think a few issues were conveniently left out, like the way American prisoners of war were treated. The replica prison cells
Entry to tunnels
It's a lot smaller than it looks!
showed how terribly the Communist prisoners were treated by the puppet government installed by the French (who didn't leave Vietnam until their defeat in 1955) but I think the North Vietnamese treated their prisoners just as badly.
After the museum we stopped at the Catholic cathedral (built in 1880) and the Post Office (a French colonial building built in 1898). Dark clouds had formed and it looked like there would be a downpour, but it never materialized, just a few sprinkles.
Then back to the hotel where we stocked up on supplies for the train journey (we went to a French cafe for baguette sandwiches and pastries to go, and a fruit shop for some fruit) and then had a quick shower in one of the shared rooms, and got all our bags sorted out. We had a bit of time so Susan and I went to a nearby cafe for really excellent iced coffees, then back to the hotel ready for our 6:30 departure for the train station.
We had our sandwiches and beer for dinner, and chatted with our roomies and other groups members then called it a night. Others in our group partied till
after midnight and I think annoyed other people trying to sleep in the car. I had earplugs and didn't expect to get to sleep till later so I wasn't too bothered. With the addition of the two young couples the average age in our group has gone down (most of the group members are in their 20s and 30s, Kim, Bryden and Chris 40s I think).
I'll add photos to this entry, then maybe nap a bit before we get into Danang.
It's 2:30 and we've arrived at our hotel in Hoi An. It's a nice hotel and Hoi An looks like a cute town. Will drop off laundry now and meet group for walk around town and late lunch.
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