Very long train rides through Vietnam -from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh via Hoi An

Grey, rainy, polluted and not always friendly – cutting our stay in Vietnam short


We did not enjoy Vietnam as much as we did other countries in South East Asia. I think it’s a combination of suffering from travel fatigue, the grey and rainy weather, a lack of genuine friendliness and hospitality in some of the places we visited, a feeling of constantly being ripped off and perhaps also false expectations in comparing Vietnam to Thailand. Therefore, 2 weeks into our Vietnam stay, while in Cat Ba we took the decision to cut our stay here short and head back to spend our last 2 weeks in we Asia back in Thailand.

Bus, boat and train from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh city

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1 hr speed boat to Cat Ba

To get back to the mainland from Cat Ba you have to take a bus, a speed boat and then another 4 hr bus to Ninh Binh. Originally we had planned to stay here for a few days but as we wanted to get out of Vietnam quicker than planned, we only stayed 1 night at the Viet Nhat Hotel before continuing the train further south. Ninh Binh town has nothing to offer in terms of sights really. The main attraction people come here for is the amazing surrounding karst mountains. Due to our long train trip, we opted not to go exploring them and spent the morning doing school work before catching the 16hr night train to Hoi An.

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Catching the  N1 train in Ninh Binh

16 hr night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An

The N1 train at 15.48 was very basic, old, small and rickety. Scott and me slept in the bottom bunks with and ingrid and Paul in the top.

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Snug as a bug in a rug on the top bunk
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Scott in his ilk liners ,  extremely useful for nights like this

There was basic food for sale on board but we know from previous night trains that it’s not very appetising so had brought our own snacks and fruit to last us the journey. Pork baguettes purchased at the hotel, biscuits with sweets for a late night snack did the trick.The worst thing about night trains is always the toilets and this one was no exception. It is dirty and smelly, but when you have to go you just have to go. Grit your teeth, hold your breath and get on with it.

3 days of rain with new friends in Hoi An

We stopped in Hoi An for 3 nights and were looking forward to warmer sunnier weather. Unfortunately it had been, and still was raining much more than usual this time of year. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left the rain did not stop.

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Hoi An market in the rain

The hotel we stayed at, Botanic Garden Villas had great airy rooms, 2 swimming pools and  a pool table. It also offered free cooking course which Ingrid and I attended.

Unfortunately we never got to try out the pool because of the poor weather. We did however discover a great little deli , Dingo Deli with a playground and play room where we spent the afternoon with our new Canadian friends and their 2 children enjoying delicious coffee while the kids played.

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Friands in town

The persistent rain and flooded streets meant that we did not really get the opportunity to properly explore this beautiful town. When the weather is nice I can imagine it’s a great place for cycling and walking, especially round the old town.  It is also a place to get tailor made clothes and shoes at rock bottom prices.

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Hoi An old town by night

We spent our 3 days here doing schoolwork in the mornings and hanging out with our Canadian friends in the afternoons. Great for the kids to have some friends to play with and for Paul and I to have some adult conversation with people other than ourselves.

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It was fun and useful discussing the ups and downs of travelling for a year with kids, great to get some new ideas as how to do it  and  to just talk about all the practical issues and opportunities of leaving your life behind and planning to come back with fresh eyes a year later.

On our last day in Hoi An Dec 30th we had an amazing meal together at Morning Glory and finally got a taste of how amazing the Vietnamese food really can be.

The following day we spent New Year’s Eve on the 16hr , clean and modern, train to Ho Chi Minh city followed by a 6 bus to Phenom Penh. A lot of travel in 24 hrs but  we were keen to spend the first day of the new year in Cambodia leaving a grey and wet Vietnam behind us.

After a total of 26 hr travel we finally arrived in Phenom Penh excited to be back in the warm sunshine surrounded by friendly people eager to see what this country had to offer.

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Tuktuk to our hotel in Phenom Penh 

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