Vietnam Train journey experience: Unplanned visit to Muong Man

On the last but one day (day before I was to fly back), my original plan was to fly back from Hanoi to Saigon on JetStar Pacific's early moring flight and take a tour to Makong Delta. But with a one hour delay in flight I was late. When I arrived back in Saigon (Ho Chi Min), it was 9 AM. It was 10 AM when I reached city centre by bus. 10 AM was too late for any popular one day tours. Only half day Cu Chi tunnels tour is available- which I had already tried. Then my option was to visit places within city or plan something else. I tried online for possibility of visiting some place like Makong Delta or Monkey island on my own-but couldn’t identify public transport to reach there. Then it struck me that I can try some train journey. Saigon train station was about 2 kms from my hostel, online check found that there’s a train at 1205 hours to Muong Man, some 200 kms/4 hours from Ho Chi Minh city.
Sunset at Binh Thuan station, Vietnam
I walked to Saigon railway station. Went to a ticketing counter and stood in line- when my time came, I realized that this counter was only for cancellation/refund. Went to next counter, tried to explain the lady that I would like a ticket to Muaong Man and return on same day. But it was impossible to have a conversation with her- she didn't understand much English and I couldn't effectively convey what I wanted. There wasn't much time left. Thinking I will try one last time, I went to a third counter- a gentleman here knew good enough English to have a conversation. Apparently passport was needed to buy the ticket but I had left it back in hostel, as I was told it is not safe to carry valuables around.There was no time to go back to hostel and bring passport in time for train departure. When I thought of giving up, suddenly an idea struck. I pulled out soft copy of passport from my mailbox and showed it to him- it was acceptable to the clerk and he agreed to issue the ticket.

Step 1- I had to decide the timings- I would take a 11.55 departure train which would arrive at Binh Thuan station. And a 22.53 PM return ticket (This website showed a 16.49 return train but the ticketing clerk said that train is not available/sold out and only train available for return trip is at 22.53 PM).
Step 2- I had to select the class. Like in India, Vietnam trains have 4 classes- hard seat (cheapest category, Non AC), soft seat- AC coach with push back seats and Hard Berth and Soft Berth (some categories may not be available on some trains. I selected soft seat and the journey would cost me 107000 VND for onward and 117000 VND for return- that is approximately 5 USD or INR 325 one way or 10 USD round trip.
 
Only few minutes were left for the train to leave. I found my way to the platform and boarded the coach. The coach looked very good (see picture below)- nice comfortable seats, a common TV for entertainment, nice lighting and overhead luggage space. I took my seat, which had USB ports- but I could't charge my phone- the ports were not working- tried from multiple seats- no luck. There is also a power socket at the end of the compartment,but again my Indian charger wont fit properly- so I couldn't charge my phone (I should have carried the international adapter)
In train, spoke to a lady named Quee (I could be wrong with spelling). She said the area is famous for dragon fruit plantations. I could see from the train window vast dragon fruit plantations. I could see lots of dragon fruit fields from the window.
Train journey was largely peaceful. Some snacks could be bought from the sellers inside the train- I bought a pack of popcorn for 10000 VND. The toilets were in good condition.
Around 4 PM train arrived in Mouong Man. As I was getting ready to get off the train, the lady with whom I was having a conversation said my stop is next one and I should wait. I was in a dielema for a second because google map confirmed that this is the station and next stop is far far away. I trusted my instincts, bid her bye and got down the train.

I got down, waited for a few minutes for the train to leave, hoping that I would make a video. But it waited for several minutes. The station was clean. Many vendors were trying to sell stuff to hard seat compartment passengers. After some time I thought I will go out of the station, but I found that all doors are closed. I asked a railway employee how to go out, but she pointed me towards the direction of the train. As if I was not allowed to leave the station. Then I showed her my ticket- this time she opened the lock and let me out. (I think she thought I just got down the train for a break and this city is not my destination).

As I got out, few taxi drivers n motorcycle taxi guys surrounded me, asking me where I wanted to go. I had no idea. I asked them to wait and ordered a sugar cane juice. While checking map sensed that there is a town is about 14 kms from railway station. Walking so long wasn’t a viable solution. I hadn’t done enough research on what to see, where to go etc, so was a bit clueless. Opened map to see anything interesting around, couldn’t understand much. Now the bike guy was insisting to take me to town or asking me where I wanted to go. I randomly selected one spot which looked like a tourist attraction that seemed closer to ocean and asked him how much. He quoted a price of 200000 VND (INR 600 approx). I asked him how much for round trip- going n coming back. He quoted 300000 VND (INR 900). Around 30 kms and 900 Rs or 30 Rs per kms, seemed a bit high but I decided not to negotiate and go with him. It was a small town- not too much options and everyone know each other. I agreed and we set on a journey on bike motorbike towards town. I asked him to stop as we passed through a dragon fruit farm with a ripe fruit, but he didn’t understand my command and kept going. At one point I had to force him to stop, so that I could click some closer pics of the dragon fruit farm.
Many farms had a series of lights- they would turn it on in the night- I guess this trick is to ripen the fruit faster, making it think it is getting sunlight.
 As Moi (name of my bike taxi driver) took me on his bike towards Muong Man, I spotted a tender coconut shop and asked him to stop. Had few very tasty tender coconuts here, for VND 10000, one third the price compared to Saigon or Hanoi. (At this point I was tempted to go another 200 kms away in hope of getting coconut for even cheaper price, say 5000 VND)

Eventually we arrived in Muong Man town. I took a few pictures, visited a temple and asked Moi to take me back to the station, as I wasn't sure what else I can see (it was getting dark). I think I will write a separate post about Muong Man town, as this post is getting long enough.

Once back at the station, I paid Moi the agreed amount. He went around super happy and spoke excitedly to few people. May be he was saying he managed to trick me to pay lots of money or may be he was genuinely excited to get a well paying customer that day- I don't know. Either ways I know I could have bargained a bit, but I think it is fine. Not many foreign tourists visit here and these guys don't intend to scam their customers. I still had full 5 hours to kill- sunset was very colourful. I walked around a bit, sat in a tea shop, owner of which was very kind to let me charge my phone. Ate ground nuts and some snacks, slept for a while in the train station (had to battle mosquitoes and not all fans were working and seats were not comfortable for sleeping.
Eventually my return train to Saigon arrived almost on time, I could get inside and sleep. However this train was not as nice as the one I had traveled in the morning. Seats were not as good, it was dirty. But I just wanted to sleep so didn't matter much. I woke up at Saigon at around 2 AM in the morning, walked to my hostel and slept till breakfast time.

Trivia: Do you know that Indian Railway has exported lots of coaches to Vietnam?


This ad-hoc trip went well for me. Do try a train journey when in Vietnam. There're many trains connecting Hanoi to Saigon- this 1600 kms+ journey takes about 36 hours in train. [Refer time table photo above] Of course you don't have to travel entire distance- more efficient to simply fly but you can take train to various tier 2/tier 3 cities in Vietnam and better explore it.

Read other Vietnam Posts here 

8 comments:

  1. Man in seat 61' the next time you want to take a train any where in the world

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  2. That is an interesting account. The trains and the stations look so clean! Glad people were helpful despite you getting off at the wrong station. I didnt know that India exported coaches to Vietnam!

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    1. :) I got down at right station. The lady was saying my stop is next...

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  3. There are helpful and good people in every part of the world. Nice account and the pictures are beautiful, especially the sunset... :-)

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