Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

The Long Journey Home Part 1 – Vietnam to China

Wednesday 8th May 2019 (Off to a flying start)

This day had come around all too soon, and yet not soon enough. The 18 months of preparation work was either about to start paying off or I was going to realise I’d missed something when I was halfway to Kings Cross! To be honest, as 91110 shoved me up the East Coast Main Line towards London on the 1545 Leeds – Kings Cross, time flew by and the whole journey was just one big blur. I spent most of the journey trying to get to grips with what had gone into the planning of this trip and the beginning of this whole thing is most of what I managed to pen before having to alight at Kings Cross. Where, by the time we got back into the country, a new era of train travel will have commenced on the ECML and I might even have to try and avoid one of the new pieces of Hitachi crap on my way home. And just as they start on the ECML they will have fully displaced the HSTs out of Paddington on Great Western services; not two days later.

The Piccadilly Line tube service was running ok, even if it was wedged to the gunnels during the evening rush hour. Still, I should thank my lucky stars that I managed to get on the correct tube to Heathrow Terminal 4, and not realise too late that none of what I was seeing either looked or sounded familiar! The result of that was that Flossy arrived at Terminal 4 almost an hour after me, when he’d realised the error of his ways and returned to Acton Town to try again!

Despite being able to technically check-in online on the China Southern Airlines website, everyone still had to go to the check-in desks anyway, so it was a waste of time even logging on, let alone printing the boarding cards, that weren’t boarding cards. While I’d waited the queue at the China Southern desks had been going pretty quickly and thankfully the bus-load of people that had arrived had gone by the time Flossy turned up and we were soon in receipt of boarding cards for both our flight to Guangzhou, China, and our connecting flight onwards to Ho Chi Minh City. I did have to present our train ticket from Hanoi, Vietnam to Nanning, China, so the airline could prove they’d done their screening. Its their fault if we turn up in Vietnam without proper documentation to allow us to enter and they were making sure we’d be leaving Vietnam within 15 days of our arrival: as per the current rules for British Citizens without a visa.

After depositing my big bag with the airline, for the first time in many years, with plenty of time to kill still, we managed to pint before our flight was allocated a gate; which was the penultimate one of the day to depart from Heathrow Terminal 4. I’d expected it to be utter chaos when boarding a plane to China, and I’m not sure why. I was utterly wrong to think it though and the whole plane was boarded in a clam manor and we even sat on the tarmac for 25 minutes, with everyone on board, waiting for our booked time slot. Take-off was ok and the cabin service started, as the on-board crew said it would, 30 minutes after take-off. It was all very efficient, made so by the fact that 3 trolleys were on the go in each aisle to speed the whole process up a bit. By the time we were passing over Germany we were fed and watered, and the cabin lights were out on our Dreamliner. After watching a film, I had no choice but to try and rest my eyes and thanks to the plane not being full we were able to spread out on our row.


Moves for Wednesday 8th May 2019

91110 Doncaster Kings Cross 1545 Leeds – Kings Cross 1A39
B-1242 Heathrow Temrinal 2 Guangzhou Terminal 2 2235 Heathrow – Guangzhou CZ304


Thursday 9th May 2019 (Almost there….)

Arrival into Guangzhou, China was prompt and once off the plane we headed straight to the transfers area. I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the world, but the Chinese security staff were asking for power banks to be taken out of hand luggage and were checking them over once they’d been through the x-ray machine. They even had my camera out of my bag and went straight into the side pockets to check out the spare battery that was in it. It was all harmless though and took no time at all and we were soon roaming around the vast expanse that is Guangzhou Terminal 2. It is spotless, eerily empty and very, very big, but there are two smoking rooms, which kept Flossy happy, and we managed to get a coffee before boarding our onward flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

Again, with China Southern Airlines, but this time an Airbus A320 with no entertainment system other than the fold-down screens from the ceiling, this plane wasn’t as empty as the previous one had been. The service was as good though and there was a full meal service even though it was only a 2h25m flight. It also had been fully boarded well before its departure time and we sat on the tarmac waiting our slot, just as we had done at Heathrow.

We touched down at 2145, local time, 17h10m after taking off from Heathrow and after travelling a total of 11573km; 10035km Heathrow to Guangzhou and 1538km from Guangzhou to Ho Chi Minh City. The plane emptied out quite quickly but because we were towards the rear of it, we ended up on the second bus to the terminal building. As we breezed  by the waiting area for visas on arrival, and scurried through the lanes towards the immigration desks, people just fanned out in front of us as more and more desks started to open up and we were through immigration 5 minutes after getting off the bus from the plane. Again, we’d needed to show our Hanoi to Nanning train ticket at immigration to allow us to be stamped in but there was no hassle at all; it was a most welcoming entry into Vietnam.

By the time I’d used the facilities our bags were coming off the carousel and as we walked out of the exit from the baggage hall my name was clearly displayed on a sign in amongst the waiting crowds. I’d pre-booked a taxi through and after finding the sign with my name on we were led to a kiosk initially, then once the boy had hold of the correct paperwork we were taken to a waiting taxi, operated by Satsco; as per the e-mail I had from when we landed. The driver was a bit of an idiot but managed to deliver us safely to the front door of the Hotel Huong Mai, which is right by Saigon Railway Station. From plane to hotel had taken no more than 40 minutes.

We were expected when we walked into the Huong Mai and it seemed that due to ongoing renovation works, they don’t currently have rooms with more than one bed, so we were given a room each for the same price as what we’d have paid for a twin room. I did have to change rooms though as the bathroom door wouldn’t close and the heat coming into the room was battling with the AC that was trying to cool it down. They were fine about it though, but we did end up having to pay for the room in cash and not card as we’d have preferred. Thankfully we’d already got some Vietnamese Dong before leaving the UK.

The rooms at the Huong Mai weren’t big but did have double beds. There were quite a lot of small ants running around the place and I was quite surprised at how many I found when I lifted the toilet seat. It was nothing that wasn’t dealt with but wasn’t something some would want in their room at night. I have to say though, none ended up on my bed at all! The AC worked brilliantly, and needed to, and there was very hot water available, with toiletries provided in the bathroom. A fridge in the room kept my water cool, if nothing else. I’d like to say sleep was most forthcoming that night, but it was far from it. I’m not sure whether excitement or jetlag kept me awake; but cold I fuck as like get to sleep!


Moves for Thursday 9th May 2019

B-1801 Guangzhou Terminal 2 Ho Chi Minh City 2000 Guangzhou – Ho Chi Minh City CZ367


Friday 10th May 2019 (Let it begin – The Long Journey Home!)

I was up by 5am, there’s only so much tossing and turning you can do before it gets boring. As a result of the lack of sleep I had plenty of time to enjoy the facilities and to repack my bag; now there was no need for a coat and jumper, or long pants for that matter. Having not taken so much stuff away with me for years, I was all at sixes & sevens trying to make everything fit into a given place in my big bag but got there in the end and was downstairs raring to go by 6am; with Flossy appearing shortly afterwards.

We grabbed a quick bite at a café outside Saigon station before marching onwards to the platforms with our two big bags. Access to the platforms is only allowed with tickets and Vietnam Railways (DSVN) had installed London Underground type barriers since my last visit, which were being held open by a member of staff, to let people through. The station booking hall was quite subdued of a morning, probably as there weren’t many trains heading out of town early doors. The platforms weren’t much busier either and as soon as we clapped eyes on the front of our first train of the trip, we knew it was going to be a good day.

Thanks to a good Vietnamese friend, Phan Hung, who I’d met on my first visit to Vietnam, we knew that Indian built YDM4 type D13E-708 would be working SPT2 0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet, the moment we landed into Ho Chi Minh City airport and I turned my phone on. The gen wasn’t wrong either and the little D13E was shut down at the head of its 10-coach train, with a buffet coach right behind the loco. After a few quick photos we walked to the rear of the train and boarded our 4-berth soft-sleeper coach. Our pre-booked tickets through had allowed us to select our coach type and individual berths at the time of booking and the two lower berths were welcome.

There was very little fuss when boarding the train and nobody had wanted to see or tickets. The AC was working well, unfortunately so were the voices of the children in the next compartment, and there were working plug sockets in each compartment. D9E-248 was shunting stock in the station area when D13E-708 eased SPT2 out of the platform; and so it began, our 22000km journey that would take us through 12 different countries, from one extreme of Europe to the other, and take 29 days to get us back to the UK. Bring it on!

The run out to Phan Thiet was quite relaxing once the kiddies had stopped running riot. The two women occupying the upper berths in our compartment were no bother at all and kept themselves to themselves. At Song Than D19E-958 was sat with a freight, which randomly had D19E-023 in large numbers on its bodyside. That was it then until we found D19E-939 with a southbound freight at Muong Man, which has been renamed to Binh Thuan, where the short Phan Thiet branch takes a right turn. This one had the same number on the bodyside as its did on its cab though.

Announcements on board, in both Vietnamese and English, were soon advising of our imminent arrival into Phan Thiet and we walked down to the front and back, to get some photos, before some folk had even managed to get off the train. The town at Phan Thiet is on the coast, some 4km away but there were plenty of taxis about to take people to where they wanted to be. We opted to sit it out in a nearby café, which at first glance you wouldn’t have even realised was open. They served up a half decent egg noodles & beef noodles, which we washed down with the strangest tasting Winter Melon canned tea, which had a hint of fig biscuit to its taste! The iced coffees we had before walking back to the station, after the heavens had opened, were just what we needed to perk us up for the return journey; and prevent the jetlag from taking over to give us another sleepless night!

We’d wrongly assumed that D13E-708 had been back to Muong Man to turn, while we’d been in the café, but it hadn’t and headed the train long hood leading for the return journey back to Saigon with SPT1 1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon. It was a relaxing journey and it rained most of the way back, which of course didn’t bother us one bit in our nice air-conditioned compartment. There were a couple occupying the two upper berths with their small child, which thankfully was very well behaved. Despite agreeing that we wouldn’t succumb to our jetlag and stretch out for forty winks, naturally, we did!

As both SPT2 and SPT1 only stop at three intermediate shacks on their 185km journey, they’re quite fast trans and run non-stop for 146km of it. By the Saigon suburbs we’d disciplined ourselves to sit up and stop lounging, for fear of not getting any sleep later that night. Managing to get one of the corridor windows open kept me occupied enough to not lay back down for the rest of the trip and as we were only 4 coaches from the front on SPT2 we even heard the little D13E being given what for as it got to grips with its train after a few speed restrictions. At the time, my good friend Phan was telling me that when his father, who has retired now, used to drive D13E’s for DSVN they didn’t like having them long hood leading due to all the smoke that gets into cab. He went on to tell me that the good old Alco smoke is the very reason that D13E only work SPT1/2 these days, as it’s the only train that’s comprised of a fully airconditioned rake of stock, so the smoke can’t get into the train coaches. Of course, during Tet when more locos are needed the D13E are used on other trains then, which had me thinking, especially as the Vinh based D13E locos were mostly solid freight only locos.

The evening rains had eased by the time D13E-708 rolled into Saigon station with SPT1, about 15 minutes late. The loco was off and running round before we’d walked down the platform and GE D9E-248 had run into an adjacent platform with a set of stock we’d passed it on outside the station; which turned out to be that for our SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi.

Surprisingly the station area wasn’t busy at all and once the platform had been cleared of passengers arriving off SPT1, the access doors to it were closed. I do find it a bit strange that access to the platforms is restricted as there are actually more shops/stalls/vendors platform side than there are in the booking hall area, or outside the station front. We chose the same place we’d had breakfast to have an evening bite to eat at and sat ourselves down in one of the minute chairs that Vietnamese cafes use countrywide. Some might say that miniature chairs are perfect for me but even I was uncomfortable with my knees around my throat while trying to eat a red hot bowl of Pho; most of which ended up being dribbled down my chin of splashing my legs as it slopped back into the bowl. I was sweating like a pig by the time I gave up on it too. It was very nice but a bloody farce to eat, and yet the locals do it with chop sticks and I couldn’t manage it properly with a fork and a spoon. A couple of cheap, shit cans of local piss water beer rounded our cheap culinary experience off nicely and when we left loads more tables were being laid out for what we assumed might be the evening rush with a few overnight northbound departures pending.

Our train was already boarding when we walked back onto the station and tickets were being checked at the barriers before people were allowed onto the platforms. Announcements for SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi were being made in both Vietnamese and English, with the English announcement asking all passengers with tickets for SE4 to come to the station. Our clean 4-berth compartment coach was towards the rear of the train and we were the only two people in it on departure from Saigon. Unlike the previous train, the compartments on SE4 even had USB charging sockets, although mine didn’t work, and a boiler for dispensing hot water at the end of the coach, with washing areas at either end of the coach too. Chinese built, Caterpillar engined D19E-919, from the first batch of the now 80-strong D19E fleet, was off the end of the platform when I went down to see what was heading SE4, with the doors of the front coach just fitting on at the very end of it. When we set off at 1945, Hanoi was 1726km, 40 hours and 10 minutes, 3 trains and 6 different locos away.

At Bien Hoa, 29km out of Saigon, we were joined in our compartment by a couple whose luggage was too big to put under the seats, so it just stayed on the floor of the compartment. They clambered up to their berths, got themselves sorted, closed the compartment door and turn the lights out; it seemed it was bedtime! To be fair, neither of us had an issue with it and as we were both that tired, it wasn’t long before all the mice on the mice organ were sock on. For those not understanding that means everyone was dossed out…..


Gen for Friday 10th May 2019

D9E-248 Saigon station pilot
D13E-708 SPT2 0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet, SPT1 1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon
D19E-919 SE4 1945 Saigon – Hanoi (to Dieu Tri)

D19E-958 (D19E-023) at Song Than 0700 northbound freight
D19E-939 at Muong Man 1000 southbound freight
D19E-960 (D19E-025) at Song Than 1655 on a freight


Moves for Friday 10th May 2019

D13E-708 Saigon Phan Thiet 0640 Saigon – Phan Thiet SPT2
D13E-708 Phan Thiet Saigon 1305 Phan Thiet – Saigon SPT1
D19E-919 Saigon Dieu Tri 1945 Saigon – Hanoi SE4


Photos for Friday 10th May 2019


Saturday 11th May 2019 (Continuing north towards Hanoi)

I’d been suffering with headaches almost constantly before setting off on this trip and thought they’d gone away when I’d gone almost a full day without one the previous day; they hadn’t and I woke with a particularly painful one but thankfully it didn’t prevent me from maximizing my sleep. By late morning it was gone though, and normal service resumed. It had been a decent night on board SE4 with no noise to speak of from our fellow passengers, either inside or outside the compartment. In fact, the one common denominator that kept waking people was the fact that we all struggled to open the compartment door to go for a piss in the night!

We discovered the hot water dispenser worked a treat and the water was piping hot. We also discovered that Flossy’s milk sachets had survived the flight from the UK but that my coffee sachets hadn’t! Despite having our own drinks on the table the staff walking up and down with trolleys of goods still wanted to sell us more and when the train stopped at Dieu Tri for a period, all the sellers from the station clambered aboard to try and sell their wares. We even had the pleasure of one old ada coming and sitting down with us for a bit in our compo but even her bad back didn’t get any sympathy from a hardened Yorkshireman and a sponge from Cumbria and she was sent packing! Probably because she wouldn’t let Flossy take a selfie with her…

Originally our plan was to get off SE4 at Dieu Tri and step back onto SE2 there. The idea being that we ended up on SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi as it was the one northbound train that was due into Hanoi at a reasonable hour of the morning: with SE4 & SE2 arriving at 0450 & 0530 respectively. Due to the fact that tickets for SE4 from Saigon to Dieu Tri weren’t on sale when I wanted them to be, having already booked SE2 from Dieu Tri to Hue and SE20 from Hue to Hanoi, to protect the move I booked tickets on SE4 from Saigon to Quang Ngai instead, which is 3 hours north of Dieu Tri for only a couple of quid more than they would be to Dieu Tri when they went on sale. We got a bonus engine out of it when D19E-919 was replaced by D19E-916 at Dieu Tri, and the couple from our compo vacated at Dieu Tri leaving us to ourselves for the remainder of the journey.

We passed a few freight trains between Dieu Tri and Quang Ngai with DSVN’s most powerful locomotives, D20E’s. D20E-008 was heading south at Dieu Tri, D20E-016 was heading south at Khanh Phouc, D20E-009 was heading south at Tam Quan and D20E-007 was heading south at Quang Ngai when we arrived on SE2. Romanian built D11H-331 was stabled at the north end of Quang Ngai station and D19E-964 was just arriving with SE9 1430 (P) Hanoi – Saigon when I walked down the platform to spot what was at the head of our train. I was going to get a photo pf both trains but when I got my camera out of its bag it instantly misted up when exposed to the morning heat; after being in a cold air-conditioned coach for 15 hours. Some prick also nearly made a mess of the track when he blindly stepped off the platform into the path of the oncoming SE9 while his wife was shouting at him and he didn’t even hear me giving him what for from an arm’s length distance. He was very lucky that the train was only tottering in and the station staff were on him immediately; yet only to get him clear of the line and not to give him a right royal fucking!

When all the excitement was over we walked around the back of SE9 once it had blocked our direct escape route, and admired the rear 3rd class coach with its wooden bench seats and barred windows, which was wedged to the gunnels; and it was only about 37 degrees! Outside the station there are a couple of cafes, but none seemed to be serving food. A quick walk along the main road revealed nothing appetizing but we found a place tucked out of the way, behind the station car park wall, which served us up a good plate of rice, omelette and grilled pork; for VND 30000 each; which is about £1 each. The staff even used Google Translate to communicate with us initially, with the girl’s phone screen reading “would you like to buy something” when it was pushed into my face.

There were quite a few people waiting outside Quang Ngai for the arrival of SE2 2155 Saigon – Hanoi, while the ticket office was still doing a fair bit of trade in amongst it all. It looked like most people were buying advance tickets for another day though. The glass doors to the platforms were open about 115 minutes before the train arrived, about 45 minutes late. D20E-007 was still waiting over the back of the station with its southbound freight and D11H-346 had since arrived with another southbound freight, which looked like it would be heading south first.

There were no dramas when D19E-933 arrived with SE2 and despite the coach attendant having taken up refuge in our booked compartment, he had no issues with our ticket being from Dieu Tri; and once he’d unlocked our compartment and grabbed his stuff, we had it to ourselves for the journey to Hue. The hot water boiler on board needed a degree to make it work as it didn’t have a tap for us simple folk to use and it wasn’t as easy as just pressing the hot water button to get hot water into your cup. Yet randomly, pressing the clock button and hot water button simultaneously spat piping hot water into your cup at quite a speed, and quite dangerously if you weren’t prepared for it. We both came away unscathed though and survived to drink what we’d brewed.

We passed D19E-917 en-route to Da Nang with SE21 0700 Hue – Saigon and then an unidentified D19E with SE3 1930 (P) Hanoi – Saigon a bit further north, which would soon overtake SE21 and reach Saigon before it. At Tra Kieu D11H-35x was sat with a southbound freight and D11H-357 was sat waiting to follow us north with a northbound freight. 45 minutes later we rounded the triangle just outside Da Nang, where D19E-969 was waiting to head south with SE1 2220 (P) Hanoi – Saigon. As D19E-933 ran into the dead-end station at Da Nang, D19E-942 & D20E-005 were poised to shunt out when the points could be changed. The D20E was dropped onto a freight and the D19E dropped onto the opposite end of our train, shunted two coaches off, then dropped them back on with another two 4-berth soft sleeper coaches it had collected from over the way. Meanwhile, D19E-933 was detached from the opposite end of the stock and once everything was present and correct again, SE2 was sent on its way north, still around 45’ late.

The loco shed at Da Nang had D20E-002, D20E-013, a crash damaged Romanian D11H-350, Belgian built Cockerill D18E-614 and Czech built CKD D12E-635, a bit of a mixed bag of stuff really. After leaving Da Nang its only a short distance to probably the most scenic part of the journey, which starts at the bottom of the hill at Kim Lien. When we went trundling through Kim Lien, leaving D11H-336 & D11H-340 in the station that was the end of any hopes of a banking loco on the section and we staggered over the pass at a max speed of 25kph, looking across the sea to the ghostly high-rise skyline of Da Nang through the sea mist; until it started raining then we couldn’t see anything.  It was still a very atmospheric journey through the green hills with the cloud drifting down the hillsides.

On the approach to Hue the coach attendant was very keen for us to get out of our compartment before the train arrived, so he could get into it and make it up. I noticed him have a look at his phone before telling us we were approaching Hue, which had the coach layout displayed on the screen and some of the berth numbers were highlighted. So, I guess that the on-train staff know exactly what berths are occupied throughout their journey. From the moment we stepped off the train at Hue, someone was either trying to sell us beer from their platform stall or trying to point us to the station exit, which is clearly signposted. Immediately outside the station building, to the right, is a large, separate booking hall which is open 24 hours according to the sign on its door. Our hunt for left luggage lockers revealed nothing but when I thrust my phone in a member of staff’s face, with Google translating “Luggage lockers?”, we were marched to the booking office, our bags were taken from us and stored behind the ticket counters; where plenty of others were clearly visible as well.

As we were bout 45’ late arriving into Hue, it cut down our 5-hour fester quite considerably, but it did mean that the Forbidden City at Hue was now closed and we wouldn’t be able to have an amble around it to kill some of the time. So, after a slow walk down to the banks of the Perfume River, where we sweat it out for a bit on a bench, while pondering A, what to do, and B, whether it was going to hammer it down and how we’d shelter from it if it did. As we couldn’t see the Forbidden City from where we were, we decided we’d done enough sight-seeing and Google Maps provided the answer to both aforementioned issues.

The place we settled on for food was a local place for local people, Tai Phu Restaurant. It had good write-ups on Google and was a lot busier than any of the other places immediately in its vicinity. Their menus had no English but did have big pictures of everything they served, which is all well and good if you know what you’re looking at. With a bit of help from one of the young waitresses, who spoke a little English, we ended up with noodles and pork with plenty of greenery trimmings; which she kindly added the condiments to at the table, then used a couple of chop-sticks to mix it all up for us, just like your mum used to do when you were a kid if there was something in it she wanted you to eat and knew you’d turn your nose up at it!

Once we’d finished our decent meal, we quickly paid the VND 25,000 each and exited so a large family could move into where we’d been sitting. The threatening rains never came but we took refuge in a coffee shop, called HT Coffee, on the way back to towards the station anyway; more for the excellent WiFi than the coffee. There’s only so much coffee you can drink on a nice balcony area, with your mate, before you end up back where you started and then turning to the hard stuff!

Opposite Hue station there are numerous cafes with the little chairs and tables set out. The first one we tried not only served us warm cans of Saigon beer, but it closed a few minutes after serving us! I was skeptical about using the ice to cool the beer down, which had been chipped off massive pre-made blocks in the shop, but my arse isn’t in tatters yet. The next place we tried, about 50 yards further along, looked more like it. It was busy, everyone seemed to be having a good time, there were big smoking thingies being used by the local youth and every table had a stash of cans of beer at them, accompanied by a bucket of ice under the table! We couldn’t read the label on the cans of beer we were served but they were ice cold, cheaper and tasted loads better than the Saigon crap we’d had previously. A visit to the toilet revealed where all the beer cans in Hue ended up, with a massive 15ft x 10ft pen enclosure full of them up to chest height, lining one side of the toilet area! And they were only the ones Flossy drank that night….

Our bags were still behind the ticket counters when we went to collect them, and we were invited in to get them; probably because the poor lass had struggled to carry them in earlier! The station area was quite busy and with a set of stock being positioned in platform 2, we could only see the main platform 1 area. There were quite a lot of westerners waiting for our train and most of them got off the following morning at Ninh Binh, 100km south of Hanoi. While milling around abusing the free WiFi and being asked if we anted to buy beer, I noticed a familiar number on one of the coaches in platform 2, which was in exactly the same font I’d expected it to be back home; and couldn’t resist a seminar photo with 31455, which for those that know me, was “my machine”. Randomly, the next coach along was numbered 31565!

D19E-947 turned up spot on time with SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi, on board which we’d booked one of the two available VIP 2-berth sleeper compartments for the pricey sum of VND 1,650,000 each (£55 each). I’d been half expecting it to be a normal 4-berth compartment with only the lower berths made up, but I was wrong. I was a pristine compartment with only two lower berths, which had proper thick mattresses and a decent duvet. The AC was working well and on the table was a box of goodies that included two mugs to make the tea/coffee, bottled water, some wipes and a toothbrush/toothpaste. Everything worked a treat, and I had no issues opening the compartment door from the inside either. We mostly reveled in our spon compo and left the door open for a bit so all the other westerners could see what they were missing….


Gen for Saturday 11th May 2019

D19E-916 SE4 1945 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (from Dieu Tri)
D19E-964 SE9 1430 (P) Hanoi – Saigon (at Quang Ngai)
D19E-933 SE2 2155 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (to Da Nang)
D19E-917 SE21 0700 Hue – Saigon
D19E-969 SE1 2220 (P) Hanoi – Saigon (at Da Nang)
D19E-942 SE2 2155 (P) Saigon – Hanoi (from Da Nang)
D19E-947 SE20 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi

D20E-008 at Dieu Tri 0740 southbound freight
D20E-016 at Khanh Phuoc 0830 southbound freight
D20E-009 at Tam Quan 0930 southbound freight
D11H-331 at Quang Ngai
D20E-007 at Quang Ngai 1130 southbound freight
D11H-346 at Quang Ngai 1130 southbound freight
D11H-35x at Tra Kieu 1340 southbound freight
D11H-357 at Tra Kieu 1340 northbound freight
D20E-005 at Da Nang 1430 southbound freight
Da Nang Shed at 1445
D18E-614, D12E-635, D20E-002, D20E-013 & D11H-350 with major crash damage at one end
D11H-336 & D11H-340 at Kim Lien 1510 for banking duties
D11H-347 at Hue 1710 southbound freight


Moves for Saturday 11th May 2019

D19E-916 Dieu Tri Quang Ngai 1945 (10/05) Saigon – Hanoi SE4
D19E-933 Quang Ngai Da Nang 2155 (10/05) Saigon – Hanoi SE2
D19E-942 Da Nang Hue
D19E-947 Hue Hanoi 1845 Da Nang – Hanoi SE20


Photos for Saturday 11th May 2019


Sunday 12th May 2019 (Finally reaching Hanoi – 1726km in)

Despite quite a lot of noise coming from the corridor of our coach at around 5am I managed to get back to sleep after a piss-stop but was rudely awoken by a knock at the door just before 7am. I lifted my head above the quilt just as Floss was sliding the door open, at which point I heard the word sorry being uttered by the guy stood there and witnessed the door being slammed shut again and Flossy locking it. What he couldn’t see very well from his position was the other guy at the door leaning in to hand us something, which probably turned out to be the free breakfast that was sat on the table when I woke up again; which the coach attendant had given Flossy when he’d surfaced. It didn’t look like it had been rolled around on the floor and there were no gritty bits in it when I ate the Banh Bao and the boiled eggshells were intact, while the banana was still yellow. It was a decent breakfast too, just what I needed when getting up at 0830, after a cracking nights sleep and feeling very relaxed. Not being disturbed by others in your compartment is always a bonus and was worth paying the extra for on this occasion.

We were waiting time at Bim Son while I ate breakfast and ended up departing a few minutes late after waiting for D19E-927 to pass through with SE7 0600 Hanoi – Saigon. At Ninh Bing Czech CKD D12E-638 was stabled at the north end of the station and classmate D12E-625 was waiting to head south with a short freight. Both there and at the next stop, Nam Dinh, there were rakes of DSVN double-deck stock standing around in sidings; possibly used for holiday specials? Some of the coaches in the rake at Nam Dinh had familiar numbers though, and continued the theme from the previous night at Hue; with 31411, 31413 & 31423 all being present…

While on the home stretch, at a wayside shack between Nam Dinh & Phu Ly, we waited for D19E-930 to head south with SE5 0900 Hanoi – Saigon before continuing north towards our penultimate stop before Hanoi. On the outskirts of Hanoi is the large freight transshipment yard, and small station, of Giap Bat, where I’d been reliably informed, I’d be able to see some of the Vinh based, blue D13E; as they worked a lot of freight north from Vinh to Giap Bat. I was reliably informed correctly when my eyes clapped themselves on my first blue D13E in the flesh. D13E-719 was tabled over the back of the yard, at the Hani end of it, along with one of the original batch of D19E, D19E-704; which had a strange looking front end.

Arrival into the train shed that is Ga Hanoi was a few minutes early and there were nothing but rakes of stock scatter around the place, with not an engine in the station, other than D19E-947 at the head of our train; which was detached almost immediately and sent back through the station towards the shed. On which was a selection of Czech built D12E, with D12E-626, 642, 644 & 656 visible at least.

Exit from the station premises was via the station over-bridge and then we were ushered to the exit and down the escalators to the station front, where the late morning heat hit us. Thankfully, it was only a 700m walk from the station front to the Eternity Hotel and before heading there we used the very handy mini-supermarket on the station concourse to get some washing powder; which soon set the theme for some of the afternoon.

The walk t the hotel only involved crossing one road but the foot-crossing across from the main station entrance was barriered over so it was a free-for-all getting over the road but moped etiquette seemed to allow for this and we crossed safely, despite the amount of traffic, and the fact the one-way street had mopeds going in either direction and at the corner nobody obeyed road or pathway rules; in fact, anything went on corners, in any direction!

The blast of cool air from the Hotel Eternity lobby, when we opened the glass doors, was already very welcome and the very sprightly young girl who checked us in had clearly been shouted away from her dinner to do so. She spoke good English, processed us in quickly and escorted us up to our 8th floor room, which had comfy twin beds, very good AC, decent Wi-Fi (near the door), plenty of toiletries and few freebies to use with the kettle in the room; including free bottled water and a fridge-freezer to put it in. The bathroom was a decent size and had a large bath, which was just what we needed for an afternoon of washing clothes, and more importantly, the water was piping hot to allow us to do it.

With nothing originally planned until the middle of the afternoon, after the first round of washing was done, and strung up from the curtain rails with the AC on full and the wall fan blowing directly on it, we headed out to what’s locally known as “Railway Street”.

Railway Street is basically a very narrow alleyway that trains run down just south of Hanoi main statin, to get out of the city. On which are now a load of cafes set up at the track-side, most with timetables of arriving and departing trains for the plethora of tourists and local alike to spot while the have a coffee at the trackside; or evening in between the tracks when trains aren’t due. To say train spotting isn’t a world-renowned sensible pastime, there were plenty of people photographing, videoing and taking selfies as D19E-948 ran through the alleyway with SE35 1310 Hanoi – Vinh. Which I should have done to Giap Bat as its one of the few trains that stops there but I’d not realised it was running on this particular day until we’d arrived into Hanoi. The moment the train passed, the coffee ship owners had their tables and chairs in the 3ft and people were soon lapping up the fact they could drink their coffee in between the tracks; yet people that walk across them in India are deemed as idiots and doing an unsafe act! Trainspotting made cool, but only when the act that is being committed around it involves looking great for that all-important selfie, with the two fingers sticking up in it! Still, I got some decent photos before leaving Flossy to it for a bit while I walked to the station to et tickets for the impending evening bash on trains to/from Gia Lam on the north of the city.

The walk to the station, down the main road running adjacent to the line, was by many a stall, all selling army clothing and not one seemed to have any custom at all. Two of the stall owners were sock on in their chairs and most of the others were on their phones trying to keep their minds occupied. There must have been 30 stalls, all selling the same things, with the same theme.

At Hanoi main station, the ticket office is clearly signed, in English, and while there were a few people waiting in the waiting area, there was nobody queuing at any counter. The first counter I tried, from the set on the left hand side of the ticket office as you walk in, had a girl serving who spoke decent English and the fact I’d already written out a list of trains that I wanted to book tickets for made life a little easier, although two round trips to Gia Lam straight off the back of each other did have her questioning my list; but I got what I asked for and thankfully could remember Flossy’s date of birth as they needed both our names and dates of birth to be able to issue the tickets.

Quest accomplished, I met Flossy back at the south end of “Railway Street” and we joined the “cool” gang in having a coffee before photting D19E-942 head south out of town with SE9 1430 Hanoi – Saigon; which we’d had into Hue the previous night on SE2 2155 Saigon – Hanoi. By the time we’d waked back to Hanoi station people were already being allowed onto the platforms to board LP5 1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong, and the afternoon bash commenced with Czech CKD D12E-634 on a load 10 rake, which of course we were at the back of in soft-seats. In the adjacent platform was the load 4 rake for QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, which didn’t have an engine on by the time we left.

The run out to Gia Lam is only 5km but it takes 18 minutes with an intermediate stop at Long Bien, on the outskirts of town. The railway runs through a couple of alleyway sections as it curves north out of town and there are numerous level crossings, after which the line ends up elevated above the roads below and on reaching Long Bien, only 2km north of town, the railway is completely elevated above the shops and road below it. Immediately after Long Bien station begins Long Bien Bridge, which takes the railway the 3km to Gia Lam and over the wide Red River below it. We found out the following day that the bridge was French built between 1899-1902 and itself it a bit of a tourist attraction. On both sides of the bridge are narrow roadways with mopeds constantly plying them, in amongst which was the odd tourist trying to get photos from the walkway at the edge. From the comfort of our AC soft seats we watched on as the masses went about their business on both Long Bien Bridge and the ones either side that were equally as rammed with traffic.

Long Bien Bridge runs almost to the extremity of Gia Lam station, where D12E-626 was stabled in the station yard and in platform 1, the only platform with standard-gauge tracks, was the load-5 Chinese rake for that nights MR1/T8702 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang/Nanning. After watching D12E-634 depart with LP5 we were ushered off the station premises and we went for a walk down the road to see what we could find to eat. You’d be forgiven for thinking there is nothing near Gia Lam station and its almost like walking out of a local Indian station with its backstreets and local stalls. It wasn’t long before we found somewhere to eat, or more like the Pho stall owner enticed us to sit down; before rustling up a nice beef pho, which we ate from miniscule stools at very low tables but didn’t quite manage to get as much down our chins as our previous attempt at eating pho.

We photted little GE D9E-241 arriving with QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, just as the light was starting to fade, before grabbing a couple of beers at one of the stalls opposite the station entrance; while waiting for LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi to arrive. Which did so with an unexpected D19E-974 and 17 coaches. On arrival back into Hanoi I walked over the bridge with Flossy, who’d done his day’s bash, and went to try and get tickets for the following day’s similar bash, before going back to Gia Lam again. It was at this point in proceedings that they took a turn for the worst; when the same girl I’d bought the tickets off earlier told me that there were no trains from Hanoi to Gia Lam the following afternoon and only YB3 & DD5 started at Hanoi the following morning. All I could get out of her was that “today is Sunday and tomorrow is Monday”. When I eventually found out what the score was, the following day, it turns out that none of the locals north of Hanoi during the day, run into Hanoi at all; with everything starting & terminating at Long Bien until 1900. Although, everything is shown on the DSVN website as running through to Hanoi if you do an enquiry on trains running from Gia Lam to Hanoi on a weekday! That left me pondering the following day’s moves as I walked back onto the station.

Thankfully, the D19E hadn’t run-round the set it had arrived with and D12E-660 was heading LP7 1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong when I got over to the train. The train was wedged when it left Gia Lam and I sat in the station waiting area to await my chariot back to Hanoi, typing up a lengthy Facebook post. During which D12E-631 arrived into platform 3 and thinking time had got away with me I waltzed onto the platforms, pushing open the closed doors to the platforms in the process. Not wanting to walk to the back of the train, I just clambered aboard the front coach after half-heartedly showing my ticket to the coach attendant. When everyone vacated the coach at Long Bien though I began t get the feeling something wasn’t quite right and when I was asked to leave the train, I knew something wasn’t quite right. When I showed the attendant my ticket, he pointed at it and shook his finger. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to realise that D12E-631 had actually been working YB4 1445 Yen Bien – Long Bien and when D9E-235 turned up spot on time with my booked train, DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi, all became clear; although the stock off YB4 had run empty to Hanoi station and was in the adjacent platform when I arrived.

Flossy was waiting outside the station for me when I got back with good news that all the washing we’d previously done had dried while we’d been out. Straight opposite Hanoi station is the iBerio Craft Beer Bar, where we ventured to for a swift one and at VND 65,000 for a large beer, we only had the one and ventured into the streets to try and find somewhere to eat. Most of the places around our hotel area were wedged but we managed to find ourselves a perch eventually and with the help of the couple at the next table got ourselves a decent noodle soup and some 333 beer; which was VND 20,000 per can was way better on the pocket.

Back at the hotel round two of clothes washing commenced and everything I was wearing was soon being put through the motions and was strung out to dry before my head hit the sack. At which point I could only hope they’d dried by the time I got up the following morning to head out on the bash.


Gen for Sunday 12th May 2019

D19E-927 SE7 0600 Hanoi – Saigon
D19E-930 SE5 0900 Hanoi – Saigon
D19E-948 SE35 1310 Hanoi – Vinh
D19E-942 SE9 1430 Hanoi – Saigon
D12E-634 LP5 1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong
D9E-241 QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu
D19E-974 LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi
D12E-660 LP7 1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong
D12E-631 YB4 1445 Yen Bai – Long Bien
D9E-235 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi

D12E-625 at Ninh Binh 0930 southbound freight
D12E-638 at Ninh Binh 0930 stabled up
D19E-905 at Phu Ly 1050 southbound freight
D18E-606 at Phu Ly 1050 northbound freight
D12E-626, 642, 644, 656 Hanoi Shed
D12E-623 Gia Lam stabled


Moves for Sunday 12th May 2019

D12E-634 Hanoi Gia Lam 1520 Hanoi – Hai Phong LP5
D19E-974 Gia Lam Hanoi 1500 Hai Phong – Hanoi LP8
D12E-660 Hanoi Gia Lam 1815 Hanoi – Hai Phong LP7
D12E-631 Gia Lam Long Bien 1445 Yen Bai – Long Bien YB4
D9E-235 Long Bien Hanoi 1510 Dong Dang – Hanoi DD6


Photos for Sunday 12th May 2019


Monday 13th May 2019 (A day in Hanoi before heading to China overnight)

Whether I was awake because my mind was concerned about the fact I was getting up early, or because it was concerned about my clothes not being dry was debatable; but the fact remains that I was awake well before my 0630 alarm call and was wary of my 0630 alarm call, and gathering up my clothes waking Flossy up. So, I got up, crept about the place, was grateful my clothes were dry and when I tip-toed to the room door, pleased with myself that I’d not woken Flossy, as soon as I turned the door handle it started beeping at me. That resulted in me shuffling out as quickly as possible and slamming the door harder than I’d have liked in a bid to stop the noise. As it turned out, Flossy would have slept through the zombie apocalypse that followed and never heard a thing; he was sleeping that solidly!

I’d originally been planning to do a simple out and back to Long Gia Lam of a morning, albeit, knowingly I’d now be making my own way back from Long Bien. At the station I was straight up to the ticket counter but then directed to a different one, across the other side of the waiting area, to that which I’d used the previous day. That was where the move went rapidly downhill. The fact there’d been no northbound trains displayed on the electronic screens was confirmed at the ticket desk when I was told both YB3 0605 Hanoi – Yen Bien and DD5 0705 Hanoi – Dong Dang were starting at Long Bien. The idea of the early get-up being that I could do one to Long Bien for the other forward to Gia Lam and then QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien back for a walk back to the hotel. I bought three tickets anyway, which took a bit of persuading, as it probably made no sense what so ever to the lady serving me, for YB3 & DD5 from Long Bien to Gia Lam and QT2 from Gia Lam to Long Bien and was about to set off walking when a guy  in a green polo shirt collared me outside the booking office.

It was only when I read the word grab on his shirt that I realised he was a “grab bike” rider and was offering me a lift. VND 50,000 and 10 minutes later I was deposited outside Long Bien station just as D12E-630 was disappearing onto the bridge with HP1 0600 Hanoi – Hai Phong; which I think might actually have started at Hanoi but as it hadn’t been on my list for tickets I’d not considered it. It was non-stop through Long Bien anyway and of no gain in the grand scheme of things anyway. While I was messing around down below the station, I heard the set roll in to form YB3 0621 Long Bien – Yen Bien and found D12E-642 at the head of the short rake when I got up to the platforms.

It was a warm day, at only 0630, and as I walked down the road from Gia Lam station, I pondered whether it would be a clever idea to walk back to Long Bien via the rail bridge, until I came across a group of green-shirted guys hanging around by the river bridge. That answered than and another VND 50,000 later, after bumbling over Long Bien bridge with thousands of others, I was deposited back at Long Bien station for round two.

Things had livened up a bit since when I’d first arrived, and it seemed like one side of the station was solely dedicated to kitchenware with every stall having variations of a theme: similar to all the army stalls outside Hanoi station. Again, by the time I got up to the platform, the set for DD5 0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang was sat in and people were boarding. The AC was already a respite from the humid morning, and I didn’t have long to wait at Gia Lam for my ride back to Long Bien. As expected, little GE D9E-241 returned with QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien after stabling at Quan Trieu overnight ex QT1 1620 Hanoi – Quan Trieu, which we’d photted at Long bien the previous evening. Back at Long bien for the third time that morning, I wasted no time in setting off walking back towards Hanoi, which was a simple enough task and guided by ME Maps it only took about 25 minutes to reach Hanoi main station. After standing in front of the big fan in the ticket hall to cool off and dry out, I bought tickets for the afternoon bash, again involving some Long Bien leaps, and walked back to the hotel for breakfast; finding Flossy outside smoking in the security guard’s seat when I rocked up.

There was only one other person using the breakfast room at the Eternity Hotel at 0830. There was a decent amount of stuff to choose from, including quite a few noodle dishes. Fried eggs on toast sufficed though, washed down with coffee and tea; the latter because I got the jugs mixed up! Not wanting to head out too early, and knowing we had to fester around in Hanoi until 2120, we hung around in the room drinking tea for a bit, before tidying it up and checking out. Unlike the hotel we’d stayed at in Saigon, my card was accepted and worked first time and we were able t leave our big bags at the hotel while we ventured into the city. We didn’t realise until we returned but our bags stayed exactly where we left them in the hotel reception!

Armed with a map from the hotel reception, Flossy was in charge of the morning’s culturizing walk around Hanoi, with the first stop being the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. We got there by walking along most of the narrow alleyways that the trains ran down, north of Hanoi station. We only found one open café and the train times displayed outside them all corroborated what the staff had told me at the booking office, with each listing train times at weekends and during the week separately.

It seemed Monday’s weren’t to be our thing when in Vietnam as the some of the sights at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long were closed on Mondays. The sight itself dates back to the Ly dynasty in 1010 and remained the seta of the Vietnamese Court until 1810, when the capital was moved to Hue. Most buildings in the citadel were in varying states of disrepair by the late 19th century and by the late 20th century many had been torn down. It wasn’t until the 21st century that systematic excavations of the site commenced and in 2010 the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the buildings now remaining intact on the site, the D67 bunker has to be the most interesting, yet was one we couldn’t enter on a Monday! D67 was the command centre headquarters of the Vietnamese People’s Army and had underground escape tunnels for emergency evacuation. Around the outside of the building are various sets of steps down to the bunker, which are all blocked off, but you can see down to big rusty doors that lead into the now murky underground passageways.

Having paid our VND 30,000 for entry to the peaceful Imperial Citadel of Thang Long site we spent the next hours in the rather nice café cum restaurant adjacent, cooling off directly in front of a fan while drinking iced coffee! Flossy was dripping wet, bless him, but the huge fans did their bit and dried him off before round two of the sweaty walk around Hanoi commenced. While we downed two iced coffees each, the two well to do locals at the table beside us managed to polish off almost 8 ice-cold Staropramen; and it was barely midday!

We didn’t pay to enter anymore sites and just wandered around, taking in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the large Parliament buildings, the enclosed Presidential Palace and finishing with a walk along the front of the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh; all of which are situated in the same area, around Ba Dinh Square. Access to the restricted area in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is at either end of the site and bags have to be put through x-ray machines. There is also a strict dress code, which basically asks people to be respectful and wear sleeved shirts. One FYC and his girlfriend got turned away from the gatehouse while we were there, for not being dressed appropriately; much to Flossy’s amusement, more so for “his” beaded beard than anything else.

Further respite from the sun and humidity was sought at one of the many Highland Coffee outlets that are scattered around Hanoi. Their big fans dried Flossy off for a second time while we cooled off, with what can only be described as a coffee ice-cream in a plastic vat, which even came with a straw and a spoon! Culturizing done, we braved the heat for one last time and headed back to town, with a short stop at Hanoi station to use the facilities and for Flossy to stand in front of the big fan for a few minutes. As we were likely to run out of cash before exiting Vietnam, we also had to get some more money out of a cash machine, to last us the day. As booked though, the VND 500,000 transaction came out with just the one note!

Back at the Eternity Hotel we were able to site in the AC reception for an hour and abuse the hotel WiFi and facilities before asking for a taxi to take us to Gia Lam station. Despite having tickets for LP5 1530 Long Bien – Hai Phong, the heat had slowed our progress and we flagged it in favour of not rushing about and not carrying our big bags any further than we had to. The requested taxi was outside the hotel less than 5 minutes after ordering it and the journey to Gia Lam, via the bridge adjacent to Long Bien Road/Rail Bridge, took about 25 minutes and cost VND 118,000 on the meter. The driver was playing YouTube videos on his phone the whole way there, until he realised he didn’t know exactly where Gia Lam station was and then had to get maps up on his phone rather quickly. Thankfully for him, I was following our progress anyway and we directed him the short distance to our destination. He’d almost made it but just needed to remember on last turn…

Good old Google Translate, after my phone was held against the booking office window, soon had us paying VND 40,000 to allow us to leave our big bags in the locked storage room on the platform at Gia Lam. Outside the station there were a load more places open than the previous day and we sat inside some Bert’s local place with a cold coke, while abusing his very good Wi-Fi; waiting for LP8 to arrive. We photted GE D9e-241 arrive into Gia Lam with QT1 1630 Long Bien – Quan Trieu, which did so with D12E-630 dead on the rear, which was immediately detached on arrival and left at the north end of the station when QT1 headed on its way. While we stood waiting for QT1 to arrive a local ada got quite friendly with us and seemed to intimate that she’d seen us the previous day and it looked like she was inviting us back for tea! If the carcass on the table outside the stall was what was on offer, it definitely wasn’t something I’d have been indulging in. The dog’s head and feet were easy to make out and we could only assume that the meat scattered around it was the meat from its body?

When D12E-655 arrived into Gia Lam with LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien, the already running D12E-630 was dropped straight onto the rear of the train, while we boarded the front, hard seat, AC coach; for the journey over the bridge to Long Bien. The stock sat in the platform on arrival, with both locos shut down. After photting the leading loco we found loads of people on the tracks at the end of the bridge, photographing the bridge entrance, including a group of French tourists. It was a free for all as far as wandering about the tracks went and even two young girls walked down and posed for their photos while each took photos of the other. I’d not paid much attention to the offside of Long Bien station that morning but as time allowed we wandered down the steps and around the side of the station to the stalls down below and returned with a porcelain mug each; which would improve our tea drinking experience no end, as our plastic ones made it taste funny! There were some decent photos to be had of the train from down below the station as well. It looked like there was a fair bit of work going on at Long Bien station as when Flossy went in search of the bog, he was directed to a corrugated hut on the platform wit WC painted on it. When he opened the door, a less than impressed woman came bounding out; and I’m not surprised based on the fact it was a 2ft step up to then piss in a hole in the wooden floor.

By the time the toilet experience had run its course LP7 1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong was boarding, and we sat in a relatively empty coach, reveling in the AC, a good 25 minutes before departure. Outside our coach window two women were selling fresh bread, of all shapes and sizes, to locals walking down the platform. On arrival into Gia Lam, D12E-655 was detached from the rear while we walked up to the top end of the station to get what we thought was the loco attached to the Dong Dang end of the Chinese stock for our overnight to Nanning. We were mistaken on both accounts as the loco was 3ft gauge D12E-634 and neither it wasn’t attached to the stock as a result of its incompatibility.

Food before our overnight was going to be more Pho at the stall we’d eaten at the previous day but the neon lights of western stodge drew us through the doors of the Colonel’s establishment and KFC served us up a large meal for VND 101,000 each (just over £3); and provided phone charging facilities and relative comfort in AC. On the way to it we came across a sign advertising logistics which randomly had a photo of a UK class 66 on it, which on closer inspection turned out to be Freightliner liveried 66505! Which of course went straight on Facebook

With time to kill after our stodge we headed back to Bert’s café for a couple of beers before the train but as he had none in his fridge we ended up further along the road; trying to fritter away our Vietnamese Dong on cheap beer before we left the country. While we were sat drinking, a young lad came over the road and asked if we were Jonathan & David, the latter being Flossy’s middle name. It turned out he was the rep from Voilette, which is the company Baolau, who I booked the Hanoi – Nanning tickets through, use to get the tickets in Hanoi. It says on the Baolau booking voucher that a Voilette representative will find you at the station to give you your tickets, and he had done; although he didn’t give us our tickets until just before 2100, after another foreign couple turned up. At which point we were told our coach and berth numbers and to follow the instructions of the on-train staff when boarding. He then disappeared.

We’d seen little GE D9E-229 arrive into Gia Lam with DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien earlier and when it later arrived back into Long Bien with its 4 coaches and D12E-631 dead on the rear we assumed the GE had been run-round before DD6 had departed and D12E-631 had worked the train forward to Long Bien. Shortly after its arrival, D12E-660 arrived with HP2 1840 Hai Phong – Hanoi, the first train of the evening that runs into Hanoi, and once that had gone, we were allowed onto the platform to board MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang.

We had no problem walking to the front of the train, where the driver of broad gauge D14E-2011 even posed in the cab for photos. We ended up in the same compartment as the other two foreigners from the waiting room, who happened to be Polish and put our little 5-week long jaunt to shame, making it look like a weekend away when they told us they’d been on the go for 9 months, had travelled all the way around the world, still had a month to go and were heading back to Poland by train themselves! Hats off to them!

The Chinese stock for the daily MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang was very nice inside, clean and with working ai-con. The beds were comfy, and the toilets were perfectly acceptable, with washing areas at the end of each coach, hot water boilers too and smoking areas in the vestibules of the coaches. The stock goes forward attached to the daily T8702 0615 Pingxiang – Nanning and on Wednesdays & Saturdays at Nanning some of the soft-sleepers then attach to Z6 1100 Nanning – Beijing, which is a daily train but only has the through Hanoi to Beijing option twice a week. Upon boarding, our tickets were taken by the coach attendant and we were given a credit card sized piece of plastic that corresponded to our booked coach and berth number to replace it until we alighted. There was plenty of room for our luggage beneath the lower berths and above the upper ones in the storage space above the corridor. Thankfully, there were two charging sockets as well. Before departure, one of the coach attendants explained to us in English that at both Dong Dang, on the Vietnamese side of the boarder, and Pingxiang, on the Chinese side, we’d need to get off the train with all our belongings and head through immigration. When we asked if we could have one of the four empty compartments, we were denied based on the fact there could be people coming at later stops. And to be fair, they were all occupied the following morning.

D14E-2011 got us away from Gia Lam on time and made for a noise journey towards the boarder with its horn blaring all the time. The window seals weren’t great, and my earplugs didn’t keep much of it out either. The only criticism I have of the stock was the fat it was mos-tastic and I got bit numerous times before covering up with my quilt and melting beneath it, trying to hide from the ones I hadn’t killed! China, here we come……


Gen for Monday 13th May 2019

D12E-630 HP1 0610 Long Bien – Hai Phong
D12E-642 YB3 0621 Long Bien – Yen Bai
D9E-229 DD5 0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang
D9E-241 QT2 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien
D9E-241 QT1 1631 Long Bien – Quan Trieu (D12E-630 dor to Gia Lam)
D12E-655 LP8 1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien (D12E-630 dor from Gia Lam)
D12E-630 LP7 1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong (D12E-655 dor to Gia Lam)
D9E-229 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien (to Gia Lam then dor to Long Bien and ecs back to Gia Lam)
D12E-631 DD6 1510 Dong Dang – Long Bien (from Gia Lam the dor back to Gia Lam on ecs)
D12E-660 HP2 1840 Hai Phong – Hanoi
D14E-2011 MR1 2120 Hanoi Gia Lam – Pingxiang (to Dong Dang)


Moves for Monday 13th May 2019

Bike Hanoi Long Bien Grab a bike – VND50,000, 10 minutes
D12E-642 Long Bien Gia Lam 0621 Long Bien – Yen Bai YB3
Bike Gia Lam Long Bien Grab a bike – VND50,000, 10 minutes
D9E-229 Long Bien Gia Lam 0718 Long Bien – Dong Dang DD5
D9E-241 Gia Lam Long Bien 0540 Quan Trieu – Long Bien QT2
Taxi Hanoi Gia Lam Taxi – VND118,000, 20 minutes
D12E-655 Gia Lam Long Bien 1500 Hai Phong – Long Bien LP8
D12E-630 Long Bien Gia Lam 1826 Long Bien – Hai Phong LP7
D14E-2011 Gia Lam Dong Dang 2120 Gia Lam – Pingxiang MR1


Photos for Monday 13th May 2019 – Railway


Photos for Monday 13th May 2019 – Hanoi Tourist


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