Image

Vietnam Travel Diary #05: Our Experience On The Sleeper Train!

Welcome to my fifth Vietnam Travel Diary! This is all about the sleeper from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang. In this post I’ll share the logistics of the journey, along with a few of my tips that I used to make it as smooth as possible!

My partner and I booked the SNT2 from Saigon Railway Station to Nha Trang. This actually has the longest duration at around 9 hours in total and it got us into Nha Trang at about 6am. There are other trains with shorter estimate times e.g. the SE2 which has a duration of around 8 hours. However trains in Vietnam don’t always run exactly to time and there can be delays, so we didn’t particularly mind about the differences in duration. We chose the SNT2 train because we didn’t want to be waiting around in HCMC too late, and luckily our amazing Air BnB host let us into our accommodation super early! (More on that in the next post!) 

How to book

We booked in advance online using baolau.com, so that we could easily plan an itinerary around the train times. This also meant we were able to know exactly when to travel to Saigon Railway station, and we didn’t have to go there earlier in the week to collect or buy tickets. It’s about a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute taxi ride from District 1 to the station so we decided it would be ideal to only go there once and be able to take a taxi and not carry our full luggage around late at night.

Cost

When researching the cost of travel, the general consensus was that buying tickets in person is generally cheaper. However, due to my tendency to worry and my keenness to plan well, we decided to pay the extra and book them online as E-tickets. It meant that we knew roughly when we would be leaving HCMC and when we would get to Nha Trang. It cost us 557,000vnd each for a bed in a soft berth cabin. That’s around £18.50 or $24.00. Considering the price of a sleeper train journey in the UK, that’s an absolute bargain! We decided to go with the soft berth because the prices for the hard berth weren’t much cheaper, and having 4 beds instead of 6 makes all the difference.

The Station

We arrived at Saigon Railway Station in the evening, ready to get the overnight train. Getting the tickets was fairly easy. After not being able to work the E-ticket machines we asked the lady at the kiosk and she told us that our printed tickets would work as they were.

20180826_193632

Food, Drink & Toiletries

In the station there were several convenience stores selling food, toiletries and souvenirs. There was also a fast food type restaurant called Lotteria which is where we had dinner. I would recommend that you eat something before setting off. I know that some of the long haul trains provide food, but I have no idea if the sleeper does and the concierge at our hotel was adamant that we should eat before getting on the train. We also bought one of the large free bottles of water from our hotel with us, but the train actually supplied their own little bottles of water in each cabin.

We also bought toilet paper, which turned out to be absolutely essential! I would suggest definitely bringing some along, because the toilet paper in the train toilets runs out very quickly. Also, because the train is very jerky, sometimes the toilet lid isn’t shut and water gets EVERYWHERE. I would advise that you bring:

  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitiser
  • A pair of slip on shoes (for walking to and from the loo)

The Cabin

Each bed is numbered, so you know whether you’re on the top or the bottom bunk. We booked bottom bunks and there was plenty of space under there to store our bags, shoes and water. On the top bunks there were also little shelves to store these things.

20180826_195428(0)

Though it is rare and may be more common in the soft and hard seat areas, theft does occur on these trains occasionally. Due to this I bought a very cheap steel looped cable ( you can find it here) and used a padlock to secure it under the bed for added security. It just gives a little extra peace of mind. Of course it’s very unlikely that anyone would come into a cabin and look through your bags, but there’s no harm in staying vigilant.

The beds were surprisingly comfy and cosy. You are provided a sheet, a pillow with a case on it, and a blanket. We brought pillow cases with us from home as this was a tip that we saw several times on a few blogs. I’m glad we did because they added an extra aspect of homeliness and made it easier to settle down when it was time to sleep. I personally find it very hard to sleep away from home, so I also brought some sleepy cream from LUSH with me, which you can find here. It is an incredible product and really helps when you find yourself tossing and turning at night.

The cabin doors close easily and allow privacy. We shared our cabin with a Vietnamese couple who were very friendly. When the train sets off the lights in the cabin turn off, which happened whilst I was writing in my travel diary (the Vietnamese man in our cabin found this very funny!). However there are little individual reading lights for each bunk so that when the lights are turned off you can still read/write. The air con was good and I didn’t feel too hot or cold. It was really cosy!

The items that were essential for me:

  • Steel looped Cable
  • Padlocks
  • A pillow case from home
  • Sleepy cream (LUSH)

The Journey

I won’t lie to you… it was rocky! My boyfriend described it as “like being rocked to sleep with the subtlety of a jack-hammer”. Despite this, we got some sleep. I never thought I’d be able to drift off but I did, even if it was only for an hour or so. In the morning the train gives a ‘wake up call’ which is some calming music.

20180827_054513

We woke up with about an hour left of the journey, and we just watched the sun rising over the fields. It was such a wonderful experience to watch the landscape passing by. We saw farmers working in the fields, cattle grazing, rolling hills and tall mountains. It was so different to the urban bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.

20180827_054920

The corridors of the train are pretty narrow so we were very glad that we only had rucksacks to carry through. To get to the station we walked over the tracks.

20180827_061523

We then headed towards the front entrance to get a taxi to take us towards our Air BnB. By this time is was around 6:30am so we were in good time for our 7am check in. The journey was an awesome experience. It was comfortable, fun, and it got us to Nha Trang for a relatively cheap price. Flying is often quicker, but as someone who hates flying this was an interesting and convenient alternative! I would definitely recommend the soft berth on the sleeper train from HCMC. It’s not luxury travel, but it’s an experience in itself, and I’m so glad we did it!

Image

10 Ways to Deal with Travel Anxiety

My travel journey always starts with the excited planning stage. The minute I’ve booked a trip I’m like Bilbo Baggins, frolicking through the house shouting “We’re going on an adventure!”. But as the various tasks and realities of the trip come to light, I will often start to feel a degree of apprehension and worry. I have a fear or flying and severe health anxiety, so venturing into something new, whilst exciting and wonderful, also brings with it a series of worries and fears.

I relate to Bilbo Baggins on quite a spiritual level really. I love my little hobbit hole, and I’m often afraid of venturing too far, but deep down I long for adventure! We all deserve the chance to travel and see the world, and despite my apprehensions I am determined never to let my anxiety stop me from seeking adventure!

So with that in mind, here are 10 ways to deal with travel anxiety:

1. Do your research

Paris

Do as much research as you can about the country you’re visiting. Research at the culture, the history, the customs, the cuisine, anything and everything you can. Look at people’s blogs, surf the web for pictures and reviews, and let yourself become excited! The more research you do, the more familiar this place will feel when you arrive. Doing your research will also give you a confidence boost and will allow you to feel more informed and ready to explore!

2. Make some loose itineraries

Train Station

This might not work for everyone, but I’ve found that forming even just a bare-bones itinerary for each trip is beneficial to me. Even if it doesn’t always unfold as planned and things change as you go along, having a plan can reduce a lot of the stress that comes with travelling. It could be as simple as writing a list of all of things that you are most keen to see and do, and then ranking them in terms of importance.

As an anxious traveller, I often find it hard to cope with too much uncertainty, but having a basic itinerary gives the trip a sense of structure. Again, this isn’t for everyone, but for me it’s super helpful!

3. Talk to your travel buddy

Crew

There’s nothing worse than having to pretend you’re okay when you’re not. If you’re travelling with someone else then try to articulate your fears and worries to them. Tell them what they can do for you in terms of support. Examples of this could be:

  • Telling your partner you need them to hold your hand on the plane when you take off and land
  • Telling a friend that whilst on your trip you may need some occasional alone time
  • Setting boundaries within a group and vocalising any fears you have about certain activities – know that you are always allowed to say no to things!

4. Bring something familiar

Pollenca

This could be your favourite music, T.V shows or films, a cuddly companion like a soft toy, or a cosy jumper or pair of socks that you love. Having something that brings you positive familiar memories can help to ground you when you’re feeling anxious or homesick. T.V shows, films and music are also a great form of escapism and they can help you to get out of your head for a while if you’re overthinking and worrying. (If you bring these, remember to download them onto your device, just in case you don’t have access to WiFi!)

5. Pack an anxiety kit

Sleepy

Create your own emergency kit for when you start to feel anxious. Having this on hand will not only help you in those moments of stress and anxiety, but it will also give you peace of mind throughout your trip because you’ll know that it will be there if and when you need it. Each person’s kit will be very different but I like to bring:

  • Lush sleepy body lotion – I find sleeping in new places really difficult and this cream has been so helpful when it comes to trying to drift off. It also smells like lavender so it is really helpful for calming panic and anxiety.
  • An eye mask and earplugs – as someone who also suffers from migraines these are essential for me. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, sometimes I find it helpful to block out all sights and sounds to reduce stimulation. Most long-haul flights give you these items or you can bring your own.
  • Headphones – being able to listen to music, watch a bit of YouTube or listen to an audio book when you’re anxious is super helpful. It’s a form of escapism that can soothe you and encourage positive feelings.
  • The Calm app – the calm app is an absolute life saver when it comes to calming anxiety. They have meditations that can be done in less than 2 minutes, emergency calm meditations, sleep stories and music for meditation and relaxation. I would definitely suggest picking a few of your favourites and downloading them to your phone so that can access them offline.

My kit has a lot of sleep related items in it because my anxiety tends to sky rocket if I become sleep deprived! Whatever you feel will help to ground you and calm you, bring that with you and keep it on hand just in case.

For more information on strategies to deal with anxiety check out my previous post on Anxiety here

6. Be prepared

Packed

Being prepared is so important! One of the best things you can do for yourself if you suffer from any kind of anxiety is to be as organised as possible when it comes to packing your bags and sorting travel documents.

Lists are excellent when it comes to this. When you’re planning the trip, make a list of all the things you can’t forget to do like sorting out visas and photocopying passports etc… Then make lists of what you need to bring with you and have it all ready and packed the night before you leave. This way, when you wake up there’s no mad rushes and sudden panics about not having everything with you. There’s nothing worse than getting on a train or a bus to go to the airport and realising you’ve left something behind!

7. Give yourself a break

Listen

When travelling, we often put expectations on ourselves to do anything and everything we possibly can.  Maybe you’ve felt this before, or seen other travellers on social media and felt like you need to live up to that expectation. However, just because you’re travelling doesn’t mean you should let yourself burn out!

Don’t push yourself to do things that you don’t want to do. Travelling is such an individual experience and you should never compare it to anyone else’s. It’s okay to pause when you’re travelling. Take a nap, read a book, rest, watch the world go by… just give your mind and body what it needs to re-charge. Never beat yourself up for having to take breaks when you’re travelling.

8. Be Mindful

Reflect

When travelling it’s important to stay mindful. The more mindful you are, the more you can appreciate the experience of travelling without rushing it. Once you’re there, just be. Don’t be angry with yourself if you don’t see everything you wanted to. Learn to see the wonder in the small things; the language, the food, the smells and the changes in the weather. Take in the atmosphere and know that it’s not all about doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Being mindful also allows you to focus your energy on the present, and can help with feelings of stress, pressure and anxiety.

9. Keep a Travel Diary

Travel Diary

This is, by far, the best thing that I did for myself when I went travelling. Keeping a travel diary gave me a routine in which I was able to practise introspection. The process of writing down my experiences allowed me to look at all of the positive things I was experiencing throughout my trip. It gave me a diary full of memories that I may have otherwise forgotten. This was so helpful in calming my anxiety because it allowed me to write down all of my thoughts and feelings about travelling. It was an great creative outlet for me throughout my entire trip.

10. Enjoy the journey!

Looking out

Remind yourself why your travelling. Do you want to experience new cultures? To open your mind to new ideas? Travel can be such a wonderful experience. It’s important to enjoy the journey! Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. Don’t force yourself to do or be anything other than exactly who you are.  Journeys are full of ups and downs, and that’s okay!

As for me, well… let’s just say I never in a million years thought I’d be sharing a sleeper train carriage with two strangers and riding on the back of a motorbike through paddy fields. Sometimes you CAN and WILL surprise yourself. This anxious little hobbit managed it, and you can too! Seek out your adventure and you’ll return home with a head full of memories, just like Bilbo.

Image

Vietnam Travel Diary #02: Ho Chi Minh City – Heat, History and Culture

I have to say that, no matter how much preparation, research and planning we had done for this trip, nothing had quite prepared me for the HEAT. I knew it was going to be very hot, but I didn’t fully realise that Ho Chi Minh City would have heat and humidity more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. We decided to take it slow, and started the morning with a stroll through Tao Dan Park.

Tao Dan Park

As we walked through the park we noticed groups of people doing Tai Chi. It looked so graceful and elegant. We also saw people doing fan dancing, and others doing their own individual exercise routines. Another group of people were playing badminton and instead of using rackets they were kicking the shuttlecock to each other over the net.

We then headed to the Reunification Palace. This was a really grand piece of architecture. I will admit that I took every possible opportunity to casually stop and stand under the cool air vents inside the building for as long as I could without looking too much like a tourist way out of her temperature comfort zone.

Reunification Palace

It was so interesting to take a glimpse inside the state rooms. The building was very open, and light poured through each room. It was surrounded by greenery and as we walked past the windows in the hallways, we could hear the sound of birds chirping and the distant whirl of the traffic.

State Dining RoomState Meeting Room

The next place we visited was incredibly sobering. We travelled to the War remnants museum; a building dedicated to preserving photographs and artefacts from the Vietnam war and the first Indochina War. As you enter the area, you are given a sticker that depicts a white dove in front of three falling bombs. For me this was a reminder that we should always continue to strive for tranquillity, kindness and peace. The symbol can be seen on the building in the image below:

The War Remnants Museum

Inside the building there were a variety of exhibitions on both the Vietnam war and the First Indochina War. In Vietnam, they often refer to the Vietnam War as the ‘Resistance War Against America’ or ‘The American War’. The exhibitions were harrowing, and the photographs were graphic, raw and uncensored. Inside that building I saw photographs that shocked me to my core.

One of the most poignant exhibitions was one dedicated to those who photographed the Vietnam War. This was so informative as it showed the transition from black and white to colour photography, and how these photographs were used to bring awareness to the realities of the war. Photojournalism helped to raise a huge amount of awareness surrounding the Vietnam war, and many photographers gave their lives in the quest to document it’s brutal realities. A plaque in the middle of the exhibition had a list of photographers who had died or had gone missing during the war.

Photographers In the War

We took a moment in the museum to just sit and digest what we had seen. We just sat silently for a while. Visiting the War Remnants Museum was so important, and I’m really glad that it was one of the first things we’ve did. I think this was a really important stop to make.

We then took a long walk to the pink church, more formally known as Tan Dinh Church. On the way to the pink church a few guys said ‘Hello!’ and held up peace signs.  The pink church was actually closed when we got there, but the outside was a marvel in itself.

The Pink Church

As you can see, it’s a very pink church. Can you spot a very small human? That’s me. The clouds above us began to get a little grey, so we anticipated that it might rain soon. After seeing the church we headed towards the post office, and on our way we stumbled across the aptly nicknamed Book Street. It was amazing! There were umbrellas hung above the street and a sudden rain started to drizzle onto them just as we got under the canopy.

Book Street

The street had lots of independent book shops and quaint coffee shops. There was also a lush sunshade of trees above us. We sat on a bench for a little while taking in the sounds of rain splashing, people chatting and coffee cups clinking. One of my favourite things to do is just sit, observe and take in the atmosphere. This was the perfect place to do it. I’d found my own personal Eden in Ho Chi Minh City.

We got to the post office and looked around the shops for a bundle of postcards to send to friends and family. The building was another brilliant piece of architecture.

The Post Office

Whilst we were searching for postcards and stamps I had a bit of a funny turn and had to sit down for a while. I sat in the post office looking at the old fashioned phone booths, and eventually felt alright after a nice rest.

We then headed to the opera house. I’m a massive opera nerd so, when I can, I always make an effort to see the opera house in each city I visit.

The Opera House

After that we stumbled upon the town hall which was a welcome surprise, and the last item on our list of things to see on that day. We strolled to the waterfront where we sat and watched the water.

We then headed back to the hotel to have a rest. In the evening we went to dinner at Pizza 4P’s which is a Japanese Italian Pizza Restaurant based in Vietnam (quite a mouthful!). The pizza didn’t disappoint and we had a lovely evening just relaxing, eating, and talking about what else we might want to do in HMC. We walked home late, and on the way to the hotel I saw three lizards scuttling around on the size of a movie poster.

When I got back to the hotel, I felt… exhausted. As wonderful as Ho Chi Minh City had been so far, it was also proving to be quite overwhelming at times. I vowed that most of the extra anxiety was coming from jet lag, and that tomorrow would be a new day full of even more adventure!

Thank you for reading! You can see my previous travel diary all about my first impressions of the city here.

 

 

 

 

Image

Vietnam Travel Diary #01: Ho Chi Minh City – First Impressions

We hadn’t got much sleep on the red eye flight from Doha, despite there only being about 30 of us on the plane and having ample room to spread out (I’m serious – it was bliss). I spent the majority of the flight surfing the entertainment system; this included ‘The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants‘, which made me very happy.

The flight to Tan Son Nhat International Airport

When we stepped out of the airport and into Ho Chi Minh City it was an instant sensory overload. The humidity hit us and we were met with a whirl of noises and smells. There were people sleeping, eating and reading on their parked motorbikes, motorbikes zooming and weaving in and out of each other, the smell of petrol and heat and the constant sound of horns. It was a bustling symphony of metropolitan sounds. As we travelled into district 1 of Ho Chi Minh City in our taxi we saw motorbikes that were piled with pallets, gallons of water, piles of straw, all sorts! One man had a few tall ladders stacked on the back of his bike. The road’s were chaos, but it just… worked! It was fascinating to see the way the city flows.

DSC_0112.JPG

We got to our hotel and had to wait a while for the room to be done, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore some of the city. One of the first things I noticed was that we were getting a lot of looks from the locals. Not nasty or sinister stares, just a few interested looks and smiles. After just one short stroll down the pavement we had seen street vendors cooking corn and rice, Luke had been offered a shoe shine, and I had seen about six different types of fruit being pushed along the pavement in bike baskets. We popped into a 7-eleven to look for some snacks and the staff gave us a very enthusiastic ‘Xin Chào!’. There was so much to see. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but it was the best way to become acquainted with Vietnam.

Then is was time to cross the road…

If you aren’t familiar with the roads in Vietnam, you should know that there isn’t much of a strict pedestrian system in place. There are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, but many motorists don’t stop at them. The general rule for crossing the road in Vietnam is to look left and right, and then walk at a steady and confident pace across the road. This is to allow the riders to anticipate where you are walking and let them weave around you. It’s kind of like playing frogger! It’s a trust exercise with a bunch of strangers you’ve never met and it sounds insane, but it’s weirdly exhilarating! If you’re worried about crossing, a good tip is to follow someone who looks like they know what they’re doing! Ho Chi Minh City probably had the most chaotic roads of all of the places we visited, motorbikes even mounted the pavement, so we had to be constantly alert. But it was a real rush!

In the evening we thought we would take it easy and just stroll through the city to find some dinner. Ho Chi Minh City was gorgeous at night and the culture shock that I had initially felt was slowly wearing off at this point. We headed to the ‘Saigon Centre’ which was a huge modern mall filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants.

The Saigon Centre

We walked out onto a rooftop garden in the centre and had a great view of the city. It was so alive, and watching the bustle of the city from the tranquillity of that garden was such a wonderful experience.

The Roof Garden

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Tomorrow, we thought, it’s time to explore!

Vietnam – South to North

My boyfriend and I had the adventure of a lifetime in Vietnam this Summer. After several planes, trains and automobiles we travelled from the South in Ho Chi Minh City all the way to Sapa in the North.

Vietnam is a beautiful, friendly, vibrant country filled with breathtaking scenery, delicious food and incredible history & architecture.

I’m planning on writing a many different posts about the trip. For now, here are a few of our highlights.

Enjoy!