Saturday, December 17, 2005
Friendly Otto and his Vietnamese GF Phuong
I met this couple in the lobby of the Saigon Railway station. I was checking the schedule to my first stop which was Nha Trang and I heard a voice in labored English ask where I was going? As with most travelers in a foreign country I was happy to hear someone speak my language and an obvious westerner as well. Otto I found out was from Belgium, not Germany as I thought at first but we got along quite well, he had visited VN 3 years prior and had met a girl here and now comes back yearly to visit and stay with her folks just north of Nha Trang. Later on the platform I saw them working the conductor trying to get an upgrade from their hard seats to something alittle better. Being that the tour company booked me a complete sleeping car consisting of 4 beds I invited them to stay with me. Much to the chagrin of the conductor who was in line to make a hefty bonus from the "rich westerner". So Otto and his girl friend climbed aboard and we made small talk all the way to Nha Trang which took about 10 hours and only a few minor delays due to opposing trains coming from the North. The conductor asked me for his help in translating some of the technical words for "water heater" and "thermostat" and made some friends along the way. The Vietnamese trains have both Vietnamese "squat" toilets and "western toilets" on each of the sleeping cars.....but....and it's a big but.....the western toilets never seem to be unlocked. So you're relegated to using the common squat toilet which you can see the tracks passing by beneath your feet as you do your business.....or try to do it as in my case. The stainless steel footprints that you stand on and try to aim for daylight is to the untrained like shooting at moving targets and not being in the airforce and never having had bombadeer training.....well you get the picture....not a pretty sight. The food provided on the trains is edible in the broadest definition of the term but I wouldn't recommend it. The snacks they sell from the cart are much more palatable.....I also wouldn't recommend buying out the whole sleeping room because half of the fun of travel is the people you meet and why stay locked in your room and miss the best part of the trip...the people. Alas the conductor came back and wrangled out another $10 dollars US from my friend Otto because my ticket was only good till Nha Trang and he was going further, also he had his xe om on the train and that would be extra also...leave it to the Vietnamese so industrious.