Local colour, as depicted by tourist brochures and guides, can often be over-rated in the same way that memories of trips past, especially those taken as a backpacker become, well, better than they actually were, especially when there are modern alternatives available.
In this instance I’m talking about local train travel up against the new wave of low cost carriers, which did not exist when I travelled around SE Asia in my 20s.
However, so that our teenage children could experience the so-called real Vietnam, we took the overnight train from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Da Nang on Friday .
The eldest was sceptical, the youngest blase while my wife went along for the ride. We paid a fare of AUD 228 for a four-berth soft sleeper.
Romantic notions of our journey disappeared on arrival at Hanoi’s main train station, which is small, old and chaotic.
Hard seats to wait on, no left luggage, cafe or restaurant.
This was surprising given that Hanoi’s public buildings, mostly built by the French colonialists, or “invaders” as they are described in local museums, are generally grand in the European style.
The train itself was basic, the berth and beds comfortable enough. The ride however was shaky and jilted, the driver with a heavy foot on the brake.
Amenities were poor and dirty, essentially consisting of a toilet awash with piss and water.
There was no decent food available during what became a 15 hour journey, just the (very) occasional trolley.
The biggest disappointment was the scenery, which had been talked up in a couple of the train sites.
In reality there’s 60 minutes of great coastal views right at the end in the approach to the rapidly expanding coastal city of Da Nang.
Flying Jetstar Pacific would have cost less than AUD200 and got us there in 75 minutes.
But then the kids would not have got to experience the ‘real Vietnam’ – or would they?