On my trip from London to Singapore, I made my Vietnamese portion of the journey from the border of Dong Dang to Hanoi, and planned to continue down from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, only for the journey to be truncated at Bien Hoa just about an hour short of Ho Chi Minh City due to the collapse of the Ghenh Bridge over the Dong Nai River.
To complete the missing rail link from London to York and all the way down to Bien Hoa before getting on the transhipment bus and train via Song Than to Ho Chi Minh City, I decided to get a Grab from Ho Chi Minh City back to Bien Hoa to complete this short but significant leg.
The repaired Ghenh Bridge for the railway as seen from the parallel vehicular Buu Hoa Bridge.
The shorter Rach Cat Bridge which preceeds the Ghenh Bridge when heading in the southbound direction.
Crossing the railway tracks, looking towards Bien Hoa.
Hello again, Bien Hoa Railway Station.
The last time I stepped here, it was pretty dark.
The facade of Bien Hoa Railway Station in the afternoon.
First order of the day: get a train ticket back to Ho Chi Minh City.
Fun fact: Vietnam Railways operate with a similar ticketing procedure as Kereta Api Indonesia – you need an initial ticket (be it booked online or in person or through an agent, whichever) and then get your boarding pass from one of the orange (Hmm.) check-in kiosks around the station. If your online ticket already has a QR code on it, you can simply print that out and use it as your boarding pass, or just flash it on your phone to scan on the gantries or hald-held scanners used by the coach attendants.
However, for immediate departures, the ticket counter can also issue the boarding pass directly upon purchase. Here’s my ticket/boarding pass for the SE5 landmark trip from Bien Hoa to Ho Chi Minh City.
The one-way ticket for this short journey costs VND 30,000 (~S$1.77) on a Soft Seat.
The Hanoi-bound SE10 at the platform, which was delayed due to the late arrival of the Ho Chi Minh City-bound SPT1. Entry to the platform is by checking of the boarding pass only.
Seems like an advertisement by Saigon Railway Transport Company Limited (SRT) advertising about their new coaches. SRT is a subsidiary of Vietnam Railways (Đường Sắt Việt Nam – DSVN), which I think it’s like how JR in Japan has different companies operating in different regions. (The northern counterpart to SRT is Hanoi Railway Transport One Member Limited Company (HRT).)
The SRT here is not to be confused with the State Railway of Thailand, also abbreviated as SRT.
The waiting area of Bien Hoa Railway Station.
The SE5 was delayed by about 45 minutes to around 6.40pm.
Once the train was about the arrive, announcements were made in the station and the staff opened the doors to the platform. There were more people on this evening train to Ho Chi Minh City than I had expected.
The D19E locomotive manufactured by CRRC Ziyang hauling the SE5 today.
Oh what’s this?
Seems like the SE5 operates with new coaches too – a real bonus for me.
As the sleeper coaches were all up in front, I had to walk back to the rear of the train to access my Soft Seat coach at Coach 2. The coach attendant will be at the door to check for boarding passes.
The interior of the Soft Seat coach. With the height of the coach matching the sleeper coaches, there was lots of headroom when walking along the aisle.
The washroom of the new coaches. Hmm… Why does this feel familiar? But not that it reminded me of Vietnam.
Ah, I see – these coaches are most probably made in China, just like lots of other trains around the region nowadays.
Here’s a photo of a washroom on board a typical Chinese coach for reference.
The sink area has definitely improved tremendously.
The hot water dispenser is also available on this new coach.
The seats on the new Soft Seat coaches seems to recline a bit too much, so look out for the person behind you.
The comfortable legroom on board the Soft Seat.
The sticker on the tray table lets you know how to operate the new Soft Seat, since it now comes with calf rests and USB chargers as compared to the simple one-function recline on the legacy coaches.
The view of the Soft Seat coach from my seat.
The passenger information system at the ends of the coach tells you the current date and time, temperature and availability of the washroom on that side of the coach.
The approaching station names also scrolls by, whether the train actually stops there or not.
This is followed by the current speed of the train.
Passing over the Ghenh Bridge and heading towards Song Than – mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, Song Than has now reverted to become a freight-only station. It was only used as a passenger station for the transhipment train, which kind of explains now why I didn’t see any ticket counters or even seats at the platform the last time. There are no more passenger trains stopping at Song Than.
The overall space you get when travelling on the Soft Seat.
The spacious overhead luggage rack due to the height of the coach. You could probably fit in a full-sized suitcase in there, but I wouldn’t recommend it lest you get decapitated when the train jerks.
The best part about the new Soft Seat coaches? Individually controlled reading lights and air-conditioning vents. This is in addition to the general lighting and air-conditioning.
Crossing over the Saigon River by the Binh Loi Bridge.
Next station: Sai Gon.
Crossing over the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal.
Arrived in Sai Gon Railway Station. The station still bears the old name of Ho Chi Minh City, just like how locals actually call Ho Chi Minh City as despite the official name change.
The overall interior of the new Soft Seat coach.
The additional calf rests really plays a part for long-distance journeys. Keep in mind that people actually spend potentially more than 36 hours in this seat from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
Also, to other railway operator(s) out there who think that they’re the best in the region but aren’t actually doing much to maintain their service, the Soft Seat with generous recline, calf rests, wall sockets and USB socket behind the tray table is the cheapest and lowest class available on the SE5.
The new SRT (Saigon) coaches has a dual-mode step by the door for both low and high platforms, just like the new SRT (Thailand) coaches.
The new coaches also bear the name of Đường Sắt Sài Gòn instead of Đường Sắt Việt Nam.
The new SRT logo as seen on the coaches.
Not sure which date is which, but either way, they are still pretty new and less than 6 months old.
As Sai Gon is the southernmost railway station in Vietnam and the whole of the main Europe-Asia railway network, the locomotive heads around the rake since there’s nowhere else south to go to.
In comes the D9E shunter to shunt off the rake back into the yard.
The southernmost buffer stop at the end of the headshunt of the Vietnamese railway network as well as the entire interconnected Europe-Asia railway.
Crossing the tracks to head to the station building.
Seems like the slower SNT2 has the new coaches too. I wouldn’t mind spending the slower journey in the new 4-berth Soft Sleeper.
The facade of the exit feels familiar too.
Except that new gantries are installed for you to scan your boarding pass before boarding the train. To exit, take the small door on the right.
The check-in kiosks to print your boarding pass at Sai Gon Railway Station. You can also use these machines to check for train schedules.
The ticket office has also moved to the ground floor.
The side facade (facing the main road entrance) of Sai Gon Railway Station.
Overall, a simple journey to cover a short missing line turned out to be an eye-opening experience to the new modern improvements for passenger comfort on the Vietnam Railways. The facilities and comfort made the 40-minute journey non-stop journey from Bien Hoa to Sai Gon feel like just 10, which is making me consider a longer journey with these new coaches. Hmm…
Anyway, back to the main purpose of this journey, London to Singapore on my Vietnamese missing link: COMPLETED.