The most memorable moments of any adventure are often not on the itinerary.
I had been in Central Vietnam with my husband and four kids for about a week. We had spent the day at the Khanh Hoa Province Government offices adopting our two youngest kids. We were now a colossal family of five girls ages three to fourteen and an eight-year-old boy. It had taken longer than we had expected, so our plans to take the one-hour Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City were long gone. Our very first adventure as a family of eight was about to begin.
That evening we headed down the hill from our hotel past the French Gothic style Cathedral to the Nha Trang Railway Station. Our two youngest girls speaking fluent Vietnamese with no idea what was going on, our three oldest girls in their wedged sandals and conical hats pulling rolling suitcases (because that’s what teenage girls do when visiting Southeast Asia!) and our only boy exploring every corner of this new world.
As the station came into sight, we were sure that all ninety million Vietnamese had decided to travel by train that evening. The station was an explosion of color with the vast array of girls in their traditional Vietnamese dress, Ao Dai. We had bought tickets for the 411-kilometer trek to Ho Chi Minh City, an eight-hour night train dubbed the Reunification Express by the Vietnamese Government. While not the Orient Express, we thought a romantic way to travel through the Central Highlands of Vietnam as a new family of eight.
As we waited on the station platform for our train to arrive, we took in the fragrance of the traditional Pho soup being sold on the sidewalks and the noise of what seemed to be a million motorbikes on the streets. A train pulled into the station on a track in the distance and our guide explained that that was our train, asked us to climb down onto the tracks and cross to the platform where our train waited. We obliged our guide and joined a few other Vietnamese passengers in this rudimentary process (in our wedges, conical hats and rolling suitcases!). Just as we all climbed up onto the platform a train rolled onto the tracks we had just crossed. While we took in the speed at which this train arrived and it’s proximity to where we were standing (just a few inches away!), the Vietnamese passengers that had been waiting on the station platform began clamoring beneath this newly arrived train to the platform where we stood. This was our introduction to the black market where multiple tickets are sold for the same seats. While we never boarded the Reunification Express for our romantic trip through the Central Highlands of Vietnam, we all had the exhilarating experience of authentic Vietnamese travel.