Oct 10 2011

Ultimate Train Challenge ends in Saigon

Published by at 2:38 am under Events


I haven’t been on many train rides in my life and I’ve been on even fewer that were for more than a couple of hours long. I don’t have anything against trains; it’s been more of a lack of opportunity coupled with travel time restraints. While at this point in my life I’d say I was more of a plane girl, I’d like to give trains a shot.

Let the journey begin.

Let the journey begin. Photo by TheProfessionalHobo.com.

Recently, three travel bloggers, Go, See, Write’s Michael Hodson, Nomadic Chick’s Jeannie Mark, and The Professional Hobo’s Nora Dunn took things a little overboard when they decided to start the Ultimate Train Challenge, a month-long trans-continental train ride that just so happened to end in my own wonderful city of Saigon.

On September 1, the three writers began their month-long journey. Starting in Lisbon, Portugal they each boarded a train, which would take them on their own individual route, bound for Ho Chi Minh City. Spending nearly every day and night on a train for a month, the group covered numerous countries and close to 25,000km in track.

The general route chosen stretched across Europe to Moscow, where the writers met to take the six-day, no-internet, no-shower, Trans-Siberian line to Beijing, then made their way south to Vietnam.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet? Photo: UltimateTrainChallenge.com.

However, the road wasn’t without its hardship. For example, after completing the 150 straight hour train ride from Russia to Bejing, Nora said she was, “more excited about taking a shower than seeing the Great Wall of China.” Jeannie told me the hardest part for her was, “Probably, the concept of time. We rely on time to set our day, or know what we’re supposed to do. I was changing time zones so much, that at first it was hard to know where I was, should I be eating breakfast or dinner, etc. Oh, and lack of solid sleep.”

During the trip, the group partnered with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) to help Vietnamese children suffering from disabilities by raising money from their followers and supporters.

When they finally arrived in Saigon, although they were a bit tired from their trip, I managed to get some face time with the group when I met them for dinner at the always-tasty Cuc Gach Quan restaurant in District 1. It was nice to finally meet some real-life versions of people I had only talked to online plus the food was great.

While we were reminiscing about their month of exploits I found out that one of their favourite train rides from the whole trip was a rail journey in Vietnam — the three-day, final train from Hanoi to Saigon.

That's one big wall!

That's one big wall! Photo by Michael Hodson.

About the final ride, Michael said it had, “beautiful scenery, power in the cars, and it was the last train.” While that’s all great for them I’m not sure how that information sits with me. I don’t seem like I’m a multiple nights on a train person, but now, after their recommendation I’m going to have to try it.

If I’m really lucky, maybe I can get them, or anyone for that matter, to join me and we can start the next Ultimate Train Challenge the other way; better yet, we could make things easier just call it the Ultimate Plane Challenge!

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Ultimate Train Challenge ends in Saigon”

  1. marco_pauloon 10 Oct 2011 at 10:12 am

    I find it hard to believe that someone writing travel articles can say they have rarely been on trains!

    Being a “plane girl” and a travel writer shows the diversity of types of traveller I guess. But having been to Vietnam a number of times, i am certain that just flying from HCMC to various destinations really limits someone’s understanding of that country.

    Paul Theroux, one of the best ever travel writers, often writes about planes being the best way not to see the country you are in and I couldnt agree more. Overland all the way.

  2. Angelaon 10 Oct 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I have lived in Vietnam for some time now and have been on a train. Just because I prefer planes doesn’t mean that I haven’t travelled overland, which I’d agree is the best way to see the country. That’s why I thought the Ultimate Train Challenge was so inspiring and, although I haven’t been on an overnight train yet, I plan to go on more trains in the future directly related to this group of writers. So, hopefully they made Paul Theroux proud :)
    And, if we want to get picky, I’d say motorbiking from HCMC to Hanoi is a better way to see the country than by train ;)

  3. Nomadic Chickon 11 Oct 2011 at 4:23 am

    Hey girl,

    Thanks for a lovely write up. We had such a heady adventure, which is hard to sum up in one article, but you did a great job. :)

    And Marco P. – overland travel can encompass many things. Even though that’s my preferred mode of travel, long haul trains was a small factor my experiences until now. It depends on where you’re traveling. In Europe, trains are easy, but if you haven’t been to Europe and are in South America for instance, train travel is not the norm in SA.

    In Vietnam, bus travel is cheap and easy. Planes even easier for the ‘lazy’ as you call it. But, the average sleeper on a Vietnamese train is not exactly the cheapest for the backpacker (if that’s who we’re talking about). I should know, just came off of one.

    So, maybe you should reassess the culture and environment before picking on people on the Internet, dude.

  4. Bhaveshon 11 Oct 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Well…i am totally in for The Ultimate Plane/Train Challenge :))
    Though, not a traveller yet, I do wish to take this up, coz I simple love it. Reading your articles, give me the inspiration to do it. Thank you.

  5. [...] Nomadic Chick’s Jeannie Mark and The Professional Hobo’s Nora Dunn, who had just finished their Ultimate Train Challenge, joined me on the tour and gave me the opportunity to gauge the reactions of some seasoned [...]

  6. Angelaon 19 Oct 2011 at 1:59 am

    Great idea! Plane/Train Challenge it is!
    Glad you are finding the blog useful!

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