Like in Terzani’s book “A fortuneteller told me” we chose land over air. And similarly to so many tourists visiting Vietnam every year, we fell for the charm of the south-north train, linking Ho Chi Minh city with the capitol Hanoi. The country unveiled in front of our eyes as we crossed over 900 km, from Saigon to Danang, with stop over in coastal Nha Trang. Our senses were sharpened from constant rocking of the train, sleep deprivation and limited space we were now bound to stay in. The time slowed down, letting us take in everything that was now on display: the landscapes, slowly changing light, raising day. We could see Vietnam turning alive in front of our eyes, just like in the movies. Travelling today comes to couple days or weeks of trying to escape common routes for those seeking an “authentic experience”. Coming from Cambodia, Vietnam seemed like a particularly difficult place to escape the overwhelming tourist industry. Is there really a way to see, understand anything about Vietnam in seven days? What came to our escape was indeed the train, and all it offered to us as travellers with only the will to observe, and be emerged within the lifestyle. I was accompanied in this journey by John Pilger’s iconic “Heroes”, and his war-reporting testimony of Vietnam contrasting so sharply with the image of bright and calm landscape outside the windows. 20 years later it seemed that the war left only very few visible marks, but this was just an illusion that the train ride allowed us to maintain. Surrounded by the views and local people, locked in the space of the rolling train, we were granted an immunity from engagement, and a right to observe, so rare that it seems exquisite, almost a luxury. And there we were, falling for the Vietnamese train, and its rolling, cinematic journey.
— text by Marta Soszynska and I