I started my Vietnamese train journey from the popular seaside city of Nah Trang. The destination was the city of Quảng Ngãi, 240 miles (386 km) to the north. It takes roughly 7 hours to do this particular leg, which I thought would be a good introduction to the country’s rail system. I purchased a “soft seat” ticket through one of the city’s many travel agencies. I forget the exact price but I do remember that the service charge was $3 USD. I could have taken a taxi to the railway station and purchased the ticket on my own; but after paying for the taxi, I probably would have only saved a dollar. “Soft seats” are exactly what the name implies, padded reclining seats in an air-conditioned car, which would be the equivalent of first class in other countries. On the other hand, “hard seats” are wooden benches in a car that is definitely third class. The journey was quite pleasant; the cars are modern and well maintained and I was very impressed that trains in Vietnam arrive and depart on time. There was plenty of food and beverages on board; the train’s staff sold drinks, snacks and light meals.
Quảng Ngãi is the only city I visited in Vietnam that was not filled with tourists. In fact, I very well may have been the only foreigner spending the night there. The hotel I stayed in catered to Vietnamese business people and the two restaurants located near the hotel only had menus in Vietnamese; ordering was accomplished by pointing at the food. This is not a town noted for handicrafts or a night market filled with souvenirs, and is certainly not on the main tourist path.
Besides breaking up the trip, I had chosen to stop in Quảng Ngãi to visit the Sơn Mỹ Memorial, located approximately nine miles (15 km) from the center of the city. Sơn Mỹ was the name of a village that had been subdivided into a number of hamlets; the most well-known are Mỹ Lai and Mỹ Khe. On March 16, 1968 soldiers from the U.S. Army killed 347 to 504 unarmed civilians which included women, children and the elderly. This incident would become known in America as the Mỹ Lai massacre while the Vietnamese refer to it as the Sơn Mỹ massacre. The army attempted to cover up the incident, but when it was leaked to the press in 1969 the American public was outraged.
The memorial consists of the original foundations from the victim’s homes, some graves and a museum. The impressions of combat boots and tiny feet can be seen in the concrete pathway between the relics of the former homes and the crude bomb shelters the villagers once cowered in. Sơn Mỹ is a depressing place to say the least.
My hotel had organized a taxi for the 20 minute trip to Sơn Mỹ. The driver waited for me as I toured the memorial, then we headed to the train station where I purchased a ticket for the following day. Following the train station I visited the Quảng Ngãi History Museum where I was the only visitor. After a quick stop for coffee, I had the driver drop me off in the center of town to have a look around. I had used the taxi all morning, perhaps four or five hours; the total fare was $8 USD.
Until next time,