The International Steam Pages
Steam in Vietnam December 1998
Bernd Seiler and friends were briefly in Vietnam at the end of 1998. I put up a brief version in February transcribed from what appears to have been a piece of Burmese toilet paper..... This is the full version!
If you read all the previous reports you may think this land is very difficult for an individual traveler. Everybody would ask you for a huge amount of US-$ if you wanted to take a picture. Having this in my mind I postponed the often planned Vietnam tour again and again - until now, when it was almost too late.
What we found was the opposite of what we expected: kind, honest and helpful people, not a bit of trouble with any taxi driver, not a single Dollar spent for taking pictures. And last but not least - we didn't expect to have such fantastic weather.
If you organize official access to the rly-stations in advance you have to pay 200 US-$ for a group up to five persons. If you wish to pay the entrance fee at the station you have to pay 10 US-$ per person in Hà Nôi Ga (main station) and 20 US-$ pp. in Yên Viên, a Vietnam tourism-manager said.
If you only want to see the steam locos you don't need a permit to enter the station because the remaining steam locos are not hidden by a fence or a closed shed.
All in all our observations agree with the last report by Florian Schmidt.
What we found:
Yên Viên (northeast suburbs of Hà Nôi) has finished steam service. One 141 still stored there.
Hà Nôi Ga (main station) also finished any use of steam.
Ǵáp Bát: This station is situated in the southern suburbs of Hà Nôi and close to the main trunk road. 141 202 in use for shunting in the freight yard, 141 182 cold and serviceable in the shed of Ǵáp Bát, 141 213 OOU in the shed. Light is good nearly all the day, 141 202 faced south.
Ninh B́nh: Steam service has been replaced by a Russian TU 73-class diesel loco (Vietnam class D4H). 141 192 is stored in the shed, last use was in the first days of October 1998. This loco (now D4H 862) is used for the daily train to Bim Son which served all branch lines along the line. Between Hà Nôi and Bim Son the part Ninh B́nh - Bim Son is most scenic of the whole line with hills, valleys and a river. This is really the main loss of steam in Vietnam in 1998.
Bim Son: The loco for the small shunting yard just outside the cement factory was 141 167. The staff of the station didn't like the idea of us taking pictures but after some friendly words they let us take our photos. The switchman at the end of the station was friendly and had no objections. Bim Son is surrounded by hills and if you have luck and there are no wagons standing on the first track you can gat a nice clear shot from the side while the loco is shunting. Sun is best in the late afternoon.
Taxi Hà Nôi - Bim Son and back was 100 US-$.
Trains Hà Nôi - Hai Pḥng:
HP1 06.00 - 08.00
Foreigner special price: 52.000 Dong (1US-$ = 13.820 Dong)
We went by HP1, the only passenger train with a D12E, the others have two D4H (one at each end of the train). The train was crowded (but we had seat reservations) and fast. Going by the very poor track condition they should not drive that fast.
Hai Pḥng: 141 186 for the port duties under steam and another, not identified 141-loco, was in the shed. It seems the loco burnt out some time ago and they only use it to get spare parts. 141 186 makes two return trips to the port during daylight and one or two in the night. The line passes the city and along the line to the port (about 1000m) there are some very pleasant photo positions . Sun is best in the early morning. The returning trains are pushed, so you can get two photos with the loco chimney first in one return trip.
Access to the port:
(1) Go to the port authority just some metres back from gate number 4 into the city. The guard at the gate speaks some English and can show you the way. Price of permit: A smile. But it depends on which person you meet there whether you will get a permit or not. We were lucky the first time and got our permit here free of charge. Second time we were sent to the immigration office.
(2) Go to gate 3 and pretend not to understand when they say you have to go to gate 4 (because you are a foreigner). After five minutes bargaining one guard allowed us to enter. Price of permit: five minutes time. When we wanted to go out, the staff at the gate had changed. So we accepted the invitation of the loco crew, to leave the port in the cab of the loco. This is the possibility number ...
(3) - travel on the loco. Price of "permit": two pockets of 555-cigarettes.
(4) Go to the immigration office: No. 4 Tran Binh Trong (street) and ask for Mr. Minh. Mr. Minh has been the security chief of the port for about 15 years. He will issue a permit but, unfortunately without photo permission. However, no one checked us at the gate about the contents of my small backpack after we dropped our heavy camera bags at the main gate entrance (gate 4)... Price of the permission: 3 US-$.
On entering the port you have to handover your permit so you can not use it twice.
In the port we were as free as the girls who offered the oldest business in the world by walking from ship to ship. No security man asked what we were doing inside the port, only once did the crew of the train (not of the loco!) try to prevent us from taking pictures. The loco crew convinced the train crew that what we were doing was harmless. And so the film wasting went on ...
We didn't visit the steelworks but Mr. Hieu told us there is still steam in use. The problem is that even for Vietnamese people it is a closed area. So we would have to pay many Dollars for the permit to enter the steelworks and even then we could not take pictures inside the factory, only the yard and the shed would be permitted. Because we've seen the fascinating Anshan steelworks two times we saved the money for some shots of a loco standing around.
Hà Nôi: Hoa Linh Hotel, 35 Hang Bo, double room, AC, hot shower, TV for 20 US-$, good and not so noisy.
Hai Pḥng: Dien Bien Hotel, 67 Dien Bien Phu, AC, hot shower, TV, double for 15 US-$, not as good as Hoa Linh, but reasonable. A better hotel is just opposite these, but they asked first for 30 Dollars. After we made the contract with Dien Bien they went down to 20 Dollars and even down to 15 - but too late to get our business.
Tourist spot Bay of Halong:
If you want to go there, it is better to use the ferry (dep. 6.00, 9.00, 11.00 and 16.00). It takes about 2,5 hours and is much more comfortable than the way by bus (two ferries between) - the bus also takes more than two hours. The only advantage for the bus is the visibility of the standard gauge line while traveling. We saw a diesel hauled passenger train with a Russian loco similar to the class 38 of MINAZ (Cuba).