There is a lot of food served on trains in Vietnam, and lot of negative things written about that food by foreign tourists travelling on trains in Vietnam. Some tourists have claimed that the food is unhygienic, some claim its expensive, and others claim its not very nice. Some of these statements may at times be true, however, there is so much variety of food served if you are patient and adventurous you can eat really well on train in Vietnam for not much money.
Restaurant Car on Vietnam Trains
All trains in Vietnam have a restaurant car where you can sit down and have a meal, a cigarette, a hot drink, a cold drink or a beer. The tables are clean and the service is generally OK. The thing to remember, however, is that the primary function of the kitchen at the back of the restaurant car is not to produce food items from a menu for people sat in the restaurant, its to undertake a massive catering exercise of a similar scale to a military field kitchen serving large amount of different food every hour from morning to late evening during the two days it takes for trains to complete the journey up or down the Reunification Line.
Unlike in Thailand, private food vendors are not allowed on trains in Vietnam, the only option you have is to bring food with you or buy it from the army of catering staff doing a two day tour of duty on one of the world’s longest scheduled train journeys.
If you do decide to order something from the menu in a restaurant car in Vietnam chances are you get the response that they don’t have it unless you order noodles and beef. This dish using dried packet noodles costs 35,000 VND ($1.5 USD). By the standards of a basic restaurant in Vietnam the dish is slightly expensive and not particularly nice, but it will temporarily satisfy your hunger and it definitely won’t make you ill.
Food Trolley on Vietnam Trains
The best food is the food which gets cooked in large quantities and brought down the aisles of the train on a trolley. This food comes out every hour or two, its hot and its popular. Some of the dishes are things only a person from South East Asia would eat, like chicken feet or beef blood soup, but other dishes are simple, healthy and nutritious. The food will have been cooked shortly before its served and the chances of food poisoning are slim, although for some the spice and fish sauce appear to cause an upset stomach.
This basic dish of rice, chicken leg, tofu, morning glory and soy sauce cost 25,000 VND ($1.1 USD) and whilst slightly more than eating at a basic restaurant it tasted good and did not make me sick or give me a bad stomach.
In between the regular food service the drink and snack cart frequently comes down the the train. They sell dried noodle, nuts, crisps, chocolate, soft drinks, coffee, beer and infamous cold boiled eggs which I always give a wide berth. If you really don’t fancy the food cooked ona train in Vietnam then you can buy snack food at about 25% more than it would cost at a shop near the train station before you board.
Drinking Alcohol on Vietnam trains
The main use the restaurant car is put to is as a place for Vietnamese men to drink lots of beer and smoke cigarettes. If you are female or have children you may want to stay clear of the restaurant car on a Vietnamese train after 16:00. Its not dangerous, no-one will harass you, but you may not feel comfortable in an all male environment with lots of drinking lots of beer going on. There are generally few foreign men who choose to come and drink in the restaurant car either, which, for me has never been a problem. I always go to the restaurant car and drink a few beers. and Vietnamese men have always been very polite and friendly to me. They share jokes and people will try to talk to you if they speak a little English. For me I enjoy drinking in the restaurant car on Vietnam trains and I feel a bit sorry for other travellers who are frightened to venture out of their cabin during the journey.
Beer in Vietnam in general is very cheap, and its still only slightly more expensive in the restaurant car on a train. In the October 2018 the price of a Beer Hanoi in the restaurant car of a Vietnamese train was 18,000 VND ($0.8 USD) a 330 ml can and 25,000 VND ($1.1 USD) for a can of imported Tiger beer. At those cheap prices who can blame the locals for drinking a few beers and making merry. For the larger part the men drinking on the train are on travelling for work, often in groups, and taking the opportunity to enjoy themselves with their work colleagues before returning home to their families. You can’t blame hard working family for drinking a few beers and making merry. It’s harmless fun except perhaps for their own livers. Think about this next time you read an alarmist post on a travel review website telling you about the negative aspects of travelling overnight on a train in Vietnam.