• Hitched to regular trains, and with free-flow drinks and fine food, Anantara's Vietage carriages offer a luxurious way to get from A to B

I have never sipped champagne in a railway station waiting room before - but today I am travelling on the inaugural Vietage by Anantara 2pm train service from Nha Trang to Quy Nhon, in south central Vietnam.

If you have ever dragged your suitcase down a long platform and peered into crowded compartments in the forlorn hope of spotting an empty seat, your heart will leap as you are welcomed aboard this luxury carriage.

After a short ceremony, staff usher railway dignitaries, passengers and press representatives to one of six stylish private booths, each seating two, with gleaming windows through which to watch the world go by.

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I am handed another glass of champagne, there is a shrill blast of a whistle and our five-hour travel experience gets under way.

The ribbon cutting and razzamatazz are to celebrate the debut of the high-end hotel brand's second bespoke carriage. The original Vietage was introduced in 2020 by Anantara to take guests from Da Nang to Quy Nhon while offering an experience beyond simply getting from A to B.

As we gather speed, I switch from private booth to a stool in the bar area - purely for research purposes, you understand. It is a decent vantage point - there's plenty to look at, both inside the train and out.

Soon staff begin preparing food and more drinks - passengers can choose from free-flowing alcoholic or soft drinks. This is going to be fun.

Our carriage is hitched to a regular Vietnamese train and travels at an average of 50km/h (31mph), which is fine for leisurely sightseeing. The new route has a coastal focus, with breathtaking bays and spectacular seascapes.

Fear not, though, there's still a good chance of glimpsing farmers in conical hats guiding water buffalo around their rice paddies, and wading cranes foraging in lotus ponds.

"Until the introduction of the first Vietage carriage, access [in comfort] to Quy Nhon was limited," Kate Jones, Anantara's head of PR and marketing for Vietnam, tells me. "The local airport is small and only serves Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and travelling by car means driving long distances on congested, potholed roads."

A shortage of operational aircraft has further complicated matters, resulting in soaring airfares and capacity challenges, a situation that Jones acknowledges "works in our favour".

Guests travelling to Anantara Quy Nhon Villas or sister property Avani Quy Nhon Resort can now board a Vietage carriage in either Da Nang or Nha Trang, both of which have international airports.

After a complimentary 15-minute neck and shoulder massage in a salon conveniently situated a few steps from the bar area, I learn from an online search (complimentary Wi-fi too) that travelling by train instead of car reduces emissions by around 80 per cent. Choosing rail rather than a domestic flight cuts one's carbon footprint by as much as 86 per cent.

Admittedly, many passengers fly long haul to reach Vietnam to begin with, but every little helps.

There is a flurry of activity in the galley as staff put the finishing touches to afternoon tea, a decadent delight featuring lobster and caviar followed by finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam.

Gourmet coffees and exclusive teas are also available, as you would expect - Vietnam is the world's second largest coffee grower and the fifth largest tea producer.

Chef Vinh Tran stops by my perch and explains that 80 per cent of the ingredients served aboard the Vietage are locally sourced, including the lobster, caviar, cheese and jams.

The culinary journey continues with charcuterie platters, lemon tarts and strawberry cheesecake, and then, just as I am weighing up whether to order another cocktail, the carriage jolts to a halt. We have arrived at Dieu Tri station, in Quy Nhon.

In the dark, a taxi transfers us to the beachside Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, where the accommodation comes with private pools and views of creamy tangerine sunrises.

The following morning, we visit the local market on a shopping excursion, "helping" chef Vinh haggle for lunch ingredients. While he expertly bargains for seafood and vegetables, we snap photos of stallholders - with their permission, of course.

Quy Nhon is home to numerous towers and temples that show the architectural and cultural heritage of the ancient Champa civilisation.

We visit the ruins of the 12th century Thap Doi, or twin towers, which are among the best preserved. Steps lead to the Hindu- and Buddhist-influenced red brick temples, which are open to the sky.

After a couple of days exploring the sights of Quy Nhon, I take the original Vietage to Da Nang - a six-hour ride in a sleeper booth this time.

Two down, one more train journey to go; I am travelling on from Da Nang to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, a distance of 800km (500 miles) that takes around 17 hours.

I know that because I made the same trip 33 years ago. It was an exciting adventure when I was in my twenties, but now it is a bit of a slog.

Unfortunately, no one on this Vietnam Railways service brings me champagne, lobster or caviar. Nor is there much point asking the guard to prepare an afternoon tea ensemble or provide a complimentary 15-minute neck and shoulder massage.

The windows could be cleaner, but since we travel through scenic sections such as Hai Van Pass at night, it does not really matter.

I survive the gruelling journey to Hanoi but will not do it again in a hurry, now that I've seen how the other half travel.

A one-way Vietage journey between Nha Trang and Quy Nhon costs US$420 per person.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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2024-06-11T08:31:42Z dg43tfdfdgfd