Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Days 25 and 26: Train to Hanoi

Days 25 and 26: Train to Hanoi

Who needs head room?
Whatever you do, if you ever come to Vietnam, don’t take the train! My husband begged me, pleaded to fly, but I insisted that we needed to see the country! Flying is so sterile, and it is such a drag sitting around airports. With the train, the station is always nice and close to town and you only have to show up fifteen minutes before the train leaves. Okay, Bryce, I am saying this in front of the entire world; “You were right, I was wrong!” I will never, never ask you to take the train in Vietnam again
We should have known that the trip was doomed, as we wanted to book an entire berth for ourselves, but there were none available. Worse yet, the only bunks that were available were two top bunks. “Well,” we thought, “maybe we’ll meet someone who speaks English and we can pass the time comparing travel notes. We have met some great new friends on this trip, this might be a chance to meet some more!” I want you to know that there is a difference between optimism and just plain craziness!
While the Chinese train stations were the cleanest that we had ever seen, with someone constantly washing the floor and every window and piece of chrome sparkling clean, the train station in Nha Trang was probably the dirtiest! We weren’t sure where to sit, given that the wall and floor around the trash barrel was caked with yuck, and the floor on the other end of the benches littered with old cigarette butts. This was our last chance to pull the pin, to high tail it back to the shining and sparkling Sheraton to spend another night, and book a flight for the morning, but we pushed on, hoping against all reasonable odds that the train would be in better condition.
Scarey Train
When the train pulled into the station, it was easy to see that this was not the clean and shining bullet train that we rode in China, but I wondered what Bryce meant when he said he recognized the train from Schindler’s List?  The only train I remembered was the one that was taking those folks to the Death Camps—say, wait a minute!!!
As I mentioned earlier, we had hoped to get a sleeper compartment all to ourselves, but the train was sold out, and the best we could do was the upper bunk of a soft sleeper. The hard sleepers have no mattress, so it could have been worse. Getting on the train was a challenge in itself, as there was a giant step up, which was difficult since each of us were hauling a full backpack, a big suitcase and a bag of food and water for the journey. Some old gal behind Bryce kept saying, “hurry up!” and pushing him on the butt. Little did she know that we were doing our best to make it through the very narrow hallways with all our gear. Just our luck, our berth was at the opposite end of the car, and every single passenger on board had come out of their berth to watch our little drama. Thank goodness, an angel of mercy in the guise of a young Vietnamese man came along and took pity on us, taking both of our suitcases right to our berth for us. What a bonus, he spoke fairly good English, which could come in handy on the journey.
My new BFF
We were stunned to find that there was a Vietnamese party going on in our berth! Three women and two men were spread out on the two bottom bunks, and their stuff was on the top bunks. Now, there is only room for one person at a time in the aisle of a train, and there we were standing forlornly with all our luggage peering in at what was supposed to be our little sanctuary for the next two days, and it was full of people…..who didn’t speak our language!
Our new bunkmates were very gracious, helping us to get our suitcases jammed in the aisle between the two bottom bunks and our backpacks under the bed. We were hoping for a ladder to climb up on the top bunk, but no such luck! Did I mention that there was a giant step up to board the train? Well, that’s just a training ground for the unlucky suckers who get stuck with the top bunk! It was made clear with hand signals and disgusting facial expressions that we were not to set foot on the bottom bunk to get up. We were to somehow get our foot up to a tiny foot pedal that’s attached to the wall about four feet up. If we were successful in getting that far up, there was a handrail attached to the ceiling that we could use to steady ourselves. This is about as far away from the Sheraton as it gets! “Humph,” says Bryce with a scowl once he finally managed to wriggle into his bunk, “Have you ever thought about what it would be like doing time, because I think you’re going to get a taste of it.”
We managed to get ourselves organized in our top bunk, but these beds were definitely made for short people. I was able to sit up comfortably, but Bryce had to lie down, which he loves to do, but for 26 hours straight? The main reason that I wanted to take the train was to get a little closer to the Vietnamese culture while seeing a bit of the country. While I have gotten my first wish, the only way that we can see out the window from the top bunk is by hanging our head over, which puts us at a precarious position and likely to fall out of bed if the train suddenly jerks. “I wanted to take the plane,” growled Bryce!
Fortunately our bottom bunk people took pity on us, and once the party broke up, with the three interlopers leaving, we were invited to sit on the bottom bunk for a few hours. The young woman and her mother were lovely, gracious people, offering to share their food and water with us, but we politely declined, as I have been struggling with Confucius’ Revenge for the last few days, and I am not eating anything that looks even slightly questionable. The younger woman pulled out her wedding album and showed us her wedding pictures, in which she had worn no less than four different outfits; white wedding dress, red wedding dress and two other formal looking affairs; all very beautiful! We had fun trying to communicate with them, even though the only word that I think we each understood was when the mother said “bon” whenever she pointed at a beautiful spot of scenery. I took lots of pictures, but it is hard to get a good shot when you are trying to focus through filthy train windows. The only open window that I could find to take pictures was in the bathroom, and it was, well less than pleasant.
I was hopeful that we had left squat toilets behind us in China, as we hadn’t seen any since leaving Suzhou. Hong Kong has lovely western toilets as do all the places that we visited in Vietnam and Cambodia. I guess that they want to be sure to make that train ride as thrilling as possible, if you can imagine squatting as close to a stinking hole in the floor as possible so that you hit the target….all while bumping and grinding along the tracks. I took a double dose of Imodium as soon as I saw that so that my Confucius revenge would be held tightly in check! Bryce’s plan was to tone down the intake in order to minimize the output—simple math!!
In spite of ourselves, we did see some lovely scenery during our occasional reprieve from the top bunk. A lot of the journey was spent standing at the window in the hallway outside our berth. We passed some breathtaking ocean vistas as well as what looked like ancient worn mountains. We got to see ramshackle huts and beautiful mansions, vast jungle, rice fields and corn farms. We got to see the farmers in their conical hats standing behind hand plows being pulled by water buffalo as well as thousands of white ibis standing in mile after mile of wetlands. We met some lovely people, and felt well taken care of by our many Vietnamese friends that we made on our little journey. At the end of the day, it was a worthwhile trip and we’re glad that we did it. But, if we had the chance, never in a million years would we do it again!


1 comment:

  1. No matter what it's always the people that make it worthwhile. Beautiful photos.I'm signed in as Jill but it's really Judi