Monday, 7 December 2015

A night train and a day train (Sa Pa to Ha Noi & Ha Noi to Vinh)

Musical background for a night train?  But of course. Thank you Oscar Peterson ;-)

My train will leave Lao Cai at 8:35 pm but the last bus to leave Sapa for Lao Cai will depart at 5:30, which means I have to hang around Lao Cai train station for about 2 hours. I am quickly reminded by one of the Dutch sisters that the wait wouldn’t be that long since I am waiting together with them. 

Good point!  I quickly distance myself from the thought of taking a later taxi to Lao Cai and at 5:30 the group is freezing outside their hotel waiting for the bus to take us to Lao Cai..

An hour later, we instantly notice that the air in Lao Cai no longer is as cold as in Sa Pa. Maybe it’s only the absence of fog that makes standing around outside much more bearable.  

This is also when I learn that the Vietnamese language does NOT contain any words with more than one syllable.  This explains: Ha Noi, Sai Gon, Leh Nin, Ti Top, Sa Pa, etc etc. 

Lao Cai town centre
My train compartment is fully occupied by a non-chatty crowd, so I put my head on the pillow and fall asleep instantly.
Ga Lao Cai

During a middle-of-the-night nature call, I discover that the toilet in this train is something out of a horror movie.  No automatic flush as in the train TO Sa Pa here.  Given the absence of a tell—tale smell, I at first assume that the dark matter deep down in the funnel are discarded tea leaves, but somehow I don’t believe people drink THAT much tea on a train.

My co-comparmentalists and I are awakened by the voice and face of the conductor at 5 am, when he opens our door and says “Ha Noi”.  Wow. I must be getting over my jet lag ;-)

this is how sleepy I feel ;-)
There is no point walking over to the hotel for a coffee, because as I have learned the doors will still be locked and everyone will be asleep in the reception area.
My second train leaves at 6 am.  The journey will only be 6 hours long so a seat would be sufficient, but the price difference to the soft sleeper is so small that I booked a bed, which might come in handy.
The difference different types of light bulbs can make

moon over single lity window

Old painted track displays and new digital ones

After wandering the train station for 30 minutes the 30-minute-before-departure-boarding time finally comes around and I walk to track 1 and board SE7, the Reunification Express to Ho Chi Minh City.

The compartment looks just a tad sloppier than on the tourist trains to Sa Pa

By 5:59 am I am still the only one in my compartment, which is alright with me.  Naturally this could change at the next station already.  

NOT the ensuite bathroom, but rather a wash spot right in the open  aisle . 1 per railway car.

The train starts moving at EXACTLY 6 am. OMG trains in Vietnam run ON TIME.  It moves 20 cm and stops again, then starts moving in the other direction.

6:05 am: the train has been moving for 5 minutes and I am still the sole occupant of my compartment. Cool. Dawn is near and at a speed less than that of a scooter, the train winds through the awakening Ha Noi.  

I on the other hand  fall  asleep  again

I sleep  for about an hour and awake to glorious sunshine and a view of Vietnam from the window of a moving train
Seems that this town specializes in  stone monuments that are supposed to look like natural stone formations 

Yes, they write FOREIGNER and your passport number on your train ticket

The toilet on this train is MUCH more civilized than on the last one. But I am reminded to never take toilet paper in a Vietnamese toilet for granted.

When I come back to my compartment, the conductor has folded my blanket again and arranged it with the pillow.  Aha, they are not necessarily freshly washed when one enters the train.

LOVE the  colours of Viet houses

guess the shape of the railway bridge I'm travelling over ;-)
I've seen  some Vietnamese enter  the train with lit cigarettes and others extinguishing them before boarding.

To be on the safe side, I limit my cigarette consumption to the loo and the stops that take place about once an hour.

Still the  sole occupant of my compartment

those colours !!!!
Vinh is  about 3 hours away now. And arrival can't come too soon. I’ve been on trains with a short interruption for almost 15 hours now, without shower, coffee, or teeth-brushing.   It doesn’t feel as exhausting as a plane ride of that length (my max on planes is 13 hours, and that’s worse), but I still would not want to take the Reunification Express along its entire length from Hanoi to Saigon and spend 48 hours in a train!

It is amazing how many bags of rice or whatever some people take on the train
That is one reason for today’s destination Vinh. It seemed about the right distance for the journey to stay interesting and not turn unpleasant   Google Maps had revealed the presence of a gorgeous beach 14 kilometers from Vinh city centre and up to an hour ago I have been wrecking my brains of how to get there.  Take a taxi?  But what if there are no taxis at the beach; how do I get back? Maybe there are public buses?  Then my brain finally started working: I’m in the land of motorbike taxis and dirt-cheap motorbike and scooter rentals.  I can just rent a scooter for a day and get to the beach that way.  
At 9:30, I get companions in my compartment, a mother with two small children of about 2 and 4, and the grandmother. We all smile at each other, but the language barrier is insurmountable.  I managed to communicate that they can sit on my berth also, so I don’t have to look at 4 Vietnamese crammed onto the berth across from me the whole time.

All of the compartment occupants are getting comfortable with each other and after the smaller child sits for a portrait with me for his mother, I take a picture of the group too. The Grandmother moves away from the group but probably is not aware how much a wide-angle lens covers ;-)
What does The Man in Seat 61 say?  DO NOT reserve the entire compartment! You might actually meet some Vietnamese people.  The kids are smiling because I bribed them with chocolate and cookies.  
Vinh is not far away now, and I am excited about being on my own in a strange city again.  Sa Pa was different, beautiful, and illuminating, but we were nannied the entire time. Where and when to eat, where to go and with whom, where to sleep.  Now all those decisions are mine to make again and I hope I manage as well as the tour guide.

The sun, which it was so nice to see earlier in the day, has disappeared behind a high uniform cloud layer again.  In the air-conditioned train I can’t tell what the outside temperature is, but maybe it’s even too cold for a beach ride?
Ga Vinh

Still  on the grounds of Ga  Vinh
I step into Vinh, birthplace of Ho Chi Minh .... 

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