The Vietnam Diaries 2011: July 24th – Hanoi

We’re accompanied to the train station by the same two guys that have sent us off to Lao Cai a few days ago. While one of them goes to the ticket office to perform the magic vouchers-for-tickets exchange, the trainee tells us more about his family. His tour-guide studies allow him one day per year to visit a random province of Hanoi to familiarise himself with the area. His family lives in a province 25km from the city and he visits them weekly. They are pretty lucky because they get to grow their own crops and are never short of vegetables and rice.

The ticket-responsible guy comes back with the tickets and leads the way to our carriage. He helps us up into the train, opens the carriage door…and Katka almost faints on the spot. The carriage is filled with row upon row of hard wooden benches, exclusively for sitting. There is no air conditioning and all of the windows are closed and have metal nets on them. It’s extremely hot inside the carriage. Is this where we’ll spend the next 16 hours?

…a photo of Katka’s face I took at that very moment

Note that apart from the upcoming journey being an overnight trip Katka is also suffering from heat exhaustion and lack of nutritious Yomost-minerals. Thankfully, after a silent moment of confusion, the ticket-guy shakes his head and leads us to another carriage. False alarm! Inside the other carriage he opens the door to a sleeper cabin, comparable to the one we’ve taken to Lao Cai.  However, I’m sure there are many people who do in fact take this train for longer distances inside the first carriage we saw. The hotel crew wishes us a good journey and leaves.

Shortly after, our cabin-neighbours arrive. They are an elderly French couple who are also travelling all the way to Hue. As soon as they walk in I begin to talk to the guy, suggesting that we exchange our lower berth for one of their upper berths. That way Katka and I can stay on the second level together and neither of the French folks will have to climb anywhere. It seems in my excitement to get the message across I begin to talk even faster and louder than I normally do (which has been scientifically proven to be virtually impossible). The French guy seems genuinely afraid of this barrage of words. He throws up his hands and takes a step back, saying “OK, later, later!”

…a photo of the French man’s face I took at that very moment

After we’re settled in I resume my efforts to get our berths exchanged and finally succeed, despite language barriers. Katka takes her upper berth. Air-conditioning and more cool water help Katka recover.

As the train moves through the streets of the Old Quarter, we’re once again amazed at how narrow some of them are. There is around one metre between the train and the houses on each side. With a superhuman effort I resist an idiotic urge to snatch the bowl of noodles from a guy eating out on the street (just because I can reach him).

Katka takes another nap (are you noticing a pattern?), while I settle down with my netbook to write down these very travel notes and type out recommendations for our awesome hotel. When Katka awakes we spend some time just looking out of the window onto small towns and rice fields zooming by. People are either out planting the rice or already making their way home on bicycles. The terrain here is mostly flat and we notice only a few smaller hills in the distance. So it’s kind of like Denmark, except it isn’t at all.

Our fancy dinner consists of canned beef and beans, bread and ham, yoghurt and apples and, of course, yomost (uuuhmm, yomost…OK, I’ll stop). We read up on Hue, Hoi Ann and Da Nang in order to plan our future travels. We decide to sleep at a decent time tonight. Before going to bed I decide to call my family and discover that my phone is missing. Again!

…a photo of my face Katka took at that very moment

After searching through all of the bags I conclude that one of four things must have happened:

  1. I left the phone at the hotel yet again
  2. The phone fell out in the cab on the way to the train station
  3. It was stolen when we pushed our way through the crowd to get to the train
  4. It fell out somewhere in the cabin and is still around

I suggest a fifth option, which is that local assassins have borrowed my phone to help them triangulate the location of their next victim, but Katka tells me I’m probably wrong (that’s what “you’re an idiot” means, right?) and goes to sleep. Normal people would have accepted their inability to do much in this situation, resigned to their fate and gone to sleep.

However, “normal” is not how I roll, so my brain spends the next few hours keeping me awake with thoughts and speculations as to where my phone could be. Finally, after having narrowed down my assassin theory to a specific gang of hamster-breeding Yomost-pushers of Southern Hanoi, I fall asleep.

The journey continues right here!

For now, remember to check out Katka’s pictures from the trip.

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