It’s currently 1am on Labour Day – I got off the train at a few hours ago at 8pm – and I’ve had more than a few beers. Below are my notes from the 36 hour train ride I was just released from.
8am: Depart Saigon station, after 30 mins transferred to bus for another 30 mins to get to the other side of a collapsed railway bridge. Said bye to brother and dad, was great to see them both, glad they could see me off.
9:15am: Met first cabin-mate, ‘Duc’ – at least, that’s how he pronounced it. He bought me a bottle of water, that was nice of him. Promptly fell asleep right after (both of us).
11:54am: What the hell? Is someone eating durian on board?? Jesus christ, this smells terrible.
11:58am: This is going to be a long train ride. At least I have my good headphones and e-reader. Currently listening to my travel playlist (find below at your own peril, it gets pretty cheesy).
2:15pm: Three people just joined the compartment – wait, three? I thought this was a four-bed – oh, right it’s just Vietnam, naturally the couple will share a bed.
4:50pm: Maybe I should just treat this like one long day in bed. Just woke up from a 2 hour nap, everyone else is chattering in Vietnamese below me. Hope I’ll be able to sleep tonight.
4:58pm: Can you buy Valium on trains?
5:45pm: Finished Kon-Tiki on my e-reader. Swung down from top bunk and sat with my carriage mates. The general conversation would run with high-speed Vietnamese for several minutes followed by a question like ‘do you like Vietnam’ followed by giggling no matter what I answered. The aforementioned couple are actually Vi, 21, and Huy, 23, travelling with Vi’s mum, Thu, 43 – an absolute ball of energy! Fifteen minutes after being introduced she insisted we all get selfies together.
6:20pm: On my new friends’ urging I went to find the food cart. Only now did I *really* realise just how much of a novelty I am: people would do double takes, stare, one guy didn’t see me until I was right in front of him and literally just froze, like a deer in the headlights.
6:26pm: My friends left me some strange fried-potato-and-honey fritters which get stuck in you’re teeth. They’re nice (both the fritters and the people I met). New roommates: a middle aged man with a kind face and a shy young woman. Duc is getting off in three hours, I wonder if someone will replace him. He says he’s heading home to be with his family for the Labour Day holiday.
7:14pm: It’s amazing what pot noodles can do for your morale.
9:00pm: Duc left, immediately replaced by a family of 3. I get up into bed and fall asleep immediately.
12:07am: Woke up to turn off the light.
4:23am: Woke up again, not sure why.
7:17am: Woke up for real after a weird dream. It featured me and some exchange student friends trying to attack someone for some reason…
7:51am: 9 minutes till 12 hours left!
8:30am: Train stopped for 15 or so minutes, wandered station to find breakfast – got ripped off and paid 50,000 dong ($3.30 AUD) for mystery meat sausage and corn rice. Rice was dismal, sausage surprisingly ok.
8:45am: New woman with her 6 year old son in the compartment. At this point I realise the family of 3 was also swapped out for a different couple during the night. I thought they looked different – I could have sworn that 40 year old man was a little girl…
8:50am: I am, once again, the subject of much intrigue (but only in Vietnamese). This group wins the shortest-time-to-photograph-
11:00am: Mother and child leave, couple give me a muffin, they refuse my reciprocation of the weird honey-potato things.
4:03pm: Drifted in and out of sleep for the last five hours. Finished a book on comedy (maybe that’s a joke in itself!). Started reading a Matthew Reilly book. Book I finished was ‘The Hidden Tools of Comedy’ by Steve Kaplan. Despite the clickbait-y title, a very entertaining and informative read about comedy writing by one of the biggest names in the business – coming from someone who knows (knew) *nothing* about comedy writing.
4:12pm: Compartment briefly empty as couple leave, new girl enters two minutes later.
4:32pm: Crossing endless rice fields while watching second Vietnamese sunset. Not bad at all.
4:33pm: Come back to cabin to find, I kid you not, five people I’ve never seen before with all of their luggage in the compartment. Half of it is on my bed. Checked arrivals chart: next station in 10 minutes. I guess they’re getting off there?
5:00pm: My new *new* cabin-mates are two girls my age, two living statues, and one girl about 6 years old.
6:06pm: Just two hours left! This sunset is ridiculous. Looking forward to a big bowl of pho or a banh mi, or bun cha, followed by many, many beers. First need to sort out a hostel and tomorrow morning’s bus ride into China, though.
7:52pm: As we trundle through the streets of Hanoi, this leg of my trip is coming to an end. It certainly could have been worse, but I’m looking forward to getting off this train and into China. After a few beers in Hanoi, of course.
The day before the train ride, my brother, and and I went to the Cu Chi tunnels, an region about 45km north-west of Ho Chi Minh where the Vietnamese Guerrillas had a particularly notable battlefield – mostly against the Americans. The tour and tunnels themselves were disappointingly tourist-ified, with gift shops and all. The saving grace was the open firing range – by far my favourite part. $21 AUD for 10 rounds with an M1 Garand? Don’t mind if I do…
It’s surprisingly empowering – I mean, I didn’t expect it to be not-empowering, but the sheer power of a gunshot is very gratifying.
I’ve just booked a bus ticket from Hanoi to Nanning, departing at 9am. I’ll hopefully then get an overnight train to Kunming followed by a bus to Dali, where I’ll spend the next few days before heading on to Beijing.
‘Til next time