After the madness of Hanoi, we were looking forward to moving onwards and seeing the rest of Vietnam, we could only hope our next place would be far more relaxed than the mad house that is Hanoi. After our positive experiences of Thai train travel it seemed obvious we would get the night train.
We got a taxi to the train station which looked like a shabby piece of Soviet architecture (As far as architecture goes, it seems like the Vietnamese sent a spy into Russia to steal plans for there infrastructual buildings and in his covert madness he only found the plans for the Soviet rejects [In all seriousness, it seems that as they were communist friends the Soviet Union must have cast a few plans there way when they were trying to rebuild after the war, its the same with all the war graves too they have the same feeling.]) We headed inside the train station, it was not like Hua Lamphong in Bangkok, there was no information desk, no word of english anywhere. Why we expected to have our hands held through the process I don’t know but either way, buying a ticket of any sort was going to be an ordeal.
It was like a butchers in the supermarket when you get a number from some wheel and eventually your number gets called. We headed to the desk when eventually our number was called, there were some Vietnamese in front of us and an equally confused Italian couple behind us. When our turn came we babbled away untill the lady at the desk (who was very patient with us) understood what it was we were after (2 2nd class sleeper tickets to Hue [pronounced Who-Ayyyyy]). She signalled to us, that all we could get was 3rd class hard sleeper tickets.
This was fine, we jumped on the tickets and that was that. However, we were apprehensive about what we had booked, what exactly is a hard sleeper and why was it 3rd class, we could only think of the worst, it was definately situated amoungst the battery hens and horse boxes at the very back of the train located as far away from human contact as possible. We were Nervous.
Our train was booked for the next day so we carried out our Hanoi business untill we needed to get to the station.
Hanoi train station has 2 platfroms and they not as you would imagine, next to each other, our train was leaving from platform b, we arrived very early and hung about waiting to be called, we met and chatted to some Irish girls for a while and 2 of them went for a ciggerete. When they returned they looked flustered and told us our train was leaving from the other platform in a matter of minutes. so the 6 of us threw our bags on and ran across the track (which looked like something from Sodor Island [not often you can reference Thomas the Tank Engine in your diary now is it?]) and found the train sitting smugly on the other platform, our luck had not run out.
When climbing aboard the train we said goodbye to the irish girls who had bagged themselves 2nd class sleepers and feared the worst. I was ready to climb in with the chickens and I said to myself ‘at least I wont be cold tonight’ and climbed aboard anyway. Once again we were greeted with a train in great condition, we were in a cabin of 6 and yes for a tall guy like me it was a little cramped, but you get used to that. there were 2 stacks of 3 beds and you could only lie in your bed, which for 15 hours is not easy. However, it was great, not a single farm animal in sight again! Our cabin was full of students going home for Têt (Chinese New Year) and was a comfy place to catch up on my Pokemon game and get some sleep.
We woke in the morning, fairly well rested and in time for our stop, but as ever on south east Asian transport we were late. This was fine, we were in no rush, but we had no idea what stop we were at or when we should get off. Luckily we befrended a man in our cabin, he was from further south than we were headed and was on his way home from university. He spoke fairly good english and we wondered what he was studying and it was only when he began to speak about ‘marsupials and there habitats’ that we deducted it was nature and bioligy relataed, he was doing a PHD looking specifiacally at reptiles and amphibans and he had been on trains for 3 or 4 days from the north of China, he was looking pretty wide awake considering, that is a very long train journey. He told us when our stop was and aslo gave us some tips about Hue (pronounced Who-Ayyyyy) as he had spent time working there when he was younger, he was just another example of Vietnamese people and there great hospitality, conversational skills and just plain genuine kindness. Without his help we would have ended up in Saigon.
Thanks reptile man!