The magic of overnight trains

For the first time I had a rocky sleep on an overnight train. For some reason this one sways and shackles a lot more frantically than the others, making my compartment feel like a moving earthquake in a little box. I’m on my way from Hue in central Vietnam, to Hanoi, the capital, which is perched comfortably at the top of this elongated nation. I went from the bottom border with Cambodia all the way around the Mekong in the south, and up thought the coast, not stepping foot on an airplane.

The first overnight train I took in Thailand, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, was magical. I was scared, like most of the time that first week of travel alone: thinking I could get robbed in my sleep, that there would be some crazy, partying Australians that wouldn’t let me sleep, etc. So I slept hugging my bag and with earplugs. It’s quite surprising how scared I have been of partying Australians…The entire train compartment had beds lined up against the wall; I got a top bunk, with no AC but a pretty decent fan. I liked it because it felt communal, and in the morning I befriended an American and a Dutch girl, with whom I shared my preordered breakfast. A vast majority o people on the train were tourists.

The second was from Saigon to Danang, which took about 14 hours. The before mentioned Argentinians I briefly met earlier that day and they told me they were going by bus to Hoi An, and I told them they were crazy and I was going by train. About 10 hours later I met them again at the train station, since after they heard what I was doing they changed their plans. As opposed to the Thai train, this one was mostly occupied by locals. I got to share a 4 person sleeping compartment with 4 other people. I don’t know how they managed to sneak an extra person in, but I was surrounded by an entire Vietnamese family who stared at me as I woke up, all sitting on the bed opposite to me, having breakfast. These bed are about two feet from each other by the way.

Now this train although rocky I had the good fortune of having only young people with me in the compartment, meaning no one waking me up before 9 am. My roomates are a French couple and a young Vietnamese professional who slept in his suit and when he woke up and jumped off the bunk bed the suit was in perfect shape. He looked like a Vietnamese James Bond.

The French couple is overplanned, close-minded and seem quite young in spite of being older than me. He has a Vietnamese father but quickly enough told me he didn’t speak the language cause he had no interest in Vietnamese people and their culture (why are you here again?) yet he is friendly and helpful. The girl on the other hand did not want to share any info or say too much to me. Completely the opposite of all the other travelers I’ve met. These guys were here only for Vietnam and only visiting a few cities, but I can now easily tell apart a seasoned traveller to a scared one, given i have been both. They were also quite affectionate, and one of the few things the Vietnamese guy was able to ask in English was whether they were married or not. Their PDA made me uncomfortable, and I’m from a culture of PDA. I don’t even want to imagine how the local must have felt with these too cuddling and kissing in their small train bed.

I should be in Hanoi in an hour, getting for the first time to a city where I have no hotel reservation.

Bring a sandwich, you’ll be hungry.
Also ear plugs in case you do happen to have to share a closed space with partying Australians.

The trains:
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai- $50 USD
From Saigón to Danang- $40 USD then one dollar for the bus to Hoi An
From Hue to Hanoi- $ 38 USD. If you buy it from the hotel its more expensive.