Vietnam; Overnight train to Hanoi.

The overnight train from Hoi an to Hanoi deserves a post all to itself because it was an experience. There are no adjectives that suit so ‘experience’ it is. It was due to leave at 5pm and our guide warned us that the food on the train was not great so we ordered take away pizza (also not great). We got to the station very early (3.30pm) but as there was so many of us with a lot of luggage between us it made sense to have plenty of time to relax and make sure getting on the train was as smooth as possible. The waiting room was not quite as relaxing as it could have been. The main problem being that the announcements were constant and louder than anything I have ever heard. I don’t think I’ve ever fully heard a UK train announcement they’re so quite and distorted. One announcement told us that the train was delayed (shocking) because of obstacles. About ten or fifteen minutes before the train was due to arrive everyone piled out onto the platform, except that it wasn’t a platform it was just the ground beside the tracks. Getting a massive suitcase that you’ve filled with new tailored clothes up from the ground into a train is not easy. We were told we would have to do it ourselves but thankfully a guy showed up and did it for us (he was wearing a uniform so I presume he worked at the station or on the train). There were a few older ladies on the tour and they had been freaking out about lifting their suitcases; two of the ladies had had to buy another suitcase for all the stuff they had bought so lifting two suitcases each had them beside themselves. But we got on the train so it was all good. Until we found our rooms. Four people to a room; two sets of bunk beds. Our room had four sets of dirty sheets and a pile of rubbish in the bin. The ladies next door had a person in their room. They were telling him he had to move and he was just smiling back at them, lying on one of the beds, happy as larry. After a lot of rapid Vietnamese from our tour guide new sheets were brought, the man was turfed out and then we discovered the main light didn’t work in our room. Each of us tried all the switches and nothing worked. More rapid Vietnamese and a guy came; checked all the switches and the lights didn’t work. He left and brought back another guy, who tried all the switches and the lights didn’t work. They left, brought back another guy; who tired all the switches and the lights didn’t work. He then took his flipflops off, stood on my bed to step onto the table. When he lifted his foot from my clean, newly made bed, the sheet stuck to his foot. At that point we all made a swift exit to go sit in the other room. (I got another clean sheet when he was finished) Our guide had homemade rice wine so we all took a few drinks of that and finished her bottle in about half an hour. I would compare it to potcheen. Apparently no other group has finished a bottle before. We finished that bottle and asked for another but she only had the one. At that point it was decided a walk down the train to the bar was required. I think every member of staff was there and stared at us all the entire time we sat there. Which wasn’t long. We took our beers back to our room with a now working light and played cards for a few hours. As we walked back down the train I was behind one of the girls and was pissing myself watching her do her best to avoid touching anything. I did actually manage to sleep, wearing my hoodie, wrapped in my towel and using one of my clothes bags as a pillow rather than use any of the train’s things. I had my music on full blast and anytime I woke up and the music had stopped just pressed play again. I went to the toilet once before going to sleep and refused to drink the rest of the night because Vietnamese train toilets are just as bad as UK train toilets. I was so dehydrated by the time we got to the hotel in Hanoi. As we were there so early in the morning we couldn’t check in but had two rooms so we could shower and change for the day. Getting out of the station in Hanoi was crazy, people were everywhere and one of the lovely ladies in our group took a fall but she was okay. We had phenomenal Pho for lunch in a tiny restaurant that felt more like an alley. We wandered around a temple for studying, found A’Tuin. That night we went on a street food tour of Hanoi and ate amazing food. I can’t remember all of it. The first thing was a small Banh mi (where we ran into our guide on the back of a bike with a ‘friend’), there was a noodle thing, a rice pancake filled thing, fresh fruit with coconut milk and condensed milk and (there was probably more but I want to talk about the next thing) egg coffee. Egg coffee. Our guide had mentioned it days before and we had all scoffed at the notion of egg in coffee. We plagued her with questions about how it was made and she kept laughing and saying you have to try it. Oh My Gods. It was amazing. It was basically a heavy, slightly sweet cappuccino but better. The Guinness of coffee, a meal in a coffee cup. I loved it. They also did Egg Hot Chocolate which was delicious too. I caught up with my friends again after that as we were all in Hanoi and may have stayed up until 2 in the morning, but we only had a long drive to Halong Bay the next day so I caught up on my sleep then. Prepare yourself for the glory of the train…

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