This is not going to contain detailed instructions on how to look up, book or find a train in Vietnam, how their railway system works or what kind of trains they utilise in their daily rides. This is going to be a post on how to SURVIVE a 13-hour night train from Hanoi to Hue, Vietnam. Brace yourselves.
The trip starts off relatively positive. As my group approaches the station, sweaty and tired of the running after thinking we were late, to then find out we were actually on time (if not early), we take in the sight of the Hanoi train station, a modest building presenting a small bar, a small snack shop and a few dozen seats for travellers waiting for their train. We make ourselves comfortable in the hall and make the usual, necessary stop to the toilet, which to be honest I find quite clean (I don’t really have high standards for these things, especially while travelling. Ain’t nobody got the time to be a fancy road tripper), buy a few snacks and get ready for our long journey.
Ten minutes before departure time, we decide to finally make our way to the train to get our belongings safely in the cabins without any rush. As we walk down the platform, we take a peek inside the train and – although as I said I am no fancy traveller – the train where we are going to be spending the night is looking a bit grey and uninviting. Having come across several weird parasites during my trips, one of my worst fears is to find them again in future ones, and places such as hostels and trains (although usually fine) never fail to cause a level of worry to my fragile heart.
I look into the train once again and pray our carriage is going to be better, when I notice that the train is in fact getting nicer the closer we get to our actual cabins. Air con seems to appear all of a sudden – which was one of the worst worries as we sweated in the 40degree / 95% humidity heat surrounding the city – and everything already looks brighter. As we finally get to our carriage, complimentary water bottles and crisps also make their way in the cabins, which are now looking way better than I was expecting and are putting my mind at ease for the train ride.
After having settled in and discussed the luck we’d had in getting such nice cabins, the first scream is let out. We all stick our heads out the cabins to find out that someone has found a BLATTA. A cockroach. In their cabin. “Relax”, I think. “It’s a cockroach, not the end of the world”. Now bed bugs would be a far worse addition to the cabin, so cockroaches are really the least of my fears. I however change my mind on the matter when more people start panicking and, after someone catching TEN BLOODY COCKROACHES in one single cabin in less than an hour, I start to get anxious.
“What do we do?”, is the question everyone is asking. Obviously hunting them down would be a good option (although quite worrying to my vegetarian beliefs), but they seem to be EVERYWHERE and to never stop growing in number. To be honest, the cockroach problem in itself is not a big issue for me, because I mean, as long as they don’t suck my blood, they can stay for as long as they want and we could happily share this nice little train for the next 13 hours. That’s if it was any time during the day, where I can defend myself. However, the thought of these massive insects walking all over me as I sleep is slightly more disturbing, which makes me panic a bit more.
Someone then decides to call a worker on the train, whom we rightfully name “blatta man” for lack of better definition. After explaining the issue to him, blattaman promptly comes back with what I am 80% sure is perfumed water and dutifully sprays it all over our cabins, as if it could magically make the cockroaches disappear. Although ineffective, I appreciate his commitment to making us feel safe and the effort he takes to pretend to kill them all for our sake. After blattaman is gone, we frantically look around a bit more and I see a cockroach walking next to my foot, in the corridor of the train. I calmly inform everyone of the fact and everyone freaks out even more. Another one is here.
In the midst of the confusion and despair, I suddenly realise the most amazing fact of the whole experience: our cabin is the single one, in the whole carriage – the whole train perhaps – that does not seem to have any cockroaches. Or at least, none that we can find. We call blatta woman (a friend who decides to take the leading female role in this exciting story, siding with blattaman) to check our cabin, which is eventually proclaimed safe from the cockroach infestation and, for once, I feel extremely lucky and safe after the whole ordeal.
At this point, I figure out it’s time to finally pay a visit to our good old friend, the toilet. Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a bladder issue which constantly forces me into this marvellous place, which in this precise moment I have feeling of both curiosity and dread about. When I reach it the curiosity vanishes, making the dread expand to my whole being. The toilet is completely clogged up and the smell coming from it is something which I cannot even describe to this day, but could easily be the worst toilet smell I have experienced in my life. I quickly establish that this toilet will only be good for light waste and hold my breath to pee as fast as possible. I will not visit again unless I have to.
After this, the need of a cigarette is becoming very distinct. The stress caused by the cockroaches and the thought of not being able to go to the toilet for the next 10 hours is slowly sinking in and, when someone asks if I want to go for a smoke, I am completely up for it but confused. “How can we smoke on the train?”, I ask. Here’s when I find out the good side of this train ride: you can smoke between one carriage and another and, when train guards walk up the carriage and see you, they not only ignore you but also wave you on and sometimes light one up themselves. Smoker or non smoker, this is a pretty cool side of the Vietnamese society – the “don’t give a damn” vibe which they emanate like a second skin, which in this case makes me feel very at ease.
Once I finish my evening cigarette, I take a walk up and down the corridor once again, checking how everyone is feeling and if someone else is as lucky as us and hasn’t found any cockroaches yet. Unfortunately for them, they all have and some people are struggling to sleep despite the tiredness that is hitting all of us slowly. I feel bad for the people but at the same time just want to get back to my little, safe bed, away from this drama, this fear and most importantly, the cockroaches. #sorrynotsorry
Eventually, I end up hiding in my cabin, forcing everyone coming or out the door to immediately close it so that no insects (or people) can come in. I almost die of hypothermia because of the crazy air conditioning, which is blasting on my upper bunk bed, but I don’t care. I am safe from the cockroaches and I can die happy.
Have you ever had any bad travelling experiences, in trains, hostels, hotels or likewise? Or did you get extremely lucky like I did this time, while no one else did? Let me know! Would love to hear some funny stories from you.
Hope you’re all having a great day!