Monday, November 14, 2011

Crazy Train

In April, my housemate and I decided to have a beach getaway week in Hoi An. Her sister and sisters bf were going and she didn't want to be the third wheel. I was in between jobs and am never one to say no to 1. the beach and 2. fantastic food. The only snag was that we couldn't fly, as her passport was in visa renewal mode. A sub- catch? We weren't going in a sleeper cabin on the 15 hour train ride. No, we were going in the hard, upright seats.

While I am not a fussy traveler in the slightest, I am the first to admit that i like to be comfortable. However, I figured this would be an adventure, and an adventure it was. I am surprised it's taken me so long to write about.

The first thing I noticed was that we were the only foreigners in the cabin. This wasn't all that surprising to me, but to the other travelers we were anomalies. Especially to the two men directly across the aisle from us. The train crew kept coming up and trying to sell us an upgrade to the sleeper cabins. We said no and as the journey progressed into the evening, everything seemed to settle down. We had one women in the row in front of us projectile vomit, but aside from that it was normal.

Around 11pm, all of the lights in the train went out, apart from in our cabin, which strangely stayed glaringly on. Also the AC was blasting to frigid temperatures. However, people, Karen included, naturally drifted into a state of slumber. (Karen's way of beating the light and cold was genius-she put on her hoodie BACKWARDS) So it was at this time that the two men across the aisle decided to make their move...into the aisle.

For those of you who have never been on a train in Vietnam, or southeast Asia for that matter, the aisles are tiny. On par with airplanes. So these men, move into the aisle to play cards. For SEVEN HOURS STRAIGHT. Fine. Not everyone can sleep on trains (case in point yours truly was reading a book and silently cursing Karen)

It wasn't the playing cards that caught my attention, but the events surrounding the 7 hour card game. The complete lack of regard for the fact that it was sleeping time or that there were other people in the cabin at all. First of all-despite the NO SMOKING signs, they began chain smoking. Blowing the smoke in Karen's face as they leaned their arms on her seat (good thing she had the hoodie!) When the cigarette smoking wasn't enough of a thrill, they pulled out one of those long wooden bong type things and started taking hits from it. That was the point I started having a giggling fit. They kept this up, as I said, for seven hours. If someone wanted to pass them, they refused to move, and the person had to climb over them. They also engaged in very loud conversation, and let their mobile phones ring for a solid 20 seconds before answering each call, and then having a loud conversation. At this point Karen is getting this whole grumpy stop waking me up look on her face and I am succumbing to my delirium.

Around 7am, they retired to their seats, and with the game of cards no longer available to entertain them, they moved on to the next obvious form of distraction-the two foreign girls across the aisle. I think it's safe to say that these two men probably have every inch of my face memorized, have probably counted every eyelash and freckle that I have. When I say they were STARING I don't mean, giving us the one over. I mean STARING for, no joke, two hours straight. Even when Karen I looked back, they didn't look away. their expressions didn't even change, they just kept staring. What I couldn't fully understand was what were they looking at? I understand I look different, but why is it necessary to stare for so long? Surely it must get old after a while. It's not like we were doing anything or anything about our face would change. When they got off the train (Hue) they rubbed my arm and waved goodbye. apparently staring for hours and blowing smoke in our face is grounds for kinship.

We decided that the train ride back would be different. That we were going to sleep no matter what was thrown at us. We picked up some fantastic sleep aids at the pharmacy that start with "V" and end with "alium", popped two pills each and fell into a deep and undisturbed slumber, relishing in the fact that diazepam is OTC here. :) The 15 hours passed with ease and before we knew it we were pulling into Hanoi. I conceded to Karen that the train wasn't so bad after-all, I mean this journey was drama free.

As we stood up to collect our bags is when I noticed her. A woman running down the narrow and clogged aisle with her hand over her mouth, cheeks puffed out. In my dazed still under the influenced state, I weakly called out to Karen, "Hey Karen, watch out..." Karen took a step forward at the same time the woman rushing down the aisle could no longer contain her motion sickness, unleashing it all over Karen's leg and foot.

Anyone who knows me, knows that 1. I am a nervous laughter person. If something awkward happens I am in hysterics. and 2. Gross things/bathroom humour sets me off. So this was too much for me, I ran off the train, onto the platform and keeled over...tears streaming from my eyes doubled over in laughter, barely able to breathe. I still laugh over this. The fact that someone vomited all over my friend and that this is almost commonplace in travel here.

While I prefer not to take 15 hour train journeys when i can fly, i have to admit that a plane ride wouldn't have been as entertaining. K and I wouldn't have the memories, the laughter, the vomit. it's one of those things that make living in Asia so special.

Pic: the man across the aisle. I forgot to describe him. he had spiked front hair, with a long mullet. VERY VERY long fingernails. A Confucius mustache and Buddha belly.


  1. This is fantastic. Where else but Vietnam?

    The staring thing drives me crazy. If you ever find a deterrent do tell!

  2. I have found that behaving erratically can be a deterrent. Or make it worse. it's a 50/50 chance. but I have done things at bars like crazy almost spastic dancing alone, and people stared for 2 seconds but then looked away quickly, embarrassed.

  3. We have just booked 3 internal flights for our holidays in Vietnam in Feb......thanks!!!