On the Sleeper Train

Day 5 – Today I woke to the sound of a woman hacking up a chicken with a machete. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d find myself writing. Stranger than fiction, amiright? It was 4:45am when I first heard the sharp WHACK, WHACK, WHACKs. In a haze of exhaustion, I was just wondering if this would disturb the others when Manny abruptly got up and left our hotel room. Then came a knocking, an angry “shhh,” and a brief respite in the whacking sounds, before Manny returned to our room aaaaaand it picked right back up again. “What was that?” I asked. “A woman is in the kitchen above us, cutting up a chicken on the floor with a machete.” I couldn’t help but explode into a prolonged laughter sesh. And that pretty much set the tone for this wacky morning of ours.

Wide awake (turns out my giggles were contagious), we finished our packing before check-out. While tucking away the final odds and ends, there was a light rap on our door. A woman who works at the hotel had brought us breakfast, consisting of three hot coffees in plastic containers (yes, plastic), three small packets of milk, and three large bags of bread. At long last, they’d managed to serve us breakfast!!! It would have been funny except this lady who’d brought the food said, in an incredibly apologetic way, “enjoy the breakfast and please forgive us for anything we might have done wrong to hurt your stay.” Cue the feelings of embarrassment and shame. While the cynical side of me goes to ok, you just want us to give you good reviews on Trip Advisor, the better part of me worries that we may have been unwittingly rude, and left a bad impression with our breakfast-skipping ways. But then, it is rather funny, methinks. Who’da thunk that this breakfast saga would ever last as long as it did. And also, everything seems laugh-worthy when your day starts off with a machete-chicken alarm clock.

Check-out complete, we took a cab to the train station. Next stop? The city of lanterns, Hoi An. It’s not terribly far from Dong Hoi, so Karen decided (rightly) that this connection made for the perfect opportunity to try a ride on a Vietnamese train. I heart trains so hard. Much like the magical aura that surrounds any and all bookstores, I feel like train rides are cloaked in their own brand of wonder. Sometime in the near future, I’d love to plan a trip where, once I make it to my destination, I travel exclusively by train. So much time for reading and blogging and looking out the window and dreaming and imagining and introverting. All of my favorite things.

We made it to the train station by 7am, and Karen and I went to go find coffee. We found a place down the road where our order took about twenty minutes to complete, fraught with miscommunication and, well, suffice to say it was a comedy of errors that almost rivaled the breakfast debacle. Eh, it didn’t matter much anyway, because Karen booked us a sleeper on the train, so coffee was hardly necessary. The ride to Hoi An from Dong Hoi is six or so hours long. Why not catch some ZZZs along the way so that we arrive in Hoi An fresh and sprightly? Again, great idea Karen! Except… well, except that the sleeper compartment turned out to be, uhhhh… shall we say not clean? Very, very not clean. One might even say very, very dirty.

Our first intro to the space in which we’d be spending the next few hours was a train attendant hastily tidying the giant mess the previous occupants left behind. Eggshells, herbs, noodles, empty soda cans, and more, were scattered all along the floor. The sheets were mussed up, obviously just used by the people before us. Nice as the concept of sleeping on the train was in theory, in practice, we were all pretty grossed out. Karen’s face in the pics below says it all. She sat on the edge of her bed for the first half hour of the trip. But even for that extreme germaphobe, exhaustion finally won out, and she daintily made a nest on the bed, doing her best to minimize the body-to-bed contact ratio.

As for me, I left Manny and Karen to catch up on their sleep, and crawled up to one of the top bunks to catch up on this blog. The window offered a picturesque backdrop to my work, framing the Vietnamese landscape zipping by. We passed a few towns and spent some time winding our way along the coast. Trains. I tell ya. Even when you’re in a pretty revoltingly disgusting compartment, there’s just something about them. (Tho I’ll spare you the grotty bathroom details… takeaway is just don’t. Hold it. For goodness sake, just hold it.)

Fifteen minutes before reaching Hoi An, the speakers in our room started blaring music to wake any sleepers, at frat-boy-party volume levels. Karen and Manny, who’d both managed to sleep most of the way, shook off their drowsiness, and we headed out towards the city of lanterns.

Our accommodation, Sunshine Homestay, is simply delightful. Run by an older Vietnamese couple and their son, it is cozy, clean, and so refreshing after the high ick-factor of the train. We arrived early enough for an exploration of Hoi An’s ancient town, but other than the following few photos, I’ll save that for the next post. There is just far too much that must be said about this fantastic corner of the world.

2 thoughts on “On the Sleeper Train

    1. Such random things! Today we drove by a halved pig carcass just casually tossed on the back of a scooter. No cover or wrap or protection of any kind. The guy driving the scooter was just zipping along the road. This is definitely a whole other world! 🙂

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