Catching the train from Hanoi to Vinh

This one is for Jeremy.

We wanted to fly from Hanoi to Vientiane, but the flights were really dear, something like $250 each. We thought our only option was to catch a dreadful sleeping bus that takes about 15 hours instead. (See this post for thoughts on sleeping buses.) Things were looking grim until Jeremy stumbled upon an incredibly cheap flight from Vinh to Vientiane. We quickly bought tickets so we wouldn’t miss out. Next problem – how to get from Hanoi to Vinh? Vinh is about 300km south of Hanoi. Jeremy suggested that we catch the train. I was a bit unsure, but in the end I agreed and it was actually a lot of fun.

Six hours in a soft seat, and the catering carts came in quick succession; the first selling hot corn and tubs of yoghurt, the second selling drinks, and the third selling fried bits like spring rolls and different kinds of meat on a stick. We were adventurous and bought a cà phê sữa đá each. At this point I should mention that I was suffering from a nasty head cold. I may have had to mingle with other people’s wee in the train’s squatter toilet, but I am quite certain that my germs infected at least half of the poor souls unfortunate enough to be in our carriage and probably most of the other people on the train as well. I’m sorry about this. I was a spluttering mess for most of the journey. While we are on bodily functions, another point worth mentioning is that the toilets on these trains do indeed empty straight onto the track. Even when the train is stopped at a station. I realised this when we alighted at Vinh in the early afternoon.

One other thing I discovered is that taxis will actually come up onto the platform to collect passengers. Some passengers will, of course, have no problems crossing the tracks to secure a taxi before passengers using the proper exiting facilities.

Final note, Vinh was fun and Jeremy’s beard attracted a lot of attention.

Here are a couple of pics from Vinh station.

a

Just got off the train and need a taxi quick? No problem! Didn’t get to the first cab in time? See below.

b

Not to worry. There are plenty more waiting further down the platform.

Good friends, good times

Jeremy and I recently came back to Vietnam after having lots of fun in Cambodia and Thailand. We stayed a few nights in Ho Chi Minh City, then headed up to Hoi An to spend some time with Gary and meet up with the fabulous Janine who was visiting from Australia. We were also lucky enough to catch up with Mandy and Peter, Pandy, and Sue. It was great to see you all, and I hope you continue to enjoy living in Vietnam. We are a bit jealous because we will be back to our working grind in less than eight weeks. Janine very much enjoyed staying at the Alma Courtyard Hotel, but when they wanted to charge me $12 ++ to swim in the pool, we knew it was time to leave. Gary, Janine, Jeremy and I took a road trip up to Hue for three nights. At this point, I’d like to say a big thank you to Gary for:

  1. putting us up, and
  2. putting up with us.

You are a great friend and we will miss you and your antics very much.

Here is a photo narrative of our last visit to Hue for this year.

First we cycled out to Thanh Toan village. We got a bit lost and rode around for 12km instead of taking the direct 6km route. It didn’t matter because the journey was fun. At one point, Gary was swarmed by a small army of primary school children. When we finally arrived at Thanh Toan, we went to the Japanese covered bridge to cool off in the beautiful breeze that was coming across the water. It was there that we met the lady in the picture below. She told us about her life. It turns out she had a brief affair with an American soldier that she kept secret from her VC father. She later married a local man and had three children. Parts of the story were difficult to understand, but generally we could follow what she was saying. She offered to read our palms, but no takers.

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Next stop, Janine had a go at river fishing. She caught some weed and a few take-away containers.

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After a Ca Phe Sua Da, we went for a walk around the village and came across these men looking to purchase a fighting cock. The man who was selling put the cock in question through its paces and got bitten on the butt a few times. I am not sure if a deal was struck, but the village’s reputation as Choi Ga Central lives on.

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Next stop was lunch, followed by a fruitless search for the residence of the last Queen Mother. We found the building, but it was closed, abandoned, or both. Further along the same road, we visited an abandoned temple.

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Janine and I thought it was great, but Gary was a little underwhelmed.

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It was a huge day, because we also rode to the citadel, dropping in at Big C on the way.

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We enjoyed looking around but at some point, Janine and I lost Gary. We looked for him, called out, and even whistled, but no Gary.

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Eventually we headed home, but on the way we found some children playing in the empty allotment near our hotel.

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They were collecting bits of wood to start a fire. Just for fun. Janine made a small friend and we finally called it a day.

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The next day we visited the Dong Ba market. Jeremy pointed out stuff and told the stall holders that he caught much bigger fish than those they were selling.

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Janine wanted to buy a hat, so we visited this stall. The lady proceeded to jam every hat she had onto Janine’s head, proclaiming that each one was beautiful. Janine decided that she didn’t want to purchase from the lady’s considerable range. As we walked away, she got a little slap on the arm for being so difficult to please. Really, Janine, that floral hat is gorgeous!

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Last adventure was to charter a dragon boat for a cruise on the river. It was sunny at first so Jeremy had to protect his precious skin.

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We had pre-arranged some bubbles and ice, which made the journey very relaxing and pleasant. By the way, this is Jeremy’s ‘serious’ pose. The lady who owned the boat was very impressed that we had brought ice and glasses.

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Dinner was at the DMZ bar where Gary purchased a shirt. The staff gave him a name tag and put him straight to work behind the bar.

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Jeremy and I had a really great time, and I think the dragon boat trip was definitely the highlight. Thank you to Gary and Janine for such a memorable week.

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