We arrived at the Hanoi
train station just after dark - night falls much earlier here than back
home. The station waiting room was packed with people sleeping on benches,
the floor... and one fellow had obviously been in some kind of accident.
His eyes were bandaged, and he was limping in pain while being led by an
older man. We boarded onto train #1, car # 3.
While boarding our train a platform
hanger-on barged in and insisted on carrying our backpacks to our compartment.
After dropping the bags he held out his hand and insisted on a big tip.
Bill responded with a tiny tip which was met with belligerence. We
shared a "soft sleeper" compartment with Tony and Lola from England and
had a good visit while the train chugged along. The compartment had two
berths on each side, a large window to the outside, and a lockable door
to the common corridor.
Sue-On offered to take the smaller
top bunk when it was time to turn in. The cars, although relatively new
had very weak A/C and were somewhat grubby from over-use -- as was the
western toilet at the end of the car. Sue-On hesitated to use the stinky
loo but finally decided to brave it in the middle of the night. She gritted
her teeth and took the trek down the corridor to the scary little "happy
room." All went well until she bent over to get up... OUCH! She bumped
her forehead on the handle provided to help the sitter get up! She survived
the ordeal, but wore the bump and bruise for a few days.
We did not sleep well as the
train ride was much rougher and noisier than the one we had taken in Thailand.
There were many stops for obstacles on the track, to pick up passengers,
I don't think the rail line has fully recovered from the bombings and sabotage
of past wars. We had a fitful sleep on the hard bunks and experienced motion
sickness most of the time. Tony, who is around six feet tall, had a hard
time fitting into the other top bunk which was obviously made for much
shorter Vietnamese passengers. Sue-On passed some of the time through meditation.
At daybreak Bill entered the
corridor which was lined with windows and took many photos of the scenic
passing countryside: farms houses, limestone quarries, cemeteries, villages,
stations, crossings. Agriculture plays a major role in the Vietnamese economy
-- in fact, the country is second or third in rice production. The soil
in this area was quite sandy and covered by a lot of gypsum, which was
useful for all the cement work that they use. Every inch of land is covered
by crops if there isn't a house on it. We saw a great variety of other
intensively farmed crops: coffee, cotton, peanuts, rubber, sugarcane, sweet
potatoes, corn, manioc, and tea. Many of the fields were irrigated by canal
ditches and most were worked with intensive stoop labour - often with the
aid of buffalo. There was also an emphasis on livestock raising: cattle,
hogs, buffalo, poultry, ducks, etc.
It was interesting to see all
the tombstones dotted in the rice paddies. Sue-On observed that tradition
here seemed to be so much the same as in China - or at least China she
knew in earlier times. When a person died, he was prepared for a viewing
in the coffin and then buried in the family's rice field. After three years,
the coffin was raised as the flesh had decomposed and disappeared. The
bones were gathered, cleaned, and placed in ceramic urns. These were then
put into a small tomb with a headstone, located in the rice paddie. The
logic was that the deceased would always be able to find the way home.
The land was held by the same family through generations.
Our bus met us at the station
around 9 am and we had a good look at bustling Hue on our way to the Asia
Hotel. Our room was on the 10th floor, over-looking the Perfume River.
The hotel was is in the older section of the city, which was very colourful,
but not as hectic as Hanoi. Many small restaurants dotted our street, from
Mexican to French to local food ( the best!).
It was past breakfast hours,
but the hotel dining room generously held breakfast for us. The breakfast
buffet was fabulous... for $5.00 -- one of the few breakfasts we had to
pay for. It was a real bargain for what was offered: eggs any style, congee,
fried rice, fried noodles, bacon, sausages, cheeses, breads, and on and
on and on. Beam advised us to eat as much as we could because we were leaving
for our motorcycle tour PLUS the other three tours included in the itinerary.
It was the start of a terrifc and activity-full day!