Bill and Sue-On Hillman: A 50-Year Musical Odyssey


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Night Train from Hanoi to Hue
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! 

Arriving at Hanoi Railway Station

All Aboard!

In case of emergency Break the Glass

North Vietnam Countryside

Arrival at Hue

A drive through the Hue streets to the Asia Hotel

Asia Hotel


Supplementary Photo Gallery



Copyright 2015
Bill and Sue-On Hillman