It was sad to say our final,difficult goodbye to our bikes upon leaving them on the loading platform; we’d had such a great adventure on our scooters in Vietnam! Without our own wheels our mobility was limited so we spent the rest of the evening hanging out at the local park in Lao Cai. We sat under a clump of bamboo at the base of a statue of Ho Chi Minh, watching a group of 5 or so tough looking middle-aged men in wife beaters taking a stroll around the park to get their exercise- not something you would see back home.
As our train’s departure time drew nearer, we headed back toward the station in search of food and stopped at a local market to see what was on offer. We scored some spring rolls which were being prepared and fried right before our eyes. This is what we came here for! Thus far we have had an ok experience with Vietnamese cuisine, but it can be hard to want to eat steaming hot soup when the weather is already stifling. The spring rolls make it worth every meal of steaming soup and questionable meat. I think we will be eating these for the remainder of our trip.
We also tracked down another pineapple without too much effort, and had a good time haggling it down to an appropriate price. Since most of our days here have been spent in the middle of nowhere, we haven’t run into too many people trying to charge us outrageous prices based on our foreigner status. It has allowed us to get a grip on what things here should actually cost so we know when to start bargaining!
Bree: The lady that had sold us a pineapple was also hopeful that we might be interested in buying some lychee fruit as well. We actually didn’t even know what was inside the tiny brown fruit so we declined, but she cracked one open and handed it for me to try. I squeezed the fruit into my mouth as she gestured, but wasn’t aware I was supposed to avoid a pit in the middle, so I bit down hard, crushing the big seed. She gestured for me to spit out the seed, but it was too late. The whole thing was splintered in my mouth. She burst into a round of laughter watching me try to fish the woody mess out of my mouth before she left us alone to get to eating our dinner.
Ben: We boarded the train around 8:30 pm, and after a little bit of searching down narrow corridors with our big backpacks, we finally tracked down our cabin. As we entered, we found two Swiss girls occupying the other two bunks in the cabin.
The girls were traveling together through Southeast Asia for 4 months before joining the workforce and becoming a “productive adult”. They were quite friendly, and were very interested to hear our story about riding motorbikes out of Hanoi, getting lost the first day, crashing the second, and making it all of the way through the country. They told us about their experiences in Sapa, and about their travels thus far.
We chatted away an hour or two, felt relieved that this train had normal Western toilets (we’d been told that the squat toilets are fairly difficult to use in a moving train!) and finally we called it a night. I climbed up to the top bunk and settled into sleep surprisingly easy for being on a bumpy, noisy train.
The train arrived in Hanoi an hour ahead of schedule right around 5:00 AM. You never know what you are going to get here – we had read reports that length of the ride often arrived an hour late, yet we arrived early. Bree’s suspicion is that the punctuality of the train has to do with whether or not the train is going uphill, but we’ll probably never really know.
We stepped off the train into the dark, drizzly night in the Center of Hanoi sometime around 5:15 AM. We followed the crowd like sheep until we finally spotted the terminal’s exit gate. As we approached we realized something – everybody was having their tickets checked in order to leave. Slightly panicked, we frantically checked our pockets and bags, ultimately realizing that we had lost our tickets sometime after we’d boarded.
Finally it clicked and Bree remembered where they were – sitting on the table in our cabin. We quickly ran several hundred meters back to the train, which had been cleared of people and lights turned off. They weren’t letting people back on. Thankfully one of the employees spoke English, and after explaining our situation, he disappeared into the cabin without even asking our room number.
Not more than a few seconds later, he re-emerged with the tickets in hand! Relieved, we made our way back out to the exit – this time pretty much alone – and met up with our Swiss friends on the street. They too were interested in renting motorbikes and were going to walk with us to Flamingo Travel where we had rented our bikes so they could look into getting some bikes for the day.