Mar 15-Mar 26, 2019
The Sleeper train
The train ride… oh the train ride. So let me start off by saying, we’ve never taken an overnight train. So I was a little wary. When we booked our beds, we couldn’t get a 4 bed bedroom (2 beds on each side). We had to do a 6 bed bedroom (3 beds on each side). We could only book the top two and the bottom, the rest were taken by STRANGERS! The rooms were tiny from what we could see on Youtube. So I was already wondering exactly where all our bags would go, who would we be with in the compartment, was there AC, would they snore, what would it be like to be on a train with the train noise and shaking, what was the toilet like, what if there were bed bugs or cockroaches like the YouTube videos showed… There was nothing exciting about this, it was all foreign and outside my comfort zone.
We get to the train station and it begins to fill up. Finally it’s time to board the train. We get on, walk down the tiny corridor to our room, open the door and there are our bunk mates who all don’t speak English. There was a huge Styrofoam box on the ground and I was already starting to wonder where we would put all our backpacks. I get quiet when I’m really stressed. I go way inward. So Luc kept asking what was wrong. There was no way to answer it. Everything about this felt so weird and uncomfortable.
There was a pillow and blanket on each plastic bed but I didn’t want to use their blanket so I pulled out my silk liner from the Camino and laid it on top of the pillow. There was a USB charger for my phone which was a bonus. We all got into our beds (fully clothed) and tried to fall asleep. I of course couldn’t. I started to wonder, did Vivi go pee? What would happen if she had to go pee in the middle of the night, how would she get down from all the way up there? Where was the bathroom? What if I got robbed? I’m telling you… I thought about train derailments… just about everything that could go wrong. I threw some music in my ears to hopefully elevate my soul and maybe put me to sleep? I began texting with Todd and Jess to take my mind off of it all. We left at 10pm and now it was around midnight… Then I thought, Ok, I need to fall asleep or I’m ruined. I could hear the loudest snoring coming from the guy right above me. So stupid loud. So after I tossed and turned with music in my ears, I put in my ear plugs (also from the Camino) and tried to fall asleep.
Every once in a while I would wake up because the train would stop. And then at 5am that was it, I was awake. At 6am, someone started smoking in the hall outside my room. It was revolting. The train would stop, let people off and on (I assume), more smoking, noise, talking, etc… at around 6:30am Vivi woke up and I took her to the bathroom.
Well, we’d been warned but it was still just as bad. The first toilet was overflowing with pee and as the train moved on the tracks, the pee would spill over the sides. No chance we could pee there. As we move further and further down the cabooses the toilets got better and better until we finally found one that had toilet paper and it flushed.
We passed more smokers who were smoking on the train (no smoking signs everywhere) and food carts. I dropped Vivi back at the room and headed on to see if there was a place we could sit. As it stood we would need to lay down in our beds for the next two hours. Oh and I forgot to mention, I had seen one of those cockroaches made famous on YouTube on the table right by my head.
I found some empty seats so hightailed it back to our room. When I got there, the family was up and taking up all the space in the room. The Styrofoam box was leaking water. What the heck was in there? And it was just about to soak my backpack. Wonderful. I told Luc and Vivi to get up – we were getting out of there. We grabbed our stuff and went back to the seats. Gone. People were sitting there now. Sigh… so we pushed on to the next caboose and found some more seats (some man made a motion that they were his but he was sitting elsewhere so too bad for you. Don’t mess with a tired ginger).
We stayed there for the remainder of the trip. Near the end, music came on FULL BLAST. Vietnamese national anthem? I have no idea, only that it was the loudest music I had heard since the Pearl Jam concert in the 90s.
We got the F off the train and I was so happy to be done with that.
We got a GRAB to our hostel, grabbed some breakfast and headed out into the hot sun while we waited for our room to be ready.
The next day we went on a tour of Hue. We don’t usually do the tour thing but we’d heard that Hue had a lot of history and was once the capital of Vietnam. It was also the city that was bombed the most so that also interested us.
The tour was really good! The guide spoke great English and was pretty funny. We had an American fellow who continued to get lost. We visited the Royal Palace and Imperial City, the Thien Mu Pagoda, and many temples where kings were buried. Something that was really interesting was that the kings were usually buried where no one would find them. The guy who buried him, committed suicide after burying him so that the secret went with him. We wondered if maybe the guy just ran away after burying the king instead of offing himself. That’s what we would have done of course. These amazing temples were huge and something that the king built for just his death. One king decided to live in it before he died (I can’t remember why) and another sent his helpers to search for 7 years before he found the perfect place for his burial.
After that we visited a place that does Kung Foo and we were entertained by some Kung Foo fighting. We’re now hot again and I’m was so uncomfortable all day. I just don’t get how the locals don’t sweat! We also visited a place that made Vietnamese conical hats as well as incense making where Vivi got to try making incense!
That night we had dinner in the centre of the walking street and checked out all the tourists and locals passing by.
After my terrifying experience with the train, I had earned myself a private car to Hoi An. I was a bit sick of travelling by way of planes, trains and busses so we paid a bit more and got a driver to pick us up and take us to Hoi An. The drive was chill (AC baby) and laid back.
Hoi An is a beautiful little town. The lanterns come out at night and really make Hoi An a place of beauty. We spent 5 nights in Hoi An because we loved it and also because we wanted to get some clothing tailored.
We visited a Refill MyBottle water refill station here and the guy was really committed to reducing plastic waste in Vietnam which was so nice to see. He was so happy to see us as I think not many people come to refill their bottles (yet) and asked us if we could share on our social media networks to get the word out about his restaurant.
We visited Gangaa boutique who was referred to us by my friend Helen, and Loan really knew her stuff and we loved spending time with her. We got to know her story and it’s really powerful story of a woman creating what she wanted in life with her business and her family. She’s the main breadwinner in the family supporting her and her husband, son, her husband’s parents and sometimes sending money to her mom. She quit her job of 7 years at a large tailor shop to start up her own business and she’s doing really well from what I can see. I’m so proud to know her and now have clothing that came from her shop. We got a bunch of stuff created by her and it’s now on its way to Canada. If you go to Hoi An, please shop at her shop. You won’t be disappointed.
We rode falling apart bicycles into town and the traffic was frightening. Luc and I argued as he had Vivi on the back of his bike (we were without helmets) and I was not happy with how he was riding with her on the back in the crazy traffic. It was a full moon when we were there so we got to be a part of the full moon festivities in town with lots of people, pay parking for bikes and beautiful lanterns on the river – oh and the power was turned off in town! These paper lanterns with candles placed in the river are also garbage and end up down the river where no one cleans up. So while they are beautiful, it’s also a lot of garbage. We refrained from putting any in.
We also rode our bikes 4km’s to the beach. More stress on the road from me. It’s just not really worth it IMHO. Pay the extra and get a cab. You’ll miss the countryside but you won’t miss the incessant honking every time a car, truck, scooter or bike rides past you. You’ll also miss getting hit by said vehicles (no kidding, I was almost hit 8 times while riding a bike in Hoi An by all modes of transportation). No tuk tuks in Hoi An unfortunately. The beach was really nice. We got a couple of loungers and just chilled at the beach for the afternoon. It was so hot in Hoi An that the beach was a welcome break from the heat.
We did a little shopping and bought some lanterns for back home. We also visited a market where we got some cheap delicious food. Luc was in heaven.
We ate at a place called Streets Restaurant and Café which helps to get people off the streets and gives them skills to take forward for them to be able to work in 5 star international hotels and restaurants. It was a bit more expensive but the food was delicious and it felt good to be contributing to a good cause as well.
We did the Hoi An EcoCooking Tour that really went all out. It started early in the morning and we walked through the market looking first at all the veggies and fruit. Then we moved onto living and dead seafood, then over to the meat area. If you’re a vegetarian, this is not the place for you. We witnessed people buying meat and putting the money directly on the raw meat in front of us. What a great learning opportunity to tell Vivi “that’s why you never put money in your mouth and to wash your hands after dealing with money.” Later on she saw someone put money in their mouth and she was disgusted and pointed it out to me. Lesson learned.
After the market, we climbed onto a boat and floated down the river until we got a ways away, and then we climbed into round coconut boats which seemed a little unstable for me. The guy rowing us couldn’t speak English but he was pretty hilarious. We stopped to do some fishing (piece of bamboo with string and a piece of fish) while he made bamboo art for us. On the way back, we sang “Et on pagaye, on pagaye” and he sang along as well as he could to it. It was so cute.
Then into a cab to the kitchen where we started cooking fried spring rolls and fresh spring rolls, a pancake type Vietnamese dish and also finished with a soup. We were stuffed!
We loved Hoi An. I dislike the getting around part. It was far too hot. But it’s a really cute little town and we met some wonderful Vietnamese people there. The lanterns really make it incredible to see at night. I can’t wait to open up my lanterns when we get home and have a little taste of Hoi An.
Timothe’s Beach Bungalow
Back onto a train to get to Timothe’s. We wanted to have a break from all the seeing and doing so we found a little beach bungalow between Hoi An and Dalat called Timothe’s. It’s off the beaten path and a bit challenging to get to and from but it was a little piece of white sandy beach paradise that I didn’t want to leave.
But first another train experience. We booked amazing seats with a table between us so Vivi could do some learning time and I could write some blogs. The 6 hour ride was great! We were even commenting that riding on the train was better than a bus because there’s toilets, more space to move around, a table, etc…
We were getting close to the end of our trip and things get hectic for me at these junctures. They don’t tell you on the train when the stops are coming but I’d been watching on Mapsme to see how far away we were until the stop and it looked like about 5 mins. So I announce “we should pack up we’re almost there.” Vivi said “I have to go to the bathroom”. We’ve had a few moments on this trip where going to the bathroom so close to getting off a plane or bus has caused some issues. (On a plane, she told me when we were on decent so she couldn’t go, and when we finally landed she ran before everyone could get their seat belt off and of course she was stuck behind 30 people coming back. I was freaking because I couldn’t see her. Needless to say, it causes stress and it becomes hectic. This would be the worst time this happens.
I should have went with her. But I watched her walk to the bathroom in our car so I thought “no problem, she’ll be back soon” I also told her to hurry because we were almost there. What I didn’t notice after I turned my back, was that she came out of that bathroom and continued to the next car because there wasn’t any toilet paper. After 3 mins I was really wondering what was taking her. I walked to the bathroom and knocked on the door yelling her name. But the train was so loud I had no idea if she was responding. After about 1 min a man emerged. Say what?
So I walked to the next car but she wasn’t in that toilet either. I could see Luc and I just had no idea where she went. I looked down at the next car and I saw this little hand waving at me through the window. I ran to the door and it was locked. She was on the other side bawling her eyes out. I started yelling “help help help!!!” I was panicked. She was beside herself crying. One of the guys that works the train made the motion of “no” and I was like “oh no your don’t motherfucker” – mamabear just showed up. Everyone was looking at me as I was screaming “help help help, my baby is stuck on the other side of the door!!” Finally the guy came towards me walking so slowly down the aisle. Fucker. He walked up to the door and unlatched it up at the top so she could get out. I could have done this but I was just so panicked I couldn’t see straight. I started crying and held her while we basically ran back to our seats, grabbed our stuff and got the fuck off the train.
After wondering and wondering why they would have locked the door we read somewhere that when trains are getting close to stations they lock one end of the car. It was just terrible timing that Vivi went into the toilet between it being open and it being locked.
Then we got in a car to go to Tomothe’s. My nerves were completely shot and the driver was driving like he was Michael Schumacher. I started crying in the backseat again. It was all too much. So I wrote on Google translate “my wife is feeling sick, could you please slow down?” and passed the phone to Luc to show to the driver. He slowed down. Breath, Robin.
And then we were at Timothe’s. A little piece of paradise. Our room was bright and we had beautiful views to the ocean. White sandy beach. The beach was strewn with garbage in places so we did a garbage pickup one day and got free coffee! There wasn’t really anything around to do or see except the hammock and the beach so we chilled, taught Vivi Jass (swiss card game), swam, and got to be. I wanted to stay longer but it wasn’t in the cards with our itinerary (we did stay an extra two days from the 2 days we had originally planned).
Another epic bus ride is in the cards when we leave Timothe’s. Stay tuned.