Tears streamed down my face as I tightly hugged my knees in the stifling, comically narrow hallway of an overnight train from Hanoi to Hoi An. I desperately tried not to ‘colonically’ destroy my dignity as my weary body attempted to take soothing breaths while trying not to let anything “out” on the exhale.
Returning to Hanoi after a trip to the majestic Halong Bay, my husband Brian and I were disappointed to learn that our hotel manager had failed to purchase first class tickets on an overnight train to Hoi An. “New car, same same,” he assured us. Right. Driving to the station the descriptions I had read about haunted me. “Filthy.” “Mice.” “Roaches.” Oh my.
My heart raced once I stepped into the suffocating box we would call home for the next seventeen hours. The six bunk car was smaller than our home bathroom. Blankets laced with strands of black hair from previous passengers were tucked into flimsy particle board beds. The walls were inexplicably stained with what I only imagined to be feces. An anxious panic rose as I gasped for the warm, recycled air sputtering from the ancient air conditioner.
Deciding not to resort to drastic measures (such as wrist slitting), I inspected the bathrooms, which I’d be frequently visiting due to the increasing intensity of my potent case of traveler’s diarrhea. I’d gotten used to squat toilets and didn’t mind them for a quick pee, but my current condition left me less than thrilled to see the tracks passing beneath the hole of the toilet. I did my business quickly and returned hot, hungry and pissy only to be pushed to brink of madness after Brian sheepishly confessed that he had mistakingly purchased Alaskan King Crab flavored potato chips instead of the plain ones. Alaskan. King. Crab. Resisting the urge to slap my husband, I reached for my iPod, jammed in my earbuds and allowed Mr. Eddie Vedder to sing away my worries and drown out my grumbling stomach.
I had finally began to relax when the train came to a stop and our room was suddenly infiltrated by a gaggle of Vietnamese tourists who crammed dozens of suitcases into every crevice of our already packed room. For some reason beyond our comprehension, the women left and were replaced by the men of the family. Apparently our car had been nominated the "gentlemen's room” with obnoxious children monkeying up and down the bunks with no regard to our limbs or general existence. Men continued pouring in, arms full of beer, cigarettes, and skewers of unidentifiable meat. Had I felt better, I may have taken those gentlemen up on the beer and smokes I was offered.
Before long, I was sweetly asked to move to the second bunk because the men wanted to play cards. Our room quickly descended into a scene from "Deer Hunter" as these fellas were betting big bucks, smoking and sucking down beer while I hoped that Russian roulette wouldn’t be next. Instead, they broke out into random ditties like "Jingle Bells" until the wee hours and tiny children continued to climb freely, chomping on baguettes as crumbs sprinkled down on us from above.
Around midnight, my TD violently kicked in just as I began to doze off. I’ve never moved so fast in my life as I carefully lowered myself off the bunk, ironically trying not to wake the sixteen dudes, who were now passed out, squeezed in three to a bunk. I don't know why I was trying to be so quiet as I wrestled with the locked door (“Who the F locked the door?!) and barely made it to the toilet. I wanted to die as I fought to aim for the target despite the merciless rocking of the train, squatting and barely holding on to a tiny metal hook with beads of sweat covering my body. Eventually, I stumbled to bed and drifted into a deep sleep.
The nightmare ended as I awoke to find the family had been replaced by a lovely man with beautiful twin daughters. Our four hour home stretch was considerably more enjoyable as we chatted and were entertained by his adorably inquisitive daughters. We listened as he proudly talked about his homeland and family. When leaving the train, our new friend stayed with us and made sure that we found our driver. It's times like those that restore your love for travel and people like him who restore your faith in humanity.