The kids were looking forward to their first long haul train journey. Visions of the Hogwarts Express playing in their imaginations. Jen and I were just hoping that the overnight sleeper from Hanoi to Da Nang wouldn’t be as bad as the third class sleepers we have experienced across India. No matter what we were expecting, we knew that 20 hours on a train was going to be trying. Having booked five bunks in a cabin for six, at least we would outnumber whatever fate threw at us in terms of cabin mates.
Thao Thanh turned out to be a woman in her fifties who spoke zero English. This did not deter her from immediately commandeering my phone and making us FaceBook friends. Her stop was around midnight, about 6 hours after the AC stopped working.
The man in the cabin next to ours chain smoked like an AA meeting, and the toilet resembled a Porta Potty on the last day of Burning Man. The Hogwarts Express it was not, but neither was it the rattling sardine can that crosses Bihar to Calcutta. Thankfully the coffee from the trolly was boiling hot and delicious. Coffee culture in Vietnam has deep roots.
Not surprisingly, the driver we had arranged for pick up at the station did not materialize. Bleary from the journey, we were forced to arrange transport ourselves in the scrum of taxi drivers buzzing about the exit hall of the station. We had tried hard to avoid this because it exposes you to another possible episode of overcharging and transportation scams. In some countries drivers will stop midway to your destination demanding more money for “tolls”, “fuel costs”, or outright extortion.
Luckily this did not happen, even though our “taxi driver” who met us on the steps of the arrival area, ultimately led us to a private vehicle in the carpark. Of course he had no clue where our destination was, despite telling us he knew the place before we departed. A common ruse to get the tourist into your car.
The usual strategy is to drive around until you stumble across your destination or until you give up and get a room at one of the guesthouses you keep passing. This time we were lucky enough to be in the small beachside village of An Bang, and spied a sign for our guest house in short order. Within an hour we were in bathing suits and beers, putting the nights journey behind us.