It's going to be one long day!

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Dec 12, 2012

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's only 7 am, and already it is hot.  I have about four sites left to see, but only about three hours to see them before I must head back to the hotel, shower (again), then check out (by 11 am), as well as catch a plane.  When I arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure, as they tell you to do for international flights, they tell us they won't be checking in passengers until after 1 pm for a 2.40 pm flight.  We finally check in, board the plane, which is brand new, then land in Hanoi after only 40 minutes.   

Once we arrive in Hanoi, it's immigration, which goes slow, wait for the luggage, get money from the ATM in local currency (my card works, thank goodness!), then book a taxi for the train station, as I leave for Lao Cai tonight at 8.35 pm.  It's now about 4.30.  At the tourism desk, there is a couple who books a taxi before me.  They are then led to their taxi by one of the workers.  After I book my taxi, I am led to my taxi, only to find out that the other two are also in it.  Pretty good deal/scam -- charging $25 a booking, then combining the passengers together.  I wonder if the two girls and the taxi driver will split one of our fares.  They tell me that it will take an hour to get from the airport to the train station due to the traffic, but it takes us two hours.  I do not know where the couple is going, as they don't get off at the train station with me.  . 

There are two train stations in  Hanoi -- one for the locals, the other for "international" travelers, and are located at different areas on a massive block.  I told the tourism desk when I booked the taxi that I needed to be let off at the international station, she assures me I will.  I reiterate this information to the driver, he says no problem.  When we get to the terminal, he lets me off at the station, and assures me this is the one for international travelers.  I'm skeptical, and find out I have reason.  When I enter the station, everyone is a local.  When I ask the information desk, they point me in the direction to the other station.  It is hot, the walk to the other terminal seems like forever.  The constant honking of horns is driving me crazy.  

Since I am not arriving at the train station from a hotel, I was given directions by my booking agent on how to pick up my train tickets at the terminal.  I do as told, but there is nothing there to correspond with what are in my instructions.  I ask the information desk, but the girl doesn't speak enough English to know what I mean when I ask about picking up tickets.  I go to the main ticket counter, but her English is just as limited.  I try several other counters, no one knows what I am asking.  I am told that the carrier's office is across the street, so I go there, only to find no one there.  I go back to the train station, feeling as frustrated as the guy with the ATM card that won't give him cash.  I ask other tourists if they piicked up tickets at the terminal, but all say they had theirs delivered to their hotels. I'm starting to accept the fact that I probably won't be going to Lao Cai after all.  It's settling in as a disappointment.    

After one train leaves, this one guy, who was helping passengers and locking the gate doors, tells me in English that I need to hurry to catch the train.  I tell him I am on a different train, but need to pick up tickets.  I explain my situation and frustration of not having anyone understand me.  He asks for the details, I show him the email from my booking agent.  He tells me to wait, but not "five minute," only that he'll be back in a few minutes.  And just as he says, he arrives with my outbound ticket.  I thank him profusely.  He asks for a tip; not an unusual request in the developing world.  I start to pull money out of my pocket, but then he tells me to wait, that maybe he can earn a bigger tip by helping me with my bags to the train.  I then realize he is not an employee, but a local trying to earn tips from his services.  I don't care, he got me my ticket, and saved me from being stranded at the train station with nowhere to go; he saved the day for me.  

It's now time to board my train for Lao Cai.  He comes to me, takes my luggage, then asks me to wait because he has another group he is also helping.  They come over, he takes us to the train, which is actually located near the terminal for the locals!  It's back to making that long walk.  I don't get it! But then I don't care either, as I am not dragging my luggage over potholes, train tracks, water hoses, and other potential barriers. The guy is doing it all for me.

While the "international" station is supposed to be used for foreigners, the locals use it too.  The difference with the trains to Lao Cai is that there are separate cars for the foreigners to use.  The guy who is helping me drops off the first group at car #1, then takes me to car #3, where he settles me into my cabin that holds four passengers.  When we get there, the other three passengers have already settled in.  When the guy tells one passenger that she's taken my bunk, she insists that she has the bottom bunk, he tells her she's wrong, they go at it for a couple of minutes, but he stands his ground and forces her to move to the top one.  I tip him, he's happy, pats me on the shoulder several times, wishes me a good trip, then disappears into the darkness.  At 8.30 pm, the train sets off for a nine hour journey.

The compartment is very small and hot, we agree that it looks nothing like the pictures on the website, but it is supposed to be one of the better carriers to Lao Cai.  I miss the trains in India.  Since my day has been long, and we are expected to arrive in Lao Cai at 5.15 am, I quickly fall asleep, while the other three mumble about all kinds of things.  

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