I took advantage of the free breakfast at my hotel and arrived at 8:45 am, 15 minutes before it ended. I was the only person there and enjoyed the buffet. On my way back to my room, I stopped at reception and asked if they could help me with the train. They didn’t speak English, but thankfully a woman nearby did and came over to help me.
I think the woman was the supervisor and she got on the computer and looked online at the timetables. She said there was a train that left at 11:20 am. She called the train station and asked for a ticket, but when she got off the phone, she said there were no more tickets for 11:20 am. The next train left at 5:00 pm and was a night train. I did not want a night train and on top of that, I would have to wander around for the day.
My gut told me there was a ticket available, so I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel, and took a Grab to the train station. I was desperately hoping there would be a ticket so I wouldn’t have to take a 15-hour bus ride (the train took 11-12 hours).
When I arrived at the station, I asked the woman at the ticket counter if there was a ticket for 11:20 to Hue. She wrote something on a piece of paper and slid it to me. It said she had one ticket for $390,000 dong ($13.85 USD) or a sleeper seat for $690,000 dong ($29.82 USD). After my experiment on the sleeper bus, I quickly said I’d take a regular seat.
I was relieved that I was able to get a ticket. The train was coming shortly, so I waited outside on the platform. As usual, a woman walked over to me, put her hand from her head to my arm (which came halfway between my elbow and shoulder), and laughed with her friends. I smiled and laughed with them. Then they all laughed at the European middle-aged couple who were 5’3” and 5’7”, and had giant backpacks that seemed to be overtaking them.
I got on the train, found my seat, and looked for a place to put my suitcase. I flagged a woman down who worked there, and she told me that I’d have to put it above my seat on the rack. Thankfully, she helped me lift it. Other than the European couple, the passengers were all locals. They had Vietnamese train travel down perfectly. They’d all put a plastic bag full of food (noodle cups that just needed hot water, snacks, and drinks) and tied it to the railing just above their seat. They’d also hang a plastic bag to the back of the seat in front of them for trash, which was great because the attendants never came to collect trash, and I couldn’t find a trash can. It was just like the locals in Thailand.
A few times throughout the train journey, a vendor with a cart would roll down the aisle offering food. There wasn’t a cab with food, so I would need to order from the cart. At one point, I got a corn cob and coffee for $1.29 USD. The corn didn’t have butter or salt, and it was a little sweet. It was pretty tasty. Then for dinner, I bought a rice and beef meal that was in a styrofoam box. It wasn’t very good, and the drink that was served was like a soup broth with some random things floating in it.
The restroom was small, old, and rickety, like the train itself. But I was so happy that it wasn’t a squat toilet! The first time I used the restroom was a few hours into the train ride. I noticed that the little bar of soap hadn’t been opened yet, which concerned me. I opened it and used it. Nine hours into the train ride, I used the restroom again. This time there was pee all over the seat, and the floor was wet.
I worked on my blog, slept, and played on my phone. At one point, I saw a girl post on a Facebook travel group that she just got malaria in Hoi An, which was not that much farther south than my destination. She was asking the group what she should do. Then I read the comments. So many people chiming in, “I got malaria in Vietnam too” and “I got so sick in Vietnam with X disease.” Ugh, I did not want malaria.
There was an older woman in front of me, and she kept turning around and speaking to me in Vietnamese. I would reply, “I’m sorry; I don’t understand.” To which she obviously didn’t understand. She would point out things like the crying child or the guy who was supposed to be next to me but ended next to her because I was in his seat. Every couple of hours, she would speak to me again, as if she forgot that I didn’t speak Vietnamese.
At times, the seat next to me was empty. Then someone would get on at a stop and be my seat-mate for a while until they got off, letting someone else in the seat. I played around on Tinder, but it wasn’t very successful because I was on a moving train. I matched with a 28-year-old traveler who had been traveling for one and a half years. He was going the opposite direction than me though, so that was that.
As I sat on the train, it reminded me of the six-hour train ride that I took from Paris to Barcelona in 2014 with my ex-husband, Aaron. It was our first big trip and we spent four weeks exploring Europe. I had never had that much time off of work before, so I was excited to break out of our patterns and experience something new. I told Aaron that my goal was to meet at least one new person every day. I brought a journal to write about our time and who we met.
During that six-hour train ride, I journaled about our trip so far (London and Paris). I was reflective about the new cultures, people, and the history that I was learning. While I was writing in my journal, Aaron listened to music on his headphones, ate candy, and browsed through a motorcycle magazine.
I will never forget how I felt at that moment. I looked at Aaron and longed to have a deep conversation about our trip. He seemed very content doing exactly what he would be doing in the U.S. I reflected on my marriage with him. At that point, we had been married for seven years and were doing just fine. However, I felt a deep loneliness.
Aaron was a “nice” guy. He was passive and didn’t have many opinions about anything. I would frequently start conversations with him and try everything I could to solicit an opinion, but he just didn’t have one. We were so different in that regard. I was lonely because there was not an intellectual connection. I looked at him in that moment and realized his simplicity. I knew that he would never fill that special place that satisfies my soul.
Then I felt sadness. I loved him. But it was turning into a different type of love. I was married and didn’t contemplate divorce (that wasn’t until I realized his pathological lies that he had told throughout our entire marriage). I knew in that moment that I would forever be lonely in that capacity. I reasoned with myself, “It’s ok. No marriage has everything. I will just fulfill the intellectual void, the intellectual conversations with other people – with friends and coworkers.” I was content with this decision because it was my fate. I asked Aaron to take my picture, and every time I see it, I am reminded of that train ride.
I have realized in the last few years that I need a romantic partner that I can have intelligent conversations with. Someone who has a curiosity to learn and explore. Someone who challenges me. My Myers Briggs personality test said that I need a partner with whom I am “both teacher and student.” The problem with Aaron was that I was only the teacher and never a student.
After 12 hours (and much reflection) on the train in Vietnam, I arrived in Hue. It was late at night, and I notified my Airbnb host, Jack, that I would be coming in late because of the train. Jack told me that I should not pay more than $70,000 dong ($3 USD) for a taxi to his house. I asked a taxi driver at the train station how much he would charge, and he said $150,000 dong ($6.50 USD).
I pulled up the Grab app to see how much they would charge. As I struggled to find the address of the Airbnb, the taxi driver dropped his price to $100,000 dong. I replied, “No. How about $70,000?” He agreed after he saw me pull up the app.
The Airbnb that I booked was a room inside of a house. The homeowners lived there and rented out three different rooms. I booked the cheaper room with a shared bathroom, but Jack messaged me saying he would move me into another room with a bathroom since it wasn’t booked. The reviews on Airbnb raved about Jack. He was a tour guide in Hue, gave great tips, and spoke English.
When I arrived, Jack wasn’t at the house. He only sleeps there sometimes because it’s his parent’s house. Jack’s mom welcomed me but didn’t speak any English. She showed me my room on the third floor and helped carry my bags up the narrow, marble, spiral staircase.
My room was ok. The bed was hard and only had a quilt with no sheets. I slept on top of the quilt and used a folded quilt as my blanket. It was late at night, and I was exhausted. I was thirsty and needed some bottled water, but it would have to wait until the morning.
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