Train hours / by Marek Charytonowicz

Traveling by train in Vietnam reminds me of teenage years in Poland when I was crossing the country trying to get to the seaside and all I could afford was second class ticket on a very second class train. Back then sleeping on your backpack next to the toilet door was not unusual as the trains tended to be overcrowded.

Luckily this is not the case here. As my train journeys here are really long ones, my tickets are for a sleeping carriage. The whole train is certainly not designed for anyone above six feet, I can barely fit on the top bed, no stretching or rolling is possible unless I want to end up on my neighbor downstairs. Cooling fan just above me head doesn’t help either as after initial relief from the heat outside, it makes the night simply cold and not pleasant.

The good thing again is the staff - very nice although not speaking English, guiding me to my place and at the end of the journey letting me know that my station is near. Part of their job seems to be also keeping the cabins clean although that is very much symbolic for the only thing they change after a night in bed is the sheet, the rest stays for next passengers who clearly don’t mind.

After 15 visits at various airports I was tired of flying, hence the idea of a train. I didn’t have enough time for bus (that takes 24 hours from Hanoi to Hoi An) but that would definitely offer much nicer views from the window and some stops in local villages with all their nice buzz. Train is not very fast - it takes 15 hours to get to Hoi An, then around 9 to get to Nha Trang and 7 more to get to Saigon. But it’s an experience and it let’s me finish my 7th book during this trip.

One thing that makes me smile all the time is people reaction to my height. With 6 foot 4 it’s not that uncommon in Poland or UK but here it seems to be a proper novelty. For last five weeks in Asia I’ve been looked at as a giant and greeted by random children on the street, smiled to by older people who were comparing how short they are by standing next to me, talked to by moto drivers forgetting for a second they want to offer me a ride. It’s always funny and makes a nice excuse for a chat with strangers. And it’s true, Asia is not designed for me - especially trains, sometimes cars where I can feel the ceiling on top of my head and showers. Think Lost In Translation…