A Night Train to Huế

It was strange to get back to Hanoi after we thought we said goodbye from it for good. After a brief shower at the hotel we went outside to eat at a place ran by a couple where we used to eat sometimes, who sold fried meat in a baguette in the middle of the street. The woman would sit in front of a small grill and wave at it with a piece of plastic, and the man would serve the food and pour beer out of a big barrel. After we ate and recovered from the long ride we strolled once again in the familiar streets with a deep sense of nostalgia, like coming back to an ex. We drank cold watermelon juice at a busy cafe and looked at teens who walked around with a huge speaker while one of them performed with playback music, and afterwards we had craft ice-cream at a hipster place. It was already late but we didn’t want to finish the night so we went to have some beer where we sat before with the couple from Ecuador. When we got back to the hotel it was already dark and the doorman, who slept in the lobby on a mattress, woke up to unlock the door. He was wearing casual clothes and another man slept with him, and the whole situation was a bit awkward.

The next morning we got up early and booked a night train to Huế through Belle at the reception. We ate meat soup and had coffee where we sat on our first day, when we only arrived at Hanoi, a day that seemed so long ago. We kept walking around, saying goodbye to the city for the second time, and around 12 we got back to pack our bags and check out. We had to clear the room for the next guests but our train was leaving only in the evening, so they let us keep our bags in the hotel while we went out again and came back to our favorite places in the city, trying to soak them in as much as possible. We ate Bun-Cha at the loud woman and when it started raining we went to have strong and bitter tea until it cleared, and then had another coffee in front of a busy junction. After we traveled in the lake area we came back to the hotel but it was still early, so we had an early dinner at the couple with the grill in the street. We got some beers and snacks at a minimarket and at six thirty the taxi arrived. At seven we were already on the train.

We shared a booth with a middle-aged Vietnamese couple who talked a lot, but it didn’t bother us. It was an old and small booth with two bunk beds and an end table between them, and Roni and I were in the top beds so we could talk. Our two partners wore matching blue shirts and seemed like they were used to such traveling – they took out plastic boxes with hot meals and made a whole dinner on the small table, while Roni and I sat together on one bed and snacked cookies. I passed the time with my book – The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux, a book about traveling in trains at different countries. Towards ten o’clock I put the book down and looked out the window, nudging with the train’s movements, and fell asleep without intending to. I woke up again at 2 AM, surprised that I managed to get some sleep, and couldn’t fall back asleep because I had to pee and didn’t feel like making the whole journey down the bunk bed and quietly out of the room and then to the toilet booth, that kinda looked like the toilets in an airplane. Eventually I gave up. When I got back to bed I lied on my back and listened to the rain that was falling all night. My thoughts went to foods I missed – olive oil, olives. Fresh crisp vegetable salad with salt and lemon. I even thought of a slightly salty local Israeli cheese, with some olive oil and herbs. Slowly I fell asleep again, and when I woke up it was already daylight and everybody in the booth were waking up as well. I went to brush my teeth in the shaking toilet booth and just didn’t feel clean enough, and went back to our booth to read some more. We tried to ask the Vietnamese couple where we are supposed to get off but they didn’t speak English, and only gave us spicy ginger candies. The man nonchalantly took Roni’s shoes when he went to brush his teeth, and when he came back he tried to teach us Vietnamese via a small guide-book we bought the day before from a man who sold used books. Around quarter to nine the train slowed down and the stewards called in the halls “Huế! Huế!” so we said goodbye and got off.

We went outside to the station that smelled of fresh rain, and some nice people helped us find the direction and catch a taxi with a decent looking driver. He drove us through a big organized street with plants and statues by a big river and stylish buildings, everything clean and fresh. We arrived at the hotel that was inside an alley with some more hotels. A nice lady approached us, and after we checked-in she invited us the have breakfast until the room is ready. Finlay, coffee! We had meat soup and some tasty fruits, and after the receptionist told us a little bit about the city she gave us the room key and I enjoyed a pampering shower, after that strange night.

We went towards the market. First we walked around in the alleys with some clothing stores and had lunch at a BBQ restaurant, and then approached the main street by the river and crossed a big bridge. There was nice air and soft wind, and even though we were warned before about a typhoon in the area that might reach there, there wasn’t any cloud in the sky. The market was loaded with goods, everything colorful and inviting, especially where they sold special and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. On the outside they sold different spices, meat, fish and chickens in cages, and on the covered area on the inside there were dark pathways busy with shoes, clothes, different kitchenware etc. We went to have iced coffee at a place that looked like a sleazy central bus station, and I paid 2,500 Dong to use the public toilets that were just a hole in the floor. We came back to the room and took a nap, and then went again to the other direction. On our way down we met Quan, a young friendly guy who helped us carry our bags to the room in the morning, and asked him if he could, or know somebody that could, teach us some basic Vietnamese. He said he’s got a friend who likes to meet people from different countries since she wants to practice English herself, so he will bring us together. It’s another thing we saw many times in Vietnam – many young people want to practice their English, and sometimes students would just approach us on the street to have a small talk. After we left the hotel we reach some sort of a down town, with many shops and businesses and mostly big roads busy with motorcycles. We traveled there and when we got hungry we had pork chops and noodles soup at a resturant in the street.

It was getting late and we were tired from the weird night in the train so we came back to the room and showered again, and then got into the big white bed and ate some of the fruits we bought at the market, falling asleep in front of a silly movie on the TV.

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