I was so looking forward to taking a pleasant scenic train ride along the Vietnam countryside heading for Hoi An. I certainly didn’t expect a bullet train, but neither did I expect snail rail. When I purchased my train ticket from the agent, she provided detailed instructions on how to locate the correct platform and train. Now, there’s something about Hanoi, that even knowing what to expect sends me into panic mode when I see crowds of people rushing around. It was about 6pm when I checked my watch and looked down at my sheet of instructions, according to which I was not permitted to enter the platform until 6:45pm. But suddenly, the big platform doors were flung open and it was as if the entire station jumped up from their seats and made a mad rush for the doors.
I showed an attendant my ticket to which she held up four fingers and yelled, “Foe! Foe!” From this I understood that I needed to go to platform number four. The crowds were now dispersing as they made their way onto the train. Realizing at this point that I had run for a train that was clearly not mine, I slowed my pace to a nonchalant stroll along the platform – I even attempted a carefree whistle! With the train on my left, I took a look to my right and only noticed signs indicating Platform #1. I walked a further 5 minutes before it dawned on me that Platform #1 would not magically turn into Platform #4 if I continued walking. So, I asked another attendant, and was again shown the four fingers as he motioned straight down and to the left.
“Straight down and to the left?” What does that even mean? The train is on my left, how can I go to the left? If I did that I’ll be standing on the train tracks!”
Nevertheless, I did as I was instructed and kept walking until I reached the edge of the platform and the end of the train. I saw yet another attendant who I reluctantly approached. Again, the four fingers went up as he turned and pointed at the empty tracks yelling, “Mot. Hai. Ba. Bon!” motioning to the space between each track: Platforms 1, 2, 3, and 4! I looked at him. Then I looked up above, behind my back, to my right, and finally to my left. I was searching for a bridge or some sort of staircase that would lead me up and over the tracks to get me to Platform #4. He looked at me like I was crazy while I studied him to see if he was joking. Nevertheless, I walked to the edge of the tracks, but could barely bring myself to do it. At home, I was taught to stand at least four feet back from the tracks and to NEVER cross them. At this point, it was my choice to not be a paranoid tourist and miss my train, or just suck it up and go.
As luck would have it, down came the rain! I quickly, but very carefully, scurried across the tracks while looking back over my shoulder to make sure the attendant wasn’t laughing as he played a stupid joke on me. Once I got to the other side, I saw a few other passengers and realized that it wasn’t a joke. That is how you get to your train! You just walk across the tracks!!
When I entered my cabin on the train, I was pleasantly surprised. The bed was nice and clean, although ridiculously small. It was interesting because if I lay on my back and extended my arm, I could touch the other bed…and I have short arms. Throughout the night, I had an interesting rotation of roommates, which made for an entertaining 21 hours and a memorable train ride!