An Englishman lives in Cape Town for ten-years and then, by accident, packs up and moves to Vietnam, having never even been there on holiday.
What could possibly go wrong?
Extract - When I decided to escape the Hanoi heat for a few days I looked for flights to Sapa, a village in the northern mountains of Vietnam near the Chinese border, but I learned that the only real option was to take one of the overnight trains. There are several available.
The Orient Express, The Victoria Train, The Green Line and about six others, all ranging in price and therefore, I assumed, standard. I also noticed that they all left Hanoi Central Station at the same time, which was odd.
It conjured up images of a race but, being twelve, I quite liked that idea. I selected the one that offered a private cabin but, as usual, things were not as easy as they at first appear, or should be.
After more nodding, pointing and charades it became obvious to me that I couldn’t have a private cabin. ‘Why not?’ I turns out that the private cabins were for couples and I would have to share with someone. Now, obviously, this could turn out to be a Swedish backpacker in hiking boots and shorts who turned into a whiskey dispensing nymphet ten minutes out of Hanoi Station.
But I am too experienced for that these days. I know how my luck runs. I get the snoring middle-aged German. That’s how it runs and I was having none of that. ‘I am a couple, there are two of me,’ I argued. I sensed that she already thought that.
‘Ok Mr Jack,’ she said with a sigh, ‘and the name and age of your traveling companion is?’ I had to think fast. ‘Jameson’ I said. ‘Ms. She is eighteen-years old and has been going everywhere with me for twenty-five years.’ After all, it's not entirely untrue. She gave up on me at that point, issued two tickets, charged me two prices, looked at me as if I were an idiot (also not entirely untrue) and off I went to the station. Hanoi Central is an amazing experience and would have been fun if it hadn't been about 1600 degrees.
I sat outside for a few minutes with a cold beer just to absorbed the scene. It was just like one of those Michael Palin documentaries, ‘Around the World’ or something like that. Teeming with people, excitement, anticipation, back packers, locals, the good, the bad and the ugly. And me watching the whole mad event with my traveling companion zipped up in a suitcase.
I fully expected to see the great man himself emerge from the crowd, remove his panama hat, wipe the sweat from his brow and ask for a slug of my eighteen-year old. I would have shared. Before too much longer my head began to melt and so I made my way through the departure hall and hurried passed the ticket inspectors. ‘And Ms Jameson?’ one of them called after me. ‘It’s alright, she is in my bag’ I shouted back, and left them wondering. ‘The Orient Express?’
I asked someone on the platform. He pointed to the single train standing there which read, The Green Line. ‘Where is the Orient Express?’ I asked again and he pointed further down the platform. As I walked I noticed the names on the side of the carriages changed and it then dawned on me.
There is only one train, just different carriage classes with varying names. And they all left at the same time, obviously. So there was to be no race after all. I found our cabin, spent a few moments enjoying the air conditioning, put the second bedding on the floor as a carpet, made myself comfortable, turned lovingly to my eighteen-year old and drank myself to sleep.
It is a shame that it is an overnight train as, apparently, it chugs through some of the most glorious scenery in the whole of Asia. I was awakened at 5.30am by a guard pulling on my leg. I didn’t like that. I had locked the door from the inside and he clearly had an override key. That means they are able to slip into your cabin at any point during the night and into your valuables, or worse.....