The Midnight Train to Sapa

So there we were, at the Hanoi Railway Station, waiting to board. One half of us was excited, the other half (me, Lynette) was screaming internally.

Around us were a mix of local and tourists, all waiting to board the night train to Sapa. The space was crowded, warm and noisy. We hope the train wasn’t the same. Fortunately, lady luck smiled on us that night…but not too wide.

See, the trains are what one would call ‘bearable’. Though not uncomfortable, they’re not exactly a luxury suite. If you’re travelling alone, you’d be sharing a room with three strangers and if it’s your unlucky day, you’ll be caught with a loud-talking, constantly snoring berth mate, like we did. You’d also be sharing one toilet with the rest of the carriage. Mmm…shoe prints and pee stains everywhere.

The berths come with soft, double decker beds, pillows, blankets and a bottle of water for each passenger. As you board and wait for the train to leave, pushy ‘train stewardess’ may visit your berth at least three to four times, offering “Hanoi beer, coffee, tea? Hanoi beer, sir?” They’re very insistent but don’t feel obliged.

In the morning, you’d be awaken by knocks on the door, like your mother used to do when you were 17 and going through a goth phase. Again, it’d be the train stewards and guards, waking you up and if that fails, don’t worry, they’ll turn on loud Vietnamese music which lyrics make no sense to you. That’ll do the trick. Soon, you’ll be awake and have mixed feelings about surviving the night.

Before we completely turn you off the train ride, we have to admit, the views along the way were pretty amazing and eye-opening. You’d see the way the locals live and realise your soft berth was not the worst place to be. The views are best in the morning, as you’re arriving in Sapa.

If you, like me, are not used to travelling in situations like this, here’s a tip: do plenty, plenty of research and even then, try to have no expectations of what could be. This article on ‘Travelling as an Introvert with Anxiety’ might help.

Again, we have to reiterate, the train ride wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s an interesting way to travel and an experience we think you should immerse yourself in. It’s obviously different, but at the end of it, in a good way. If you think it really isn’t for you, there’s always the bus.

Oh, and the destination? Worth every hovering-over-the-toilet visit, the tossing and turning in the night, loud Vietnamese music and every unfortunately memorable moment on the train ride.

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Pens&Lens was launched in October 2016 as part of a passion project by partners-in-crime, Mark and Lynette. Combining their love for travel, stories, people and places, they wanted to share the views of the world they see from behind their pens and lens.