After a couple awesome days exploring hill tribe villages by motorbike in Sa Pa we decided to head back to the North Communist Capital of Vietnam. Unfortunately when we tried to book a bed on the overnight sleeper train they were all booked, but the woman told us there is a train car for locals that had availability. She said instead of a bed we would have to sit on a wooden bench all nite, but it was a quarter of the price! Fancying ourselves as pretty badass, manly adventurers we accepted the offer and sat down to a street food and beer dinner chatting in broken English about soccer with some older Vietnamese dudes. We bought some sandwiches to eat on the long train ride and waited for its arrival. As we walked past the cushy sleeper cars with travelers getting comfortably settled in for a good nights rest we stumbled upon an older rusted car near the end. As we entered the smelly little train car we settled onto hard wooden benches under the stares of poor, mystified locals. Possibly being the only non-locals to ever subject ourselves to this unique method of transportation otherwise known as torture, we attempted to get settled in. Squished onto a tiny bench with an old Vietnamese guy for the next 8 hours I realized this was going to be a long nite. The floor was covered in garbage and bits of strange food, but these relentless locals laid tarps on the floor and simply laid underneath other passengers feet. No sense of personal space or manners, old Vietnamese women would literally sit on top of you in attempt to sell goods to other passengers. One particularly old lady carried around a massive cauldron of tea and a bamboo bong.
People would pay her to take gigantic rips of tobacco out of her bong then quickly down a cup of mysterious tea. Keep in mind that this train car had no functioning windows so after hours of tobacco bong rips from all the passengers there was quite literally a cloud of smoke resting around my face. Tempted to just join in the strange train ceremony, but I was hoping to catch some shut-eye for a big next day so I resisted. As far as a unique cultural experiences go this was a side of Vietnam that most travelers don’t get or want to see, so I tried to remain positive, but after several more hours my butt literally started whimpering with discomfort and it was really quite terrible. So cramped you can’t even get up and stretch my body started to get incredibly pissed off. I tried to take some sleeping pills, but my discomfort level was record high and they did absolutely nothing. Not sure if I was crying from being so incredibly uncomfortable or if my eyes were watering from the strong tobacco smoke I just sat and sat and sat.
It’s situations like this that separate the adventurers from the tourists. One might ponder why on earth someone would pay to fly halfway across the earth to willingly subject themselves to torture. My answer is that the only way to truly experience the good things in life is to try the really, really terrible ones too so you can compare. You better believe that the next train I rode on was the most luxuriously awesome train I’ve ever experienced in my life and I just had a normal second class seat. Everyone always says that it’s the simple things in life that make it great and there’s no better way to appreciate them than after you’ve sweated your way through local transport in Southeast Asia!