Train to Thanh Hoa

Train to Thanh Hoa
tp. Thanh Hoá, Vietnam

tp. Thanh Hoá, Vietnam

With a motorbike taxi ride, woo. And a train-delayed, only 20 minutes, but still I was glad to have picked the 11.21 train rather than kick around till 3.30. No trains till the night, mind.

Like the buses, entertainment seems compulsory-two screens in the middle of the carriage playing music videos.

My e-ticket was checked as I got on, with no need for the passport double check that sometimes happens. So I was writing this as the conductor came past, and was about to hurriedly close it and find the ticket again. But he just gave me a bottle of water.

Train pulling into the platform, sun beating down as people wait
The train slowly arrives.

All this seems better than a minibus ride, a confused wait, and then being squished on a bus, even if the sleeper buses are reasonably comfortable.

On reflection, as I did when I got off, the entertainment may be only in proximity to a station. The railtv bit ended after three or so songs, and all was quiet. Then some revolutionary – excuse my ignorance, but that’s my interpretation at least – music started as we pulled into Thanh Hoa.

Marvellous. 3 miles to the hotel. Queue of taxi drivers. I walked, obviously. Sorry folks. And all the other taxi drivers who stopped – one to shout then wave with a friendly smile from the other side of a dual carriageway – and moto dudes who roused themselves from slumber at the probably unexpected sight of a rogue Westerner off the tourist trail. I left them all behind. And the pavement, too, ultimately, but then it’s a rarity round here in any case, so the fact that I walked most of the way on the pavement *not* looking like I didn’t belong, was a bonus.

View of a square and a four-storey hotel from Ninh Binh station
View from Ninh Binh station.

Ultimately, now I’ve worked out I’m doing the long run – 10 hours on the train – to Hue tomorrow, today is a bit of a bust. Should have headed straight down to Hue. But at least my short trip let me test out the trains, and find that really, writing them off (as the travel agent in the Hanoi party hostel did) is a bit odd. Maybe they are more expensive, but not significantly. Tomorrow’s trip, several hundred kilometres, cost me £12, and that’s with a pound or two commission for the agents I booked through. The bus on the short trip from Hanoi-Ninh Bing was either $10 or $7 – I thought the former, but then the rice fields dude charged me $9 for a second night’s stay, so perhaps it was $10 to book there from Hanoi and get picked up off the bus.

Whatever. I’ve enjoyed staying in a relatively swanky hotel for the huge sum of $27 and am back on the backpacker trail. Tomorrow I make some real progress toward Saigon, though I’m still not half way. And i get to travel on my own terms, and in the day time. If the destination is entirely the point, then yes, pick a sleeper bus or train. But I want to see the countryside, get some sense of moving. So I’m doing a 9:30 train – means another early start to fit in a run beforehand. I ran this evening, mind, in Thanh Hoa, and that made the stop worth it. Although I’m in a whacking great hotel, near at least one other, Westerners are a novelty here, so every group of kids laughed and couldn’t get enough of saying “hello!” and getting a response. Brilliant. Running past them out the back of the hotel – quite so, I wandered down the steps and ended up coming out of a garage door out the back side – let me see why Google maps and my Here! app on the phone had disagreed about the streets round here. There’s a lot of new development out the back of this hotel, and much more of the pavements/roads marking out blocks kind than actual houses, though the now-familiar tall and thin constructions exist singularly on most blocks, looking a little lonely. Given that it’s a work in progress, the roads are fine to run on. And given that groups of kids want to distract with “hello!” they are also safer, as the pavements have regular wide open large man holes. Or several-man holes. I missed them all, but on a different day would have splashed down. Phew.

I ate, alone, in the hotel restaurant. I figured I’d pick something at random from the menu, but the very kind member of staff insisted I follow her to the computer and used google translate to ask what I wanted to eat. Like I know. I figured she’d turn what I said into a menu, but she was a bit literal. I should have said ‘something cheap and tasty!’ but instead got a literal steamed chicken and rice. Lots of rice. Stuff it, it didn’t cost much, and I’ve learned for next time – when there’s a translator in front of you, use it to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

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