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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

8:30 Sleeper Train to Sapa


The weather in Hanoi hovered down to 12 degrees according to the app on my phone, whether it is accurate or not my pulsating fingers are telling me there's no need to question its veracity. So while waiting for the van to pick me up at the office of SinhTourist I walked across a small noodle joint and ordered a bowl of hot Pho Ga. My new found friend in the city Hoang told me about the snow that fell in Sapa a few days before, she advised me to add extra layers of clothing. I told Hoang the cold never bothered me anyway. It was a lie, as I sat quivering waiting to sip on some hot Vietnamese chicken noodles I imagined how much coldness awaits me in Sapa. 

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Again, my excitement about riding my first sleeper train diminished my worry about cold mountain weather, as similarly delighted I was during my previous trip to Yogyakarta via a 7-hour train ride, there was this added thrill of spending the night on a train lying on a cabin bed. Although I already expect it to be small and deprived of proper space, I have prepared myself to develop cramped up kicks, I am still eager in experiencing it. 

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The van picked me up at around 7:45 and the driver asked me to sit at the front and as I took a glance at my back I saw a packed van filled with huge bodies of Caucasian people huddled inside. I was glad I got that seat as I was only seated beside a petite Vietnamese woman. The train station isn't far from downtown, the ride took less than 10 minutes and after we got off the van we quickly proceeded to our assigned train cars. Mine is located at number 7 cabin number 5 with my bed located at the lower left berth. 

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It was almost 8:00 pm already and as dozens of passengers walked past my cabin I was hoping that nobody else was assigned to my cabin because I don't want to be sharing the night with three rowdy and loud-snoring passengers. The clock became my ally and as few more ticktock minutes went by and just as I was sure that I will be alone in my cab, two Asian women entered the cabin to my delight. I later found out they were from Ho Chi Minh and are rushing to Sapa to see the snow. A few minutes later a Caucasian woman entered and occupied the bed above mine. I was able to talk to her later in the night and learned that her name is Agatha born and raised in Argentina but is now based in Portugal, which she now refers to me as "former home" because she intends to reside everywhere in the next few years. 

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The two Vietnamese girls talked and giggled to each other while Agatha read her book. I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig which was about a father and son's cross country road trip across continental USA peppered with philosophical anecdotes. I showed and explained the gist of the book to Agatha who in turn narrates the story so far, of her Alice Munro book. It is one of those little chats that I appreciate whenever I travel alone. To me it's like a cameo appearance to someone else's life, fleeting moments that will surely be gone before you know it. You often share a train with someone going to work but it is different when you're both taking one to a destination alien to both of you and the sense of traveling kicks in, you feel the urge to connect and share a talk for a while. 

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I dozed off at page 125 of my book as evidenced by its folded leaf as I left the book pressed between my chest and the pillow. I could feel the train shaking and vibrating over the tracks, the movement made me sleepier, like a baby being rocked and lulled to sleep. I slept through the night and was awoken at the sound of the train making a full stop. Accompanied by creeping morning light in the window I thought we have reached Sapa. I stood up, washed my face and brushed my teeth at the small comfort room and hurriedly checked out the scene outside. There was no mountain slopes nearby, not even anything that looks like a train station. 

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We were in the middle of nowhere in a town somewhere. Soon other clueless passengers descended down the tracks and asked the train crew what's going on. It was weird because nobody knows the reason, it was a random person selling tea on the track side who told me about a train that broke down ahead of us. In short we were delayed at that place for 7 hours from 5am until 12 in the afternoon. I was able to explore the small town on foot during that time. The two Vietnamese woman whose patience abandoned them hired a motorcycle to take them to Sapa, something that cost them 4 million VND, they bid me goodbye before they left and even added me on Facebook. Sweet :)

Agatha and I remained in the cabin, I listened to her stories of travels in South East Asia and South America and how she finds life in Portugal boring. I was about to ask her if I could take a picture of her so I won't forget what she looks like when we heard the bells and horn of the train sounding off, signalling we're about to leave. We high-fived each other and as I feel the train starts to move, all of my thoughts went back to how cold it is in Sapa.

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Cebu Pacific flies daily to Hanoi, Vietnam. Sapa can be reached via an 8 hour train ride from Hanoi. For the latest seat sales and promos, go to www.cebupacificair.com, call (02)7020-888 or check Cebu Pacific Air’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.

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