We decided to take a 16 hour train ride from Danang to Saigon. When we first got on the train, I was not feeling good about the situation. We’d done a 16 hour bus ride two days earlier, and I’d just about had it with public transportation and dirty bathrooms in Vietnam.
We booked five berths in one room. When we arrived at our room, people had just left, so the bed sheets were already used and crumpled. I felt sick. We had a sixth roommate, a Vietnamese young man who didn’t seem to speak English or pretended not to in order to avoid us. He climbed onto the top bunk and promptly shut us out. We were a bit paranoid, but I think he was probably more scared of us than we were of him.
After a few hours, we took a tour of our home for the night. To the left of our room were the higher priced berths and to our right, lower priced seats, leading to the kitchen at the very end (which was open in the back revealing the track disappearing behind). As we walked back towards the kitchen, keeping balance with the movements of the train, it was almost like we were passing different worlds. Inside each room, families ate their meals, children crawled over their parents, and people slept in every position conceivable. When we reached the room of benches (the cheapest seats), we walked over people’s legs stretched out over the floor or across the aisles. Finally, we arrived at the kitchen. We noticed the hygienic state and decided no dinner or instant noodles would be the best option for this voyage.
On our way back we investigated the toilet situation. At first, I just saw the squatties that splashed water when the train lurched. I reached a deep level of sadness until I saw the toilets I’m more familiar with, still disgusting, but at least with less chance of losing balance and falling in. I vowed to only drink liquids when necessary.
So the next hours passed, and we played card games, charades, and talked. Our Vietnamese friend did not join in. At one rest stop, two of my friends ran out to grab instant noodles before the train left again. I had a moment of panic contemplating what would happen if they didn’t make it back in time. But all was good and so we ate, dirty, gross and refusing to drink too much water to avoid the toilets.
Needless to say, I did not sleep one wink that night. I’m a bit of a clean freak and I’ve never been able to sleep on transportation. Between my friend’s snores, the feeling of dirty sheets, and needing to pee but refusing, I lay there contemplating my life decisions for a good eight hours.
With an hour left at about 5am, I braved the bathroom. I returned to my bunk, my friends asleep around me, and stared out the window. Those 20 minutes may be one of my favorite parts of the trip. They made the previous 14 hours and the following day of exhaustion worth it.
I’d spent so long in my own head, consumed with petty worries about dirty toilets and bedsheets. I felt so much lighter in forgetting about myself and observing a city I didn’t fully understand and had never seen before.
Motorcycles were lined up at traffic lights, people were scurrying in and out of homes, and the sun was slowly rising on Saigon.