Sapa is a mountainous region in the Northern tip of Vietnam. The area boasts of scenic rice terraces shrouded in clouds, cool weather, and hill tribes with colourful costumes. To reach Sapa, one has to take the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, a town an hour away from the Chinese border. In fact, we were told to enter via Guangxi the next time we visit Sapa.
Friends who have traveled to Sapa told me about the different trains. I was confused. How can there be so many trains plying the same route? When I tried to book online, I was swarmed by the many choices. A friend told me a typical cabin sleeps four. As she had three (like me in this case) in her group, her family had to share a the cabin with a stranger and so she couldn’t sleep the whole night. I can fully understand this. I would be very worried about my security and modesty.
Luckily, my hotel had arranged our full Vietnam itinerary for us and they made sure that they purchased a private cabin, which meant we paid for a phantom traveler. When I reached the train station, I realised that the companies operating the different ‘trains’ were actually operating different carriages. Some luxurious hotel resorts in Sapa even operated their own exclusive carriages for their guests. On our way to our carriage, we were appalled at some of the conditions of the other companies, which were dim and old. Luckily, our carriage was new. clean and bright.
Our carriage was operated by King Express. We were pleased with the brightly lid room, lockable door, and clean sheets. A bed side table sits between two twin double-decker. There was no room for movements and all luggage were either slid beneath the bed, or shelved above a hollow space above.
On the night we left, the train traveled in a comfortable speed and I was soon lured to sleep by the rocking motion, oblivious the noise made by my neighbouring cabins as fellow passengers got acquainted with each other.
At around midnight, the train stopped for a long time. My husband saw the staff leaving the train for supper in a small village. Soon, the train started moving again. My alarm rang at 4.30am and I went to wash up, as we were expected to arrive at 5am. But 5 am came and went, and the train continued. We were not too worried as Lao Cai was the last stop. When dawn arrived and the clocked showed 7am and no destination on sight and no staff to ask, I began to worry. It must be unusual for any train schedule to be late by three hours without any announcement or notifications, even in a third world country like Vietnam, right? In the end, we arrived at 8am.
If our return journey was also delayed like that, we might miss our flight to Da Nang. So frantically we made calls back to Elite Hotel in Hanoi for plan B. The hotel found out that there were some problems with the railway and that some repairs were going on, that’s why the train was late. They were not certain if our return journey four days later would be affacted as well. They suggested changing our flights for a fee to the airline which we refused, and requested that should we be late, to just get our luggage, pick us up and head straight for the airport.
The journey back to Hanoi had the same schedule, to arrive Hanoi at 5am. That return journey was different though. Any thought of sleeping went out the window as soon as the train started moving. The train traveled at a speed which sent my carriage rocking to and fro, and the wheel screeching. I recalled horror stories of train being derailed while speeding and couldn’t sleep the whole night. But,…in the end, we made it back to Hanoi right on the dot, at 5am.
What an adventure!