To set the stage for this post, we must go way back, several months before travel began. Way back when, during my planning for travel, I had read about the Tet Holiday. It was one of those things that required caution, except it occurred for a week and since the year was filled with 52 weeks, the chances of arriving during this time was slim to none. The Wikitravel article about Vietnam states “…Then a few days before Tết the pace begins to slow down, as thousands of city residents depart for their ancestral home towns in the provinces.” The grounds for a terrible situation slowly start to materialize…
China celebrates three week-long holidays throughout the year. One of these is Chinese New Year and this is the week we planned for our travel. The thing about the Tet Holiday is that it is very similar to the Chinese New Year in various aspects, including the dates on which it occurs. Instead of having a 1 in 52 chance of ending up traveling the same week, our odds had been narrowed down to 1 in 3 weeks and of course we arrived during that time.
This was great during our time in Hanoi
, a little annoying during our time in Nha Trang
, but now… we were in for an interesting journey. The preceding story had taken place in Hoi An, just a little ways outside of Da Nang, where we would be taking the train from. At the train station in Da Nang, we went to purchase tickets and our original desired time of travel was completely booked. Uh oh. I inquired about the next train and was told that only “hard seats” were available. Due to the time constraint of my friend needing to get back to Hanoi in only a few days, we had to pick these seats. For those that don’t know, hard seats are wooden seats that have backs that are nearly vertical. The trip was only seven hours and I’d dealt with challenging bus rides before so I figured this would be a non issue.
We boarded the train and it was almost empty, not bad. My traveling partner and I took opposite seats and prepared our space of four total seats for the long journey ahead. After two or so hours we rolled into the next station to pick up a few more people. The two seats extra in our group of four seats were not taken by anyone boarding at this station so we retained our spots. After a few more hours, we rolled into the next station.
There was a massive crowd waiting to board the train. I figured we would depart at the next stop and so I was not worried by the mass of people that was about to join along my journey. I pulled out my map of Vietnam, looked outside to find the name of our stop, and then looked back at the map to figure how close we were to our destination to Hanoi. Panic shot through my body as I realized we were not in for a seven hour ride but closer to a seventeen hour ride… seventeen hours of nearly vertical wooden seats.
As the situation rushed into my consciousness, so too did the passengers waiting to board the train. What was once an empty train, comparable to the picture of above, was now completely filled with people. The workers of the train started pulling out plastic chairs out of the closets for people to sit on. Instead of four seats between two people, myself and my friend, there was a family of three sitting within our section. That brought the body count up to five people for a group of four seats.
This madness propagated throughout the train and a heap of people, bags, pillows, and blankets formed. At this point, myself and my friend were sitting straight up in our wooden chairs, expecting little sleep due to the situation that was presented to us. In my head, I realized if I didn’t bite the bullet and sleep on the floor, neither of us would get any sleep. And like that, I found myself sleeping in the fetal position underneath a seat that was only a foot or so off the ground.
|I’ve got the Adidas pants and blue shirt to the left
In the morning, I woke up, surprisingly well rested, with a greater sense of patience about the madness life throws at you. Over the coming weeks I would travel several more times on comparable overnight trips and they barely affected me.