On the way to Sapa, on the Chinese border. Winter 2008.
3 years ago when i mentioned to my friend that i was thinking of taking the train, he gave me an incredulous look (of horror). I was hence, mentally prepared but it seems that Vietnam Railways have improved leaps and bounds in that 3 years.
The train station, a brand spanking new concrete block in central Ha Noi showing Cars on flat screen plasma TVs was a clear sign of how Viet Nam has prospered recently. The shops that sold expensive snacks and mineral water too. I think they must think that us foreigners are really cheap - the Vietnamese seem quite ready to pay for a 1 dollar bottle of mineral water while i gave the cashier a sheer look of incredulity (and tried to haggle *blushes*). It was a good thing that i had the foresight to buy my own supplies during the day.
Baguette - check. My half-eaten pack of laughing cow cheese - check. Favourite jacket - check. Water - half-full, but ill survive (refusing to succumb to railway station oligopoly). All ready for a comfy night tucked in onboard the Transindochinois to Lao Cai station - actually in Chinese this means old street - lao jie, i would think it would mean roughly the same in Vietnamese given that the latter is heavily influenced by Chinese. It was, in fact, written in Chinese script until it became Romanised.
The Transindochinois, surprisingly, ran above ground in Ha Noi - surreal surreal as i stole peeks of nighttime Ha Noi from the window, curtains partly drawn, the residential suburbs, old quiet neighbourhood streets, motorcycles patiently waiting by the barrier for the train to pass... And then the train came down once we left Ha Noi, which seemed to take forever. Into the countryside then, occasional trees and expanses of dark wet rice paddy fields passing by the window in the night. I sleep really well on trains - its the rocking that makes you feel like a baby in a cradle (and i get top bunk - actually the Vietnamese prefer lower bunks - which are more expensive, by the way).