Friday, December 5th, 2003 – Day 290

Friday, December 5th, 2003 – Day 290

My train is tonight at 9.30pm. I should have done a tour today as I was pretty bored. I was up at 9.00am and walked to the Chinese Embassy which is open until 11.00am, Monday to Friday. There was no hassle in collecting my Visa. I got a double entry Visa for 45 USD. I can stay 30 days after each entry but get a extension once I am there (if its needed). I hate standing in queues here as people jump ahead of you all the time. I normally stand a foot back from a counter as we do at home to give people space, but you cant here as people will jump ahead of you. You have to crowd into the counter and try to get the official to serve you next. Its like ordering a drink at home.

Lots of scary information about Falon Gong at the embassy. I took a booklet. It has three sections. They all included full page pictures. The first dealt with Falon Gong members who had killed members of their family. Cue, full page pictures of murdered children and parents. The second section was of those who committed harm to themselves. Cue, picture of people hanging on tress, those ho cut themselves open and burned themselves alive. The third section dealt with those who died because they refused to take medicine for small complaints. I have never seen anything so graphic. The pictures were full on. Indeed it was funny that the whole book was in English.

Train tonight. I had checked out this morning and paid 24 USD for 4 days. It was a nice place and there were some great food stalls beside it. I was the TAM THUONG GUEST HOUSE at 10A1 Yan Thai. For 5,000 Dong you could have a great rice, mince, vegtable meal.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Blind leading the blind (05-12-2003)

At 8.30pm, I got a moto to the Ga B train Station. It was pretty full with people heading both north and south. I got my first glimpse of the Northern Minority People. They were heading north as well. They were very colorfully dressed. Seat prices for foreigners (it says foreigner on the ticket) are as follows. Its is 55,000 Dong for Hard Seat, 109,000 Dong for soft sleeper and 160,000 Dong for Soft Sleeper.

There are three train classes. The best is soft berth, an expensive option roughly the same price as flying, and generally patronized by foreigners, party officials, and successful entrepreneurs. Basically, if you’ve a long way to travel and can afford it, soft berth is well worth the money and you’ll arrive rested and ready to enjoy your destination.

Hard berth, is about half the price of soft sleeper. Carriages are divided into twenty sets of three-tiered bunks; if you ever have a choice in the matter, the topmost bunk is slightly cheaper (the Chinese regard it as the least comfortable option), and gives you somewhere to withdraw during the day ? though it’s closer to the lights and radio, and cigarette smoke tends to accumulate up here. Every carriage also has a toilet and washbasin, which can become unsavoury; do what the locals do and carry a face towel to keep clean on long journeys. It’s not a bad way to travel, though obligatory dawn-to-dusk music blaring out of the radio and a relentless investigation of yourself and possessions by fellow passengers can wear thin after a few hours. There are fairly spacious racks to stow hand luggage and backpacks ? as always, chain it securely while you sleep.

For the really impecunious there’s hard seat. In hard seat, you sit on a padded three-person bench with barely enough room to get comfortable, let alone sleep. But at around the same price as a bus fare, it’s very cheap and considerably faster, though on long journeys it can get unbearable, especially as the air is thick with cigarette smoke and every available inch of floorspace is crammed with travelers who were unable to book a seat ? bear in mind that should you board a train with an unreserved ticket, you’ll be standing with them. Again, you’ll be the subject of intense and unabashed speculation, this time from peasants and labourers who can’t afford to travel in better style.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Hanoi – Train Station (05-12-2003)

It was a fine journey. I had a top bunk in the six bunk bed cabin. There was only one other person there and we agreed to turn off the lights at 10..00pm. There was a noisy bunch of students at the end of the carriage and by 2.00am, our cabin was full (of people who wanted some kipp). I slept Ok. Now and again I actually forgot I was on a train but every so often a nosy parker opened the door to see who was in there and what was happening. We receipted a free bottle of water.