It was the first pang of homesickness I’ve felt in my twelve weeks abroad. It was night, and our train was rocking its way out of the suburbs and neon lights of Hanoi towards our destination of Hoi An. We booked last minute, three days ahead and were lucky to score seats on a hard six bed sleeper. Six of us fit into a 48sq. ft. space, just barely enough room. We were lucky though, our cabin had three quite women and another man who spent most of his time elsewhere. Down the hall there were screaming babies, drunk locals and smokers who disregarded the no smoking signs. Our cabin mates went to bed at 9pm.
Because there is nowhere to sit, only lay down, we spent the beginning of the trip standing at the window watching small villages stream by. Warm lights lit the windows of homes where I imagined people to be settling down for dinner with their families. And then, from nowhere I felt homesick. It was fleeting, but palpable. I wanted to sit around a table and after cooking all day, enjoying the company of family. I missed home. Perhaps it was the train, or that I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out lately from moving so quickly. I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden I want to slow down. I wanted a nice hotel, I didn’t want to think. I have no idea how the people we’ve met that have been traveling for over a year (or two) don’t get completely burnt out. Perhaps they settle down somewhere for a while, which is exactly what I feel like doing right now, and I haven’t even been gone that long! I still feel I’ve just left Nepal, twelve weeks have gone by in a flash. And yet, here I was, on the train, suddenly exhausted and homesick. Three months hitting me all at once.
A surpassingly decent night sleep and the light of the the next day cleared the fog in my head, I felt better, ready to take on the next challenge. Which incidentally would be finding our way from Danang to Hoi An. Though only 45 minutes apart can prove expensive for a foreigner, as overcharging (outrageously and even on public transport) is the norm. We had experienced it only once with an overpriced banh mi, but we heard stories of food vendors refusing to sell to foreigners, or blatantly charging more, despite a printed sign stating the cost. The north is notorious for unfriendly people and strong negativity towards tourists. It hasn’t been bad for us, but it is noticeable, and has put us on edge.
Before we arrived we got to watch the scenery change from our window. The stretch of tracks that lead from Hue to Hoi An had been touted as one of the most scenic routes in Vietnam. And truly, it was. The train skirted impossibly tall cliffs overlooking the South China Sea, the greenery of the forest stretched from the base of the cliffs towards us as we wound slowly around the sharp bends.Deep green firsts rose before us, this is the Vietnam I had imagined.
Our train pulled in on time. A merciful and unexpected occurrence. Once we had our bags we gathered our courage to be accosted by aggressive taxi drivers. Amongst the onslaught outside a man approached us and offered to take us to Hoi An for $10. Exactly what it should cost, as opposed to the usual quote of at least double. No bargaining required? We were even skeptical, wondering if perhaps at some point he would pull over and demand more money using our bags in the locked trunk as leverage. Nothing of the sort happened. He took us to our hotel and was more than amicable the entire ride. We were dumbfounded, but mostly, relieved. We had made it to Hoi An.