The trip from the Yuányáng Rice Terraces to Hanoi took me two days and started off with a misunderstanding on the first day of my travels. I had taken a small and bouncy van that passed my hotel to the bus station and attempted to buy a ticket for the bus to Hék?u when incomprehension ensued. The lady behind the ticket window said something to me and waved her hand. I tried again, same response, no ticket. I asked at another ticket window nothing to make me any wiser. So I walked through the bus station to see if there was anyone who could speak English, or Dutch, or German, or Spanish, French even. No luck I was obviously on my own. So I started to look for a bus with the script for Hékou, no bus. By this time I am considering walking to the border it's only 200 kilometers after all. Then a plan B pops up in my mind and I ring the owner of the lodge I stayed at and who speaks some English. Bingo! I talk to him then hand the telephone to the ticketing woman, she speaks to him and hands the phone back to me, I talk to him amd find out that the bus is yet to arrive at the station and I can buy my ticket on board of course at that point the Hék?u bus shows up.
Right on the bus and how long can 200 kilometers take? seven hours as it turns out. On the upside its a scenic trip and at one stage we do almost two hours on an unsealed road through the mountains. When we finally make it to Hékou I hit the same language barrier. I am at the busstation but where is the border post? I decide to take a short cut and hop in a taxi show him the script for border post and he drives me around the corner and charges a dollar for it. Almost there now. After the hassle of getting there the formalities on both sides of the border are few and three minutes later I am in Vietnam.
My first night in Vietnam is limited to finding out what time the train leaves for Hanoi and having a good meal.
The next morning I am at the railway station at 8.30 am for the 9.15 departure of the slow train to Hanoi needless to say it's delayed we finally chug out of the station at 10.30. The carriage has timber benches and seat alocation for eighty people. Add another eighty for good measure and a can of sardines starts looking spacious. Still the people are friendly and we are moving. Then we stop I had forgotten that this is the slow service. We stop and start for the next thirteen hours, vendors come around to keep us fed and watered, people come around to practice their English on me and a group of students sings and dances in the aisle. By the time we trundle into Hanoi I am knackered, just one more ride on the back of a motorcycle and I am in my hotel and ready to sleep yet again