With that last thought in my head, I left the town of Sa Pa for Lao Cai on the 5.30pm bus. The bus journey up to Sa Pa from Lao Cai took an hour, so I thought a 2-hour allowance is more than enough to make my 7.35pm train back to Ha Noi.
A big truck had flipped on its side on the narrow road between the two towns, and traffic was halted on both sides of the road. By 6.30pm, I was panicking. The H’mong tour guide sitting behind me on the bus told me that I would not make my 7.35pm train. I called my hostel in Ha Noi and explained my situation. The good man (Mr Thank) told me to hang on while he got me on one of the night buses back to Ha Noi.
And so he did. For a small service fee of USD$1. He also called me back later in the evening to make sure that I was safe. Other hostels will do the same thing (without the personal touch) for a bigger commission.
And for that, I strongly recommend staying at the Little Hanoi Diamond or any of the hostels in the Little Hanoi group while you are in Ha Noi. The staff look out for you and make sure things go well for you. Booking train tickets with them also cost much less than the tour agency I used.
I got to Lao Cai at 8.30pm, a full hour after my train left for Ha Noi. Thanks to Mr Thank, I was booked for the 11pm night bus back to Ha Noi. This happened while I was stuck on the bus back to Lao Cai.
The place to wait for the night bus was in front of No. 471, Nguyen Hue in Lao Cai.
I found the boarding location, but it was dark. Waiting for an hour and a half in the dark seemed undesirable to me. My stomach growled, and I went hunting for some food.
An eating place was within a minute’s walk from my location, so I walked there.
I peered into the bowls of the couple nearest to me and gestured to the store keeper that I wanted whatever the couple was having.
Do note that I was a curiosity item – a single female with a big backpack who spoke no Vietnamese.
From the next table, some schoolkids shouted out country names – they were guessing which country I was from.
The couple beside me were very friendly. Upon understanding that I spoke no Vietnamese, they summoned their 16-year-old daughter. She had been taking private English lessons. Her English is not bad, though she confessed that she had been too shy to practice with her English language tutor.
Pork porridge came, along with 2 “eggs”. These were the eggs I gave out in Cat Cat Village in Sa Pa.
At first, I thought they were hard boiled eggs and tucked in happily. (“CHICKEN!” – came the screech from the table full of school kids. I thought they had confused the word for egg with chicken.)
However, after several bites, the girl told me that I had been eating chicken in an egg.
It is amazing what my mind can do.
Upon knowing that I just ate an unformed chicken in its shell, I began to retch. I also started feeling the texture of the eye and the feathers in my mouth. Thankfully, I managed to keep the food down, finish the porridge and one balut but I could not eat the second balut.
No wonder the kids in Sa Pa were crowding around me for “eggs”. These are highly nutritious and expensive!
Through their daughter, they learnt that I had missed my train back to Ha Noi and was waiting for my 11pm night bus back to Ha Noi. They invited me to wait at their place – only 1 minute’s walk from the eating place – and even gave me instant coffee and biscuits for the bus trip. The girl gave me a tour of her house – it’s HUGE, guys! She had a whole floor to herself – and we talked about her future dreams. She told me that she wanted to be an air stewardess and travel around – just like I do. However, her father was against the idea of it.
I agreed with her father, and told her that being an air stewardess is hard work. She is also able to travel if she worked in other jobs. As she is only 16, I told her she has to work harder at her command of English before travelling solo. She promised that she would work harder so she could attend classes at a university.
Conversing with her made me feel that I was making a difference in her life, and it made me realise the potential difference I can make as a teacher in a local secondary school in Singapore.
At 10.30pm, their neighbour came in to say that there were other tourists looking for No. 471, Nguyen Hue. Apparently, the father has told everyone on the street that he had a foreigner in his house. He even offered the following to me:
- A place to stay for the night
- A spin around Lao Cai city in his new Audi
I bid goodbye to the kind family, and they told me I was welcome back to the house any time I was in Lao Cai again.
There were 3 Thai nationals in the same situation as I – a 70-year-old woman with her 2 children: 39 and 38 years of age. They had missed their 6.30pm train due to the traffic hold-up on the road.
The elderly Thai lady was sprightly and very healthy for her age. She spoke English very fluently as she had stayed in the States for 10 years.
She was also very headstrong. I was impressed and amused by her. She compared Vietnam and Thailand – if asked for directions, the Thais would not take it as an opportunity to make money! They would instead give directions. She was also frustrated that she had to spend a night on the night bus – she barely got any sleep on the previous journey she took on the bus.
She already hated Vietnam. Her children were helplessly shrugging their shoulders behind her.
I was barely able to suppress my amusement at her expression of frustration. It would have been rude to giggle.
The night bus arrived half an hour later than scheduled due to the traffic holdup between Sa Pa and Lao Cai.
I managed to get some sleep with ear plugs and an eye mask. It was not a bad experience for me.
Actually, between the night bus and the night train, I would take the night bus. The journey on the night train was too rough – I barely slept. The night bus was also cheaper than the night train – the trip from Lao Cai to Ha Noi cost 300,000 VND.
The bus attendant woke us abruptly and we were dropped in the Old Quarter of Hanoi at 5am. The journey had taken about 6 hours. I was without my glasses and was very grumpy.
It took 10 minutes of walking to get back to the Little Hanoi Diamond. With me were foreigners who had also missed their connecting train at Lao Cai.
I am glad I missed the train. I wouldn’t have experienced this if I had been on time for the train.
Sometimes, things just work out for the best.