With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

2017 A Train Oddity

Posted by Heliocentrism on June 10, 2017

Tuesday April 25 

We took the yellow public bus #01 from Hoi An to Da Nang and took the train from there. The train ride was pretty uneventful except for one thing. Mark and I shared a berth with an old guy from North Carolina, but he spent most of the ride getting drunk in the dining car.

Eventually, he stumbled back to the cabin, crawled into his bed, and asked us to wake him up before the next stop. Mark and I agreed but wondered how we would know when we were about to get to the next stop. It didn’t matter; the guy never stopped talking long enough to fall asleep.

He rambled on about this and that but mainly stuff that didn’t make any sense. Somehow in our mostly one-sided conversation it came out that Mark and I had been playing cards earlier on our train journey. “Oh, I can play cards… mumble mumble mumble.” He insisted that we take out our pack of cards and allow him to show us how great he was at whatever game we were playing before.

He talked a good talk about being awesome at “cards”. Mark dealt and we let him go first. “What do I, what do I, how should I… ?” He had no idea how to play the game or even what the game was. Mark reminded him that we were playing just regular Rummy. “Oh, yes,” he stammered, “yes, I, I, I. I usually play the Monte Carlo, um, rum… um, Gin.”

“Rummy,” we kept reminding him. “Gin Rummy is a different game.” I had also never heard of a “Monte Carlo” version of Rummy, but I’m no expert on all card games. It’s just that Rummy is a game that church ladies happily play. It’s not exciting enough to have a Monte Carlo version. I think he just wanted us to think of him as a “high roller”.

He tried to play a card. “No,” I stopped him. “You have to pick up a card first. Then you play or discard.”

“You know,” he started staring up at the ceiling to let old memories come back to him. “You know who used to try to cheat at cards? All the time… ALL THE TIME!” Mark and I had no idea where this was going. But since we didn’t really want to play anyway, we humored the drunk geezer.

“No. Who?”

“Willie Nelson!” He shook his head recalling past events.

“Is that a cousin of yours?” I asked. Surely, he couldn’t mean THE Willie Nelson.

“No, he wasn’t my cousin. I’m talking about THE Willie Nelson. The singer. Oh god, how old are you two? You’ve never heard of Willie?”

We had heard of Willie. Who hasn’t? But even if we didn’t we would never admit it. If we didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, we might have to go back to playing cards. I wasn’t sure if Mark and I were playing the same card game he was.

“How did you find yourself playing cards with THE Willie Nelson?” I hoped that that question would get him to put down his cards.

“Oh I was a back-up singer for him. That was before I retired. Willie, Aretha…” Then he listed a million names of people I had never heard of. “I wrote some songs too,” he boasted. “Have you heard…” he said something unintelligible.

I asked, “What?” It started an almost endless loop of him mumbling and me asking, “What?” about 10 times. I just gave up and admitted that I was unfamiliar with that particular ditty.

“No!? This generation. You don’t know the greats…” He mused about the passion needed to make a good song. It was something that today’s singers and song writers apparently lacked. He tried naming other songs he wrote, but I hadn’t heard of half of them and the other half, I just didn’t understand what he was saying. I almost wanted to tell him that I have never concerned myself too much about music or even the latest releases of even the biggest current singers. But, I liked that he thought that I didn’t know about the songs of the previous generation because I was too young and not because I was uncool.

Suddenly he stopped reminiscing. He picked up his cards again and asked, “What do, what do, I,  I do here?” Mark and I gave each other looks. I didn’t want to play cards. And I didn’t want to explain the game to this drunk chatty guy. We wondered how to get out of this game. Neither of us wanted to continue. But then the train slowed down.

“Hey, it’s your stop!” I tried not to sound too overjoyed. He was so grateful that I reminded him when his stopped approached that he felt the need to give me some gift. He opened his bag, searching in it for a long time, and pulled out a squashed avocado. He sniffed it then handed it to me. I took it, quizzically.

“What the hell am I going to do with this?” I asked Mark after the old song writer left.

“Don’t eat it, what ever you do!”

(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.





  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

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