What a night!
It started well enough with my second meal of snails since arriving in-country
They were great!
Before I forget, if you take the overnight train to Sa Pa, sleep in your clothes.
5:40 a.m. Total darkness outside except for a few weak lights in the near distance. The train stops for the 17th time. This time, tho compartment door slams open, the conductor yells something (in Vietnamse, of course), and all lights on the train go out 9 minutes later. I find myself scrambling in dark to collect my few things and be the last one off the train. On the return trip, my headlamp will be at the top of my bag... or maybe I'll "sleep" with it on my head.
Tickets punched in Hà Nội are now collected at the exit gate. The shuttle sign I was told to look for is across the street. The guide's "Was sign easy to find?" may have been sarcasm for me being the last to arrive--5 seconds after two others.
Although I'll be gone for 60 hours, I decided it was better to pay US$40 to the hotel and keep my room than to check out, store most of my luggage, and re-check in. As tired as I'll be after the all-night trip back, it'll be nice to crawl into bed without bureaucracy.
The 9-hour train ride only felt like 12. I've gotten used to the standard Vietnamese bed over the last month, so the train berth was no surprise. We have pillow-top mattresses in the 'States. Here they have plywood-top mattresses with a 2mm (<0.1 inch) thick pad on top so you don't get splinters. Or so it seems, though I doubt they're marketed as "Plywood-top".
They forgot to tell me it's an hour's ride from the train station to Sa Pa and the hotel, and the first 35 minutes is on some of the worst road I've seen yet; and that's sayin' something. At least the minibus seat has back support. At 5C, it's COLD!
More tomorrow if I survive the trek in my Keen sandals sans socks...