Read Hanoi, part I here.

We take a cab to the train station in Hanoi and it’s like we’ve entered a different world. A third world. Shanghai was bright lights, pristine streets, street signs with English translations underneath. Here it is nighttime, and the roads—when paved—are padded with a thick layer of dust. The swarms of motorbike riders wear bandannas and masks to keep from swallowing it. Whole families pile onto a bike, Dad driving, mom behind him, baby in between them, and any older children standing up front in between Dad and the handlebars. Helmets are a rarity.

Through this dark, dusty mist, we see signs in another language. It’s desolate. It’s dirty. I feel we could be anywhere—Haiti, Iran, a border town in Mexico. We pass lots of roadside stands and open air shanty restaurants where the only seating is plastic children’s stools. We see open fires on the side of the road.

We get to the train station and no one’s there. Yet somehow, I refuse to believe we’ve gotten had. Through the grace of God Scott learns we’re at the wrong train station—apparently there are A and B stations with the same name. Our train leaves in 15 minutes but the taxi driver we find says we’re close. It doesn’t seem close enough. The traffic here is as maddening as it is confusing.

We make it to the proper train station and see a person out front holding a sign with our name. Sweet relief! He rushes us through the station, across the tracks (no platform here) and into our sleeper cabin. Seconds later the train takes off.