I try to keep it real with you guys on social media, but sometimes my travel photos just don’t tell the full story. Last night it got real terrifying on the night train from Hanoi to Huê. Let me preface this by saying that I have read many reviews of the night trains in Vietnam and haven’t read of any safety issues except some petty theft. But I believe that it’s my duty as a female traveler who often travels alone to share the details of what happened last night so that other women will hopefully find themselves in a different situation.
After 26 hours flying from NYC to Hanoi, then going directly into a 13 hour shoot, I was exhausted by the time we got to a night train in Hanoi at 9 p.m. I’m the only woman traveling with four fantastic male crew mates. They were kind enough to get me my own cabin so that I would have my privacy. It normally sleeps four. The rest of the guys were close by, four cabins down and all sharing a room. I was excited. It was my first night train experience.
A kind looking ticket inspector in a blue uniform came to my room to check my ticket. He asked if I was the only person in the room, and I said yes. He smiled, gave me a thumbs up, then helped me make more floor space by moving my luggage. About 30 minutes later I went to sleep, but not before sliding the rickety wooden panel door to my bedroom closed and locking it. As I was falling asleep, it crossed my mind that I had told that ticket inspector I was alone in this cabin. I thought, “that was a stupid move, Courtney.” But then I talked myself out of worrying. I gave the door a tug to make sure the lock caught and drifted to sleep.
The rocking motion of the train was quite severe during the night so I was in a light sleep for much of it. At around 1 a.m. I awoke to my door 1/3 of the way open and the ticket inspector staring at me from the doorway. Startled and confused, I started back at him. He didn’t say anything, but he looked up to the bunk above me, which was empty, and to the other two bunks, also empty. Then walked away.
I was certain I had locked the door, but thought maybe the aggressive movement of the train had somehow jiggered the old door open. At the same time, my gut instinct told me that he would be back.
I quickly pushed a piece of heavy luggage in front of the door as a barricade and locked it again. At the base of my door there was a 1 foot by 2 foot vent slightly covered by the luggage. I watched it like a hawk, holding my breath. Less than ten minutes later, the sound of jingling keys and footsteps got louder. Grey-blue slacks and black boots stopped squarely in front of my vent. Then, the light from the hallway went black. I jumped to the door and used all of my body weight to hold the door closed. My fingers were forcing the lock. On the other side, he was trying to turn the lock with his key and pull the door open.
I shouted loudly. NO. GO AWAY. LEAVE ME ALONE. Then I started shouting HELP.
It felt like time was frozen.
I don’t know how much time passed but suddenly he stopped pulling the door and left. As soon as I saw through the vent that he was gone, I bolted down the hallway to the boys’ cabin. They were all asleep. As I tried to convey what was happening, the ticket inspector came down the hallway. In Vietnamese, he was trying to tell our Vietnamese fixer that my door was banging open and closed and that he was simply trying to fix it for me.
Tensions escalated as I recounted the actual story and, with a desperate tone, facing a room of four men, the ticket inspector tried to tell an entirely different one. Our fixer escorted him down the hall. I took the bunk in the guys room. Our fixer took my room. I spent the next six hours trying to process what the hell just happened.
It’s now morning. I’m still on the train and so is the ticket inspector. After speaking with the guys I found out that he was up drinking with some passengers during the night. He was drunk.
This is what he looks like:
I am angry with myself that I let my guard down. I let the fact that he was an authority figure cloud my judgement. I was a friendly Western girl in a fancy dress, smiling and telling a man that I’d be all alone for the next 12 hours in a 7 x 9 foot cabin (to which he had the key) moving through the remote jungle of Vietnam, on a train noisy enough that no one would hear anything.
This will not tarnish my experience in Vietnam. I have already met a dozen beautiful people here who have showed me the real soul of this place. But it has reminded me never to get too comfortable. Bad seeds grow all over the world. Even inherently decent people can act with malicious intent if they perceive an easy target.
Always be diligent. Always trust your internal alarm; those cues that come from the core of your gut are NEVER wrong.