The T5 / M2 from Beijing to Hanoi

The air is hot and polluted outside, on the station platform, but getting on the train is something else entirely. The train doesn’t smell, it reeks; some stench permeates the carriage. It’s the cigarette smoke of ages and general stuffiness, but there is something darker there as well, a smell that I can’t quite place but that I feel I instinctively know and that repulses me. Even after spending several hours on the train I haven’t gotten used to it. But what can you do but endure it?

I wasn’t even supposed to be on this train. Or rather, I didn’t want to go to Vietnam this quick. But I overlooked the fact that it is National Week in China. Meaning that from October 1, 1.3 billion people have a full week off. And considering that October 1 is a Monday, people really have 9 days off in a row and so there’s no trains, no accommodation anywhere, and everywhere is ridiculously crowded. So there was nothing left to me but to get to Vietnam ASAP. The only alternative to this train was a 30 hour hard seat ride to Nanning in Southern China. I passed. This is actually the same train, but apparently the international section has separate carriages and I was able to get a soft sleeper.

I’m sharing the compartment with Chris. Chris is riding his motorcycle down from the UK to, well, all the way to New Zealand if he can make it. He was banned from taking his motorcycle into China, however, after one person in his group drove off without the guide’s permission (you can only enter China with your own vehicle if you or your group have a guide 24 hours a day). So he’s shipping his bike from Mongolia all the way to Bangkok. It makes for interesting conversation, and the 40 or so hours feel like a breeze.

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