While most of our long-distance journeys in China were made by overnight train, with considerably less ground to cover and arguably a better network than the trains, Vietnam has been a bus-ing country for us!
Any journey over 5hours in length and you have the option of using a ‘sleeper bus’… But don’t let the name fool you. Unless you have a thing for being wildly thrown around and a penchant for the feet of strangers, quite frankly you ain’t sleepin’.
There are two particular long distance journeys that stick in our minds, and really, they do the job of explaining just what these buses can be like, quite nicely…
BUS RIDE #1...
The first, Andrew was unconscious for… The lucky bugger. (He clearly has a thing for said feet and violent abuse). We were making our way from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha– a cool 10 hour journey that would have us arriving at our next destination at 6 in the morning… Or so we thought.
Things didn’t look great from the offset, when we were shouted at to sit in specific seats on the bus- we were riding up front and in the top row… Officially the crappiest seats in the house. (In general, the further back you go / if you stick to the lower bunks, the darker and quieter it is).
The bus was PACKED. Clearly overbooked or else just paid cash-in hand for the ride, there were people and bags EVERYWHERE. Down the aisles, people lay on narrow foam pads, using randomly grabbed strangers bags for pillows…
Image credit: mycottontales.com // culturecats.com
About two hours into the drive, the heavens opened- the start of what was to be a typhoon that would trap us in our next hostel for days! Water quickly flooded the roads and made visibility really difficult- The kind of weather you should really pull over to see pass…
Obviously not an option and completely undeterred, we continued to race at full speed through pothole-ridden rivers through thunder and lighting, enjoying the occasional aquaplane over to the other side of the road…
And I say ‘enjoying’, because the bus driver and his co-pilot clearly thought this was the funniest thing on the planet! Laughing demonically every time we veered across the line or hit a bump (of which there were many!) that would throw us completely off our seats.
At one point, we even drove through one of the drop-down barriers at the province border… After dragging it a short way, they eventually stopped and took it back to the checkpoint! These guys were either seriously batshit crazy or high as kites.
At around two in the morning; still pissing it down, we pulled up at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and were told to get off the bus. Super-tired, confused as hell and now officially terrified of these guys, we did as we were told. When we got off we were shepherded onto another bus waiting in front and ordered into the front seats again.
We were sat next to / in front of a guy who had clearly been out in the flood waters because his feet stank to high heaven. When you get on the sleeper buses you have to take your shoes off and put them in plastic bags, so everyone rides in socks / barefoot. For the most part this is fine, but when you’re with wet feet and socks that likely haven’t seen the wash in a week, you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for cheese.
Like, this guys feet were so ridiculously stinking bishop that he totally earns this third cheese-based paragraph of our blogpost all to himself and his bag-rustling, Brie-agrivating-ness that had us both retching in our seats…
THANK GOD the remaining journey did not take anywhere near as long as we had been told it would! Our 6am arrival was a complete floop- we actually arrived in town just after 3am.
Convenient? No. A life, affirming relief? Absobloodylutely.
BUS RIDE #2...
Our second most-memorable experience was taking a sleeper from Quy Nhon to Da Lat. Only 6 hours this time (short and sweet!?) we left our beach paradise just after 10pm. This time, the bus was already full (no-one on the floor though!) bar two seats in the back row of five, left for us.
Ordinarily, (and with an emptier bus!), the seats at the back are the best- especially if travelling as a couple because they are squished together, rather than separated by alleyways, and they are nice and dark so you can make a much better attempt at trying to get some shut eye…
Image credit: noplacetobe.com
On this occasion, we were left with the last two seats in the row of five… Sandwiched between one guy with conveniently placed wandering hands (more on that later!), and another with knobbly goblin feet.
First though, just to get onto the seats! Now, being western size in an all-Asian environment can make some things difficult at the best of times, but climbing a short ladder in a narrow dark corridor, on a high-speed moving bus was to prove absolutely ridiculous.
Andrew managed to make it up onto the ‘bunk’ before the bus set off and did his best to help me up quickly and without waking up Ol’ happy hands, but to no avail. I was stuck.
I had managed to get one leg up the seat before the bus lurched, sending me flying forwards face-first into the seat. In semi-crawl position on all fours, my forehead was stuck to the clammy leatherette, and I had to put so much energy into not toppling over that I couldn’t get my arms to work and pull myself up into the seat.
I was there, upside down and pissing myself laughing in completely darkness; arse out, flailing in the breeze and unable to move for a good 40 seconds or so, while the bus careered round corners and rumbled over potholes.
When the road eventually evened out for a second, Andrew pulled me up and we lay there silently in stitches, tears streaming down my face for ages- the situation playing over and over in my head.. I wish we had it on video.
Image credit: pommietravels.com
Finally settled, we tried to get comfortable, but this road was to prove as crazy as the last. While not raining this time, our driver was just as persistent and we zoomed, skidded and flew- the whole journey like being thrown around in a tumble dryer, bumps literally throwing everyone in the air and chucking us back down again to audible collective ‘Oooooh’s’.
While we gripped each other in fear and out of a need for some basic kind of stability, it appeared our bed-buddies also wanted a piece of the action- my hand-wanderer successfully copping a feel on a couple of occasions, and Andrew ending up as ‘little spoon’ for the goblin guy… It appears we managed to make a few friends that night.
SHOULD I TAKE THE OVERNIGHT BUSES IN VIETNAM?
Yes, the buses are noisy (Thank you, beeping bus-driver!), smelly (Ahhh, Mr. Stilton. If only you knew…) uncomfortable (hello 5ft frame!) and often less-than convenient time-wise…
Yes, they are ever-so-slightly dangerously driven by crazy-ass drunkards and packed with over-friendly locals… but really, would you get a good story from an overpriced, impersonal cab ride?
Bus travel is part of the overall South East Asia, banana pancake trail experience and we absolutely without hesitation recommend that everyone try it… at least once! DO IIITTTTTTTTT!
Have you taken the overnight sleeper bus before? Do these stories put you off or simply offer the funny side to the more frequently seen argument ‘Against’? What’s your best journey story?! Let us know in the comments, below!