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Buses in Vietnam

by becca on October 25, 2009

Nate on a sleeper bus.

Nate on a sleeper bus.

Buses in Vietnam are the cheapest and likely the easiest way of getting around the country. Similar to classes on a train, there are levels of bus to choose from as well.

A normal bus is pretty normal, like a charter bus in America, though never with a toilet. When I have the choice, I’ll take a “sleeping bus.” This is a bus taken on long trips, typically overnight, where instead of a seat, you are graced with a (very) small bed. Made for short and thin Vietnamese folk, there are three rows of bunks in the bus, one on each side by the windows, and another in the center. The bunks fall over each other like a series of dominos so that when reclined, the top half of your bed is hanging over the foot area of the person behind you. In the back of the bus there are two bunks of five beds with hardly any dividers between each.

Now, when you’re on the top bunk of one of the beds by the window, you can see everything below you and good luck not wetting yourself from fear that the bus is going to run right over one of the many motorbikes below. Also good luck not wetting yourself from the lack of bus stops. If you are lucky enough for the bus to stop at an actual rest stop, instead of in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, watch your step.

Nha Trang to Mui Ne stop.

Nha Trang to Mui Ne stop.

You think rest stop toilets are bad in America? No, no, no. You have seen nothing. Nothing. The toilets are rarely western and instead are ceramic holes in the ground with traction on either side for your feet – this I can handle, it’s the norm in the more rural areas of Vietnam. What I find difficult is anything from the roof of the stall caving in just overhead, peeing next to a bag full of charcoal and who knows what else, the spiders and other various insects watching you, the thick sludge you must walk through and stand in, and worst of all the rancid smell that is worse than any of the scenarios used to describe Sex Panther cologne in Achorman . We stopped at one on our way to Nha Trang and I seriously thought I was going to vomit at the smell. How some of the people on our bus sat down and ate right next to the bathroom area absolutely baffled me. I had the opportunity today to pee in a half stall: yes, a stall with a squatting toilet, so it only needs 2ft tall walls.

No matter what kind of bus you are on, there will be honking constantly. I think the rules of the road in Vietnam deserve their own post, but in a nutshell, the roads are full of motorbikes, bicylces, pedestrians, the rare car, and tourist-toting buses. The bus drivers, in order to let everyone know that a huge, speeding vehicle is coming their way, honk at an average of once every four seconds (Nate counted).

If you’re unlucky enough to be on a local bus, you will have the pleasure of listening to “the screamer.” A term coined by our friend Marcus on a bus trip from Haiphong to Ninh Binh, the screamer is the guy that stands in the door of the bus screaming through the cities trying to get people to get on. He also takes the money, and will load and secure large objects (motorbikes, cages full of chickens, etc.) on top of the bus.

No matter what kind of bus you’re on, it will be cheap. I think the most we’ve paid so far is $14 for a sleeping bus. So, if you find yourself on one of these buses, don’t drink too much water, pack earplugs, and spring for the extra couple of bucks for a bit more comfort.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mareesha 10.26.09 at 4:56 pm

Yes, but did the bus lend you that kick ass blanket?

becca 11.02.09 at 12:52 am

Heck yes it did! Great point. On all the sleeper buses (and trains) we’ve encountered they’ve provided blankets and pillows. Chalk one up for the sleeper buses for that.

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