Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cheap Seats

By: Kathleen and Fiz

Let it be said that in Vietnam you get what you pay for, there are no bargains over here. When we opted for the 20$ per person bus tickets over the 60$ per person bus tickets from Hanoi to Hue we figured it would be a bit less comfortable, perhaps less scenic, but we said “ hey, it’s a night train we won’t see much anyways,” and then we chatted about the terrible night train we had taken in Thailand, surely the bus couldn’t be that much worse.

It can always be that much worse.

 Unless you are feeling very adventurous, in every single sense of the term, or have a large bladder, do not take the bus from Hanoi to Hue. 

The 14 and a half hour bus ride (which  is about how long the plane ride from NYC to Hanoi) starts when the minibus that takes you from your guesthouse to the bus. It will invariably come late, at least an hour, and will leave you feeling anxious from the get go.

Then you will go to board the bus and do so on the side of the road in front of nothing in particular, leaving you to wonder how the minibus driver even knew where to go. 

If you have to use the restroom at this point, DO IT, though you may have to try a couple of places and buy a bag of chips to find one.  Do not naivly assume that a bus that will be traveling 14 and a half hours will have a quaint luxury like a toilet on it. Or if it does that said toilet will work, or that you will even be allowed to try.

When we asked if there was a toilet the bus equivalent of a stewardess pointed to a small porta-john with a padlock on it. S.O.L.

Also, do not assume that there will be seats. That would be silly, who would want to sit for 14.5 hours. No, expect bed like lounges, about the size and shape of coffins stacked on top of each other and no the top bunks don’t have seat belts… or walls.

Being as late to board as we were forced to get a seat on the top bunk and being on the top bunk neither of us could sit upright. Both of us are short in the western world, so chances are most people wouldn’t even be able to crouch.

 We were supplied with a blanket, that was too small for it to be effective or comfortable, and told to take our shoes off.

The onboard entertainment only was on for the first hour of the ride and was a sort of Vietnamese Idol competition.  Just as that was finishing up we stopped at a rest stop for dinner.

Of the 40 odd items on the menu 5 were helpfully described with pictures. Satay with greens, mush, noodles, mystery meat and fish balls, yeah that’s a pass.  Thankfully there was also a galaxy of snacks and drinks available from more than one vendor.

 We highly recommend buying junk food and a bottle of booze (though there is the bathroom issue, better just bring some sleeping pills) over a proper meal.  Now we don’t shy away from street food if we find something that looks appetizing, and the satay and stir fried greens didn’t look bad exactly, but a little kept saying ‘don’t, just don’t’ (or maybe that was Kathleen’s look of horror as she passed by the kitchen).

It only got better from here.  It must have been highway construction season because there were terrific potholes ever meter or so, meaning for kilometers on end we were bounced around, jarred back and forth, violently hurdled down half finished highway.

This only ended when we reached our second (and final) rest stop some six hours later. Rest stop is a strong word, what we were looking at as we groggily disembarked was actually a roadside graveyard shrine, more reminiscent of a parking lot than anything else, with no lights. 

The highway was running along a small river and where we had pulled over was a raised platform of concrete with knee high white blocks spaced wide enough apart for a person to stand/squat in between along 3 sides. 

For more privacy there is a bridge that leads across the river to the privacy of the graveyard!! (did we mention there were tombstones) It was after midnight and we still had well more than half of the trip ahead of us.

The men folk, equipped as they were, were able top just point and aim down the sloping side. The ladies however milled about deciding the best approach. Kathleen and some others crossed over the bridge in search of privacy saw the gravestones and decided that privacy was overrated.

Squatting over the edge was the winning choice. Kathleen thankfully was wearing a skirt and is not terribly picky about these sorts of things. It seemed, from the loaded of shit and toilet paper strewn down the concrete sides that they our bus was not the first to stop there.

The rest of the trip was more of the same, lots and lots of general discomfort.  The windows were caked with grime and the sky was cloudy so there really wasn’t much to look at.  We resigned ourselves to listening to our iPods and trying to sleep.

We awoke in terror to find us careening down a hill on the wrong side of the road.  The maniacal drive who either shouted at you or ignored you when you inquired about a bathroom break was driving probably 85 through the night.

The conditions made sleep near impossible. Thankfully traveling involves other people and a group of young British guys helped keep us sane with their humor and commiserating. Though the locals gave us dirty looks for talking.

Though the bus ride sucked mightily we were rewarded by glimpses of the countryside at dawn. Fisherman in traditional boats slinging their nets out over the water, their conical hats lit up by the coming sun.

We did arrive, safely, with full bladders, in Hue and disembarked into the sunshine, glad to be off the bus. We already have booked train tickets for the 12 hour ride  from Hoi An to Saigon(Ho Chi Minh City).

1 comment:

  1. You piss-filled, privacy-seeking ladies dodged a bullet, there...

    Everyone knows that pissing near a Vietnamese graveyard, close to Midnight, is a sure-fire way to kick-start the Zombie Apocalypse...

    I'm glad you guys made it safely. :)

    You both are on an adventure of a lifetime. No rules, no real coherent schedule you have to adhere to, no stress about work, and best of all is, you have each other by your sides.

    For many people, doing what you did is a pipe-dream or something so far out of their realm of possibility that they laugh and shrug it off when you bring it up to them. Its simply not tangible in their minds.

    You both are doing it and making it happen for yourselves. That's all it takes.

    You can't sit around and wait for an adventure to simply plop into your lap. Much as I would love it to be, life isn't an Indiana Jones flick.(the first three, not that shitty one with the aliens.) Nazi women aren't regularly trying to seduce me, I'm not worried about getting my face melted off by God's golden cellphone, and my father isn't Sean Connery.

    Yet, if you open your mind, heart, and soul you can find a story/adventure in even the most mundane/bladder burstin' tasks, such as a 12 hour bus ride.

    ...stay calm.

    (This is Kevin, btw.)

    "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."

    - Eleanor Roosevelt