How to survive an overnight bus ride in Vietnam
Our trip to Hue started with an overnight bus ride from Hanoi. Vietnamese sleeper buses are quite an experience, and are certainly not for everyone. So, where can I begin. First off, the beds are made for petite people, as most Vietnamese are fit or skinny, and shorter than the average Westerner. So, if you are very wide or very tall, you will be very uncomfortable. Second, the roads in Vietnam pretty bad. They are probably not the worst I’ve seen, but they can be paved, unpaved, or unevenly paved, the buses go slowly, and shake a lot. Third, there’s honking. LOTs of honking. And the bus drivers’ horn is so damn loud that you can forget about sleeping, especially if you are in the front of the bus. Fourth, there’s the bathroom. If the bus bathroom “works”, it is merely a hole. There is usually no toiler paper or soap. Fifth, there is AC. It either works too well, so you are freezing, or doesn’t work at all, so you are hot. And sixth, Vietnamese never, ever, waste space. If you get on the bus that is half empty, you better know that it will not depart until all seats and all the beds are filled. So, don’t use more than one blanket or you will be asked to forfeit it. And when the bus gets full and there’s no more room for luggage, guess where the big luggage goes? On your “bed” with you. Oh, you think now the bus is full? Not so fast. A couple of straw mats go down on the floor and more local passengers get on, most likely riding a short distance on the discounted fare.
And that’s the gist of Vietnamese bus riding. At least this was the case with our Camel Open Tour ticket. Funny enough, most of the passengers on the bus were European tourists. A British group could not handle the ride and after accusing driver of being drunk, got off the bus in the middle of nowhere (a stupid decision, I think, but to each its own). (Yes, the substitute driver did have a beer, but then he took a long nap, and then started driving. I think that is perfectly acceptable).
But basically, handling an overnight bus ride comes down to a list of things. 1). Earplugs. For honking. 2). Eye mask. The lights go on and off all the time as the bus stops for passengers. 3). Sleeping pill! Very important. A 7-hr Ambien did the trick for me. 4). Try to be closer to the back of the bus, but not the very back. 5). A jacket in case the AC gets you. 6). You will be asked to take your shoes off, but do put them on before going to the bathroom, or else you will regret it. I had all the necessary items with me, and miraculously slept like a baby. Waking up at 6-7 am just in time for our breakfast stop!
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