Transportation in Nam
27.07.2013 - 23.08.2013
Late, disgusting, unsanitary, slow, loud, these are the main words I would choose to describe getting around Vietnam. The most direct route to Saigon from Hanoi is 1,777 kilometers. Traveling via the coast and into the mountains make the journey much longer. There are many ways to explore the countryside and to get to different locations. Trains, planes, mini buses, large "VIP" buses, long tail boats, you can even take hogs along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In order to see the whole country you can't avoid these modes of transport.
At first it was fun being on the train for 10 hours, sitting on hard wood seats, getting to communicate with some of the locals. Even getting a chance to throw the UNO cards down on the table. Then came the "first class" overnight sleeper trains. I prefer to stretch out when I sleep. These beds are clearly made for the smaller Vietnamese people. I found it was difficult to sleep at all with my knees jammed into my chest and my day bag at the foot of the bed. This was the one and only overnight sleeper train we took. A group decision was made to take the long train rides during the day. The next train ride we were stuffed in the seats with our bags in the aisle and under our seats. We were forced to sit cross legged for the whole ride. Luckily for us this was only a 2 or 3 hour ride. It is a famous ride from Hue to Da Nang that follows the coastline and offers spectacular views of jagged rocks jutting out of the cobalt blue waters. Only we didn't get to see any of it as the locals on the window side of the train shut the drapes closed. We asked them politely to open them a little bit. So the young man scoffed and opened them 1/4 of the way, only to close them a minute later. I could only imagine the beauty we were passing. After that another group decision had been made to only take sleeper trains, but during the day. So the next 2 train rides were more enjoyable as we could "stretch out" and comfortably have space around us. Even though the sheets and pillow cases were not changed, which made us cringe, we were able to find humor in the situation. We only had one train that actually left on time. The rest were at least an hour late.
The buses were a completely different story. We boarded a mini bus in Hanoi heading for Ninh Binh. After being harassed and grabbed by the touts who don't speak English, we hopped on a bus that was to leave and be there in 2 hours. An hour went by and we were still sitting on the bus in the same location at the bus station. Eventually the seats started to fill up, all but 2 or 3 were taken. The bus fired up and it was time to go! Ooooohhhh no it wasn't. We drove through the streets at a crawling speed looking for 2 or 3 more people to fill the empty seats. It took another 20 minutes to do so and away we went. A decision was made to take a night "VIP" sleeper bus to Hue because I couldn't sleep a wink on the sleeper train. VIP means that you get more leg room and perhaps the seats recline a bit more. There was no way to fully stretch out your legs and get comfortable. We were given a small blanket that hardly covered our upper bodies, we were in for a hell of a night. The big bags go under the bus and the day bags take up your extra leg room. There were disco lights lining the ceiling and the floors and club music bumping on the system. Trying to read was almost impossible until the music shut off. When it finally did the lights turned off with it. It was 8:00 P.M. and apparently time to go to bed. The bus driver was a maniac, honking and slamming the brakes all night. Somehow I slept better than I did on the train, but Megan didn't sleep a wink. My old man, being the seasoned vet that he is was able to catch a few Zzz's.
Many restless nights and unsanitary sleeping conditions was the cause for a few cranky days. It was nice to have transportation throughout the country and the experience out weighs the negatives. Overall, there was nothing we could do about it but keep on keepin' on!