Vote Charlie!

Taking the daytime bus to Hanoi

Posted at age 26.
Edited .

Note: I was bit frustrated when I wrote this; I think of it more warmly now.

When I first woke, naturally, or perhaps due to the thunderstorms, the room quite dark and still I quite tired, I checked the time and hoped it was earlier than it actually was, 5:30 Saturday morning. I rolled around trying to get comfortable while not too much disturbing the blanket and any creatures living in it, one of whom made itself known to me shortly after my entering the room and sitting down on the bed. I don’t think it was a cockroach, and it was too large to be a bed bug. Maybe something like an ear wig. Anyway, I eventually fell back asleep for another 90 minutes.

For a second time I woke, this time to the alarm, and a minute later a woman was at my door telling me to come down for the bus. I should have figured 7:30 actually meant earlier than 7:15, but I erred on the side of more sleep. I’m not sure if it helped.


Sa Pa

So I brushed my teeth hastily, observed no toilet paper and then opted to just pee. There was a sprayer on a hose – the recent use of which was evident by water all over the toilet seat – but I haven’t quite become accustomed to that, and hadn’t needed to clear out very desperately, in any case.

I made my way down to the lobby and found behind the counter the same woman, and on the couch Max, who had apparently slept there despite him proclaiming he would stay up all night. He wanted to talk, but I was too tired and not in the mood. I checked out, taking my passport, which was already sitting on the counter when I got there. I paid the bill for my portion of the rooms, which amounted to much more than Max’s portion since they had put me in a private room for the past eight hours, and Max hadn’t a room. I also paid for both our bus tickets, bringing the total to just over a million dong. Them’s the brakes!

We waited for the bus, which actually meant waiting for a van to take us an hour up the highway to Lào Cai (a city very close to the Chinese border), whence we would catch a bus to Hanoi. Sometime before eight, a van pulled up, and after some hesitation and trying to ask Max I determined it was the one we were to board. A woman hopped out and took my backpack as I tried to enter the van with it, and Max followed. I sat in the back seat, where a lone boy around my age was sitting in the corner.

It was a swervy ride, during which we stopped several times, once due to a police checkpoint or construction or something, and the other times to apparently try to pick up more people. A few of the people the driver asked actually did get on, and it wasn’t clear to me if these people had arranged transportation previously or just then.

The scenery was also beautiful, and I really wished I had gotten a chance to motorcycle this direction during daylight yesterday. The road ran along a river with steep, cropped mountains just past, all lined with huts and farming people. If I ever come back to Vietnam, I am definitely buying a motorcycle and getting around that way instead of by bus.

Once we got into town, we parked next to a coach bus and switched vehicles. Upon climbing the steps and putting our footwear in plastic bags, Max told me we didn’t have assigned seats and needed to wait. Great. This happened on the first bus ride, too, but that time they eventually removed a couple people to make room for us. This time, not so. The bus eventually filled up, and some people sat on the floor, but we were told to get off and wait for the next bus in a half hour. I don’t know if we could have sat on the floor like the others, and I resolved to do just that if the situated repeated a third time on the next bus.

While waiting, I asked Max about his plans once we reached Hanoi. He asked some guys he met online a week ago, but they apparently couldn’t host. I decided, possibly in poor judgment, to tell Max he could come to the hotel with me and figure it out from there, implying he could stay the night, I guess. I didn’t even bother trying to tell him anything about his behavior or making him promise to act normally. That didn’t work out last time, and I figured it would be best to drop it. Allowing him to stay would be an acceptance it might happen again, but I guess I just hoped he had learned his lesson.

So we had our tickets given back to us, this time with seat numbers written on them, though the writing wasn’t clear. The bus arrived, and Max took his time gathering his things, making us some of the last people to board the bus. I was trying to hurry him along, fearing we wouldn’t get a seat, but Max said we had assigned seats, so it didn’t matter.

Upon boarding this time, I tried to identify the seats. I think I was A18 or AA8, which, I gathered, meant the bottom, since the top layer of bunks was full. The bunks from the front were numbered one to six, with the backmost five labeled seven and eight from either side, and I didn’t see what the center was labeled. I’m not sure which aisle I belonged in, but there were only two open seats in the back, so we took them.

The soldier next to the window had his large backpack and another bag sitting in what became my seat, and he barely moved when it was obvious I needed him to move his things. I maneuvered for a few seconds and he scooted a tad, but he was less than polite. Due to the back five seats not having railings, it worked out, though the others had to sacrifice some space so the soldier dude could be lazy.

Shortly after, a woman and someone else made their way back and were apparently confused to find us in what seemed to be their seats also. She said something in Vietnamese to Max, who told her we had these seats on our tickets. She then went back up to the driver, and I didn’t see if she stayed on or was relegated to the same fate Max and I had on the prior bus. Anyway, this validated my concern about getting on the bus as soon as possible, which I told Max, though I knew there was likely nothing to be gained by voicing it at this point.

And then one of the staff came back and apparently told the rude soldier to come out, though I’m not sure why. I thought him and another soldier were going to catch a different bus, but then they both ended up sitting on the floor, and I ended up with an open seat next to me. I figured someone from the floor would take it, but nobody noticed or wanted it, so Max and I spread out a bit more.


Bus from Sa Pa to Hanoi

We finally got moving, slowly but surely. Since this ride was during daylight, I was able to confirm my suspicion most of the route between Hanoi and Sapa is dirt road, often barely wide enough for two vehicles. We stopped often, and sometimes struggled to overcome muddy remnants of the storm. At one point I feared we would get stuck, and while I was curious what would happen in such a case, I also didn’t want to deal with any more annoyances. Thankfully, we made it through.


Knockoff water

It‘s now been several hours, and presumably in a few hours more we will arrive in Hanoi. Though we have been sitting in one place waiting for traffic or construction (again, hard to tell from the back of the bus) for a half hour, so who knows.


Bathroom stop from Sa Pa to Hanoi