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Vietnam: Hoi An and the tales of the sleeper bus

Hoi An and the tales of the sleeper bus

I loved our 29 day stay in Vietnam. For that reason, it is hard for me to make the following statement: I hated Hoi An (hate might be a very harsh word, so let’s just say I highly disliked Hoi An).

During our stay in Da Lat, fellow travelers told us that Hoi An was a beautiful and amazing city, some of them even mentioned that it was their favorite Vietnamese city so far.

With that in mind, Ever and I planned for a good five days in that city, took a bus from Da Lat to Nha Trang and the same day we took a sleeper bus to Hoi An (330,000 VND per person for both buses).

I had heard and read a lot of horror stories about the overnight bus, but since we had already taken a flight to get to Da Lat and our budget was starting to hurt, we were forced to decided to give the sleeper bus a try. This is what, from the horror stories I’d read and heard, I was expecting from the overnight bus:

 

  • Our stuff being stolen
  • The AC to being too powerful or broken
  • Leaky AC
  • Seats too small to be comfortable
  • No bathroom stops
  • No food stops
  • Bus breaking down in the middle of nowhere and us being eaten by a Vietnamese Chupacabras
  • Bed bugs on a plastic seat (don’t judge my fears)
  • Stinky smells due to stinky tourists (I’ll save that rant for a separate post)
  • Loud people in general
  • Somebody throwing up in the middle of the bus
  • The bus crashing or falling off a cliff

 

Yes, as you can tell by now, I’m a bit paranoid cautious (God and Ever know that), but hey, by now we also know that safety is not the number one priority in these countries. They picked us up on a small shuttle from the booking office (I think it was Quang Hanh) two hours before our departing time and off we went to what looked like a vacant lot with two buses. I refused to believe that could be the bus station, but anyways, they took our bags and asked us to take our shoes off before getting on the bus. We were assigned, with the rest of the tourists, upper seats for which I wanted to complain, but a little voice inside of me told me not to. We then went to the real bus station to pick up more people. This is when my mini crisis happened.

Left Behind

Since they picked us up two hours prior to arrival and Ever made me have a beer before, I really needed to go to the bathroom. So we were waiting at the bus station for almost a good half hour, When I asked one of the bus crew if I could get off to go to the bathroom, very rudely he said no. I waited, thinking we were about to leave. Another 10 minutes went by. I got off and the bus driver was right outside, so I asked him if I could run to the bathroom and he said yes and showed me the way. It took me 3 minutes to do my bussiness and when I got back, surprise! No bus anywhere. I did panic thinking:

 

  • Ever somehow did not realize his wife was missing
  • Ever wanted a divorce, he didn’t know how to tell me, paid the driver and ran away
  • Ever fell asleep in those three minutes and didn’t notice the bus was moving
  • The driver was a jerk that abandoned me

 

The last option was the real story. After my 2 minutes of panicking, one the crew members came looking for me and rushed me in to the bus. Now this is when things started getting sketchy.

Bus Overload

We started picking people up from everywhere. We would stop every 10 minutes to pick up passengers. Soon the lower seats filled up. So then they started placing people in the aisles… and more and more people in the aisles. For a moment, there was an agitated fight between a lady on the floor and the jerk crew member. Only God (and the other Vietnamese people) know what they argued about. Eventually, there were people filling the aisles completely!

The thing is, these seats are made for the average Asian (and average Mexicans, like Ever and me!) and thinking of fitting a 6+ foot person sounds crazy. I barely fit and I’m 5’2. We stopped twice for bathroom and dinner, but the stops were seriously terrible. Men would go and pee on the grass and women would just line up to use the smelly squatty bathroom (no toilet paper or hand soap of course). They also didn’t really have food or snacks, so we survived with a bag of potato chips we got before starting the bus ride.

The rest of the trip was ok. I slept through most of the way and Ever didn’t look that uncomfortable, so we arrived at 7 am in Hoi An.

The city welcomed us with an awful and humid heat. We were smelly (oh Lord were we smelly) so finding a place to stay (and shower) became our priority. When we jumped off the bus we were attacked greeted by a lot of taxi and motorcycle drivers offering hotels, restaurants, etc. After a 12 hour bus ride, we were very cranky. Trying not to be rude, we left on our search for a cheap room. The hotels that we saw online were far more expensive than we thought they would be, so finding a room took longer than planned. At the end we settled for the hotel Sam Sam, with very friendly people and a triple room for $12 a night. The room was perfect except that the only thing working was the AC. No hot water, broken fan, broken TV, terrible wifi. We stayed there for three nights and the last night we decided to splurge on a $25 room at the hotel Thanh Binh III with a pool and a (extremely) crappy breakfast.

Settling in

Once we were settled and showered, the first thing we did was visit the Ancient Town, under the blistering heat of Hoi An. We were prey of the street vendors that would “greet” us with a “buy something”, beggars and cyclos, taxis, tailoring shops, etc. Even at our dining table a lady came and sat with us, then she waited outside the restaurant until we were done to take us to her shop. This is the main reason why I did not enjoy Hoi An: I wanted some peace but with the vendors that became impossible. Every time a local was nice to us it was because they wanted to sell us something. We only found this situation in this city during our trip to Vietnam. Also, too many people (tourists and locals) and motorbikes just honking non-stop in the middle of the street… Too busy at all times.

Colorful boats offering tours - we skipped this

Colorful boats offering tours – we skipped this

Lady said: "I don't want your money I just want a picture". But when I didn't buy bananas after the picture, she was not very happy.

Lady said: “I don’t want your money I just want a picture”. But when I didn’t buy bananas after the picture, she was not very happy.

For the next three days we rented a motorbike to do day trips to Da Nang and to visit the Marble Mountains.  We rode through the coast and had a little stressful moment where our motorbike refused to go up the mountain with both of us on. It began overheating and I decided to get off, just to discover the motorbike stopped having issues and going up the hill with no problem. Maybe my ice cream eating has been getting out of control, as suggested by the motorbike. We visited the giant Buddha pagoda and the big ficus tree, and we headed back to Hoi An.

Motorbike dies for the first time (out of three)

Motorbike dies for the first time (out of three)

Big Buddha pagoda... it has another name but I can't remember it!

Big Buddha pagoda… it has another name but I can’t remember it!

Da Nang

View of Da Nang city from the pagoda

Fishing beach in Da Nang

Fishing boats on Da Nang beach. Couldn’t capture the fish smell on the picture tho!

We did, however, enjoy the bars at night and the lanterns on the river, and we got a few souvenirs at the night market. Ever splurged on picture taking. 🙂

Lanthern store at night

Lanthern store at night

The next day we took the bike to go to the Marble Mountains, which are incredibly beautiful! I honestly thought they would be the most whatever thing in the world until we went up and explored the caves: breathtaking! There was one particular huge cave with a Buddha carved into the mountain inside, amazing!

Beautiful temple inside a cave in the Marble Mountains

Beautiful temple inside a cave in the Marble Mountains

We also visited An Bang beach twice. A quick tip: go on a motorbike or a regular bike and go to one of the stores that don’t charge for parking if you buy a big water for them (for 10,000 VND, about $0.50). We had lunch at La Plage restaurant, very chill and the staff was not pushy like the rest of the places on the beach. They also have sunbeds where you can relax on the beach.

We spent and sweat a few hours there and headed back to Hoi An. Our last day we went to Da Nang to visit the Champa Museum and drive through the amazing dragon bridge. We also took advantage of being in Da Nang and went to the train station to get our tickets to Hue (80,000 VND per person, after a chaotic half an hour in line with a bunch of locals cutting in).

Dragon head of the Dragon Bridge!

Dragon head of the Dragon Bridge!

 

By the time we went back we decided it was time to leave Hoi An and move on to Hue, so we asked our hotel to reserve us seats for the shuttle to Da Nang. They told us a private taxi was a better option for 350,000 VND instead of the 55,000 each for the minibus (better option?). So we insisted on the minibus, they said the would reserve our seats and we went back to our room to finish packing. A few minutes later, the hotel receptionist came to tell us the minibuses (the next three ones) were completely full and that our only option was a private car. Very annoyed by their insistence on a taxi, we refused and decided to be brave and take the public bus to Da Nang.

We walked a couple of kilometers with our bags and rice hats to the Hoi An to Da Nang public bus at this location (as of July 2015). We had read that the cost of the public bus was 20,000 VND, but that they would charge up to 60,000 for tourists. There were also stories of people being threatened to throw their luggage off the bus if they didn’t pay the money they were being asked to. They charged us 40,000 VND for each and we decided against fighting with the driver and just pay as asked.Yes, we were overcharged, but it’s 2 bucks each to travel some 50 km; not really worth the fight. It was wise since the driver later helped us get off and find our way to the train station.

 

The group pooping story

 

During our ride to Da Nang (that lasted about one hour) we stopped because a real tragedy was about to strike: a little boy needed to go number 2 ASAP.

His dad took him off the bus and we saw the little boy get completely naked and squat on the floor, trying to find some relief. Immediately, another boy got off too, squatted next to him and pooped with him. A couple of minutes later, a little girl got off the bus and joined the pooping team. The second boy and the girl finished their business but the first poor boy kept squatting without results. Finally, the bus driver honked demanding the passengers to go back to resume our trip. Little boy was wiped by his dad, his pants went back on and we hit the road.

 

…Back to the bus ride

 

It took exactly one hour to get to Da Nang. The driver told us where to get off and we got to the train station about one hour before our departing time, so we sat at a cafe across the street. Ten minutes before our departing time, we went to the waiting room to wait.. and wait.. and wait..

Our train got delayed for over an hour, and once we got on the train, they took at least 20 minutes to turn on the AC (windows could not be opened) and we headed to Hue (my favorite Vietnamese city, described fully on the next post).

 

Do you have bus horror stories? Cities that have been highly recommended by friends that you end up not enjoying? Share on the comments below!

 

2 thoughts on “Vietnam: Hoi An and the tales of the sleeper bus

    1. Everardo Garcia Flores

      Hey Crystal! Well, surprisingly, it hasn’t been a huge issue. Many people speak English, even when you least expect it. And just about everyone in the tourism industry here has a working knowledge of English. Once in a while, we have to use a little bit of made-up sign language, or pointing at things around us to get the idea across. But I would say that we’ve been pretty lucky in getting by with English! Also, there are times when we can’t quite communicate, and give up, hoping for the best. So far so good hehe! 🙂

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