I am usually an advocate for budget traveling and saving pennies for even more great adventures. In fact- I often find that the tighter the budget, the more authentic the experience. For example, I would way prefer eating at a delicious local market instead of a westernized restaurant. Throughout my website, you will read a lot of tips from me as to how to arrive somewhere for the least amount of money and other ways to travel for cheap. However, in this article you can kiss all that information goodbye!
If there was one moment in all of my travels that I could go back and change, this would be it. I would go back in time and throw out my bus ticket from Laos to Vietnam and instead head straight to the airport. Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time but I can at least prevent you from making my mistake.
It all started when my travel companion at the time, Karli, and I decided to move on from Laos and venture to Hanoi, Vietnam. There were only two options to get to Hanoi; via bus or airplane. Karl and I wandered into a travel agent to deliberate our options. When the travel agent told us that the bus would be about 24+ hours long my jaw dropped. I had pretty much made up my mind right then and there that I was not going to take the bus. Karli, however, did not want to spend the extra cash to take the flight (about $100 more).
I could have ditched Karli and taken the flight by myself and met up with her in Vietnam, except for one minor issue: I had been pick pocketed earlier that week and so had no cash or cards and was relying on Karli to loan me money until I found a solution to my problem. Since Karli didn’t want to dish out the extra money to buy herself a plane ticket I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be too keen on buying me a plane ticket. So I sucked it up and purchased the bus ticket. After all, I had been on overnight trains and buses before- what would an extra twelve hours be?
The next day the bus pulled up to the bus stop…and that’s when we stepped into hell. I went to my assigned seat and sat down. For some reason my seat was in the recline position almost laying flat so I adjusted it to bring it to its upright position. Out of nowhere the bus driver started yelling at me! I quickly reclined my seat back down to flat and he stopped yelling. I looked around and everyone else’s seats were in their proper upright positions. “I guess it’s my nap time” I joked as I lay there waiting for the bus to load. Once the bus started I successfully managed to secretly bring my seat upright without getting verbally assaulted.
There were three bus drivers who would all take shifts driving. They were all crazy drivers and it was by no means a peaceful drive. Instead of signalling they honk. Whenever they pass a car they honk their horn as loud as they can.When they see a dog on the road they honk at the dog to move out of their way. After a few close calls of almost running over dogs, one got hit. I couldn’t believe it- I was in absolute shock. To the bus drivers the dog meant no more to them than a worm on the road.
When we arrived at the Vietnam border we had to wait about two hours before they even opened. This was extremely odd to me- why would the bus leave so early if the border wasn’t even going to be open when they arrived?
When the border finally opened, we all had to get off of the bus, collect our luggage and walk across the border with it. We went through security and they didn’t even check our bags- completely ruining the point of us having to walk across the border with all of our luggage. After waiting about another hour for everyone’s passports to be checked we finally got back on the bus. This stop had added another three hours onto our already 24 hour journey.
After a few more hours of crazy driving and non-stop honking the bus stopped for lunch. It had been a long time since Karli and I had last eaten and we couldn’t wait to grab a bite. The bus had stopped at a random restaurant in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road. The bus drivers seemed to know the restaurant owners and were having a grand time eating and chatting with them. While they were having a a little party, the rest of us passengers were freaking out. We were in Vietnam and no one had any Vietnamese dong (yes their money is called dong). We were in the middle of nowhere and so there were no ATM’s for anyone to take out money.
Finally, one guy from the bus named Kas, managed to negotiate with a bus driver to exchange his money with Vietnamese dong. The bus drivers weren’t the most moral people in the world, however, and Kas didn’t get much Vietnamese dong in return. Luckily, it was enough to buy himself, his girlfriend, Karli and I instant noodles from the shack across the highway.
I was extremely grateful for his generosity. I knew that he could have bought more food with the rest of his money so that he could have something to eat during the rest of the fifteen hour journey that we still had ahead of us.
As we got back on the bus there was another guy who had bought a box of wagon wheels and he also generously dispersed them throughout the bus so that everyone could have a morsel of food for later.
It was very interesting being in a Third World country and feeling like you were poorer than everyone else there.
More strange things just kept happening. At one point, the bus made a stop and picked up a live chicken and threw it under the bus with our luggage. As the bus had no bathrooms they would occasionally stop and all the men would get out and just pee along the side of the bus.
We never stopped at anyactual washrooms and 6 hours into the trip I didn’t know how much longer I could hold it. Eventually I mustered up the courage to ask the crazy bus driver if the women could get a bathroom break. He just yelled at me. I had had it at this point so I yelled back and told him that the women needed the bathroom too. About an hour later the bus stopped and the bus driver yelled that this was the bathroom. Thank goodness- finally some good news!
I jumped off the bus ready to pee my pants. Wait…where is the bathroom? There was no bathroom, just a shack that we had to squat beside to pee as the rain poured down on us. I got back on the bus, bladder empty but clothes soaking clothes wet
I was getting very hungry by this point. I suffer from low blood sugar and feel ill if I go too long without eating. Since we had no food I decided that I would try to sleep to block out my hunger. Sleeping on the bus wasn’t the easiest though when every five minutes the bus driver would honk like crazy- sometimes I swear there wasn’t even anything there to honk at.
I managed to finally doze off but was woken up by screaming, The bus driver and a local man were shouting at each other up and down the isle (talk about customer services). I have no idea what they were yelling at because of the language barrier- but it didn’t look good. The local man had a little girl who was terrified and was crying. The rest of the passengers on the bus looked terrified too.
I looked around and noticed that at the back of the bus were about twenty Vietnamese locals all piled on top of each other like sardines. The bus drivers were making extra cash by picking up locals on side of the road! I assumed that the local man who was fighting with the bus driver may have not payed for his daughter to come on. The yelling and arguing continued on for about a half an hour.
Eventually, I nodded back to sleep trying to ignore my grumbling stomach and chalk dry mouth. When we finally rolled into Hanoi around midnight I can’t explain how happy I was to see the bright fluorescent lights of the city. I couldn’t wait to get off of the miserable bus from hell and delete it from my memory. More than anything though- I couldn’t wait to sit down with a hot meal, a cold beer and some peace and quiet.
Vietnam, you better have been worth it…