On the Road: Surviving a 2-Day Bus Trip in Vietnam

I remember vividly how my first 2-day bus trip in Vietnam was. It was indeed unforgettable. I travelled from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi just a few days before Lunar New Year 2016. The journey was painfully long. Although it didn’t feel like it took forever, the experience wasn’t very pleasant to say the least.

Maybe I wasn’t used to it since it was my first time taking a very long bus trip. Maybe I just didn’t like one of the 3 bus drivers whom I thought were very rude and annoying. Let’s call him Mr. A. 

Whatever the reasons were, the only thing that matters now is I’ve survived the challenging journey. Here’s my story.

From Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi

I booked a last-minute flight ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh in February 2016. I was planning to go to Hanoi to start my first motorbike trip in Southeast Asia. Two of my friends, Leo and Vyna, were also with me. All of us took the same flight.

Travellers at KLIA

Leo, Vyna, and I parted after we’ve arrived in Ho Chi Minh. Leo was going to spend the Lunar New Year with Vyna’s family. As for me, I was rushing to the bus station to get my bus ticket to Hanoi. At that time I was worried if all of the bus tickets have run out.

Fortunately, I managed to get one of the few tickets left at the bus station. Hooray! I didn’t need to wait very long to get on the bus. Since it was the holiday season, the price of the bus tickets were all quite expensive. Mine was expensive, too. But at least taking the bus was cheaper than taking the plane or the train.

Bus ticket in Vietnam

As I entered the bus, all eyes were on me. For the Vietnamese, I looked just like them. But they knew I was a foreigner the minute I started talking. The local passengers were very friendly. One of them talked to me. She was one of the few passengers who were able to communicate with me.

I got the front seat, which was just behind the bus driver’s seat. I didn’t like my seat, though. The size was just okay for me (since I’m physically petite), but almost half of my seat’s space was taken by Mr. A’s belongings. I was so annoyed. I wanted to tell him to remove his things, but I didn’t know how to tell him. I tried giving him hints that I wasn’t comfortable with the situation, but he ignored me. Why wasn’t I surprised? 

I could’ve been more assertive, but I didn’t. Instead, I thought to myself “Why don’t I just try to deal with the problem. How bad can it be, right?”

48 hours of bumpy and noise ride

I was already feeling obnoxious when the bus started to move. The traffic jam was massive and everyone on the road was trying to get out of Ho Chi Minh. It took us an hour to get out from the city. Some of the passengers were slowly falling asleep. I supposed they knew it was going to be a really long ride.

I tried entertaining myself by reading a book, but it didn’t work. That’s because I tend to get motion sickness when I read on the bus, or in the car. But when I’m on the train, I don’t usually have motion sickness. 

There was a small TV for everyone to watch on the bus. We weren’t watching movies or dramas, though. Instead, we were watching a collection of local music videos in the form of karaoke. At about 5pm, I’ve decided to close my eyes and take a rest.

Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi

Oh, there was an American guy on the bus, too. His name was Max. He sat on the top bed next to mine. We introduced ourselves and even shared some good conversations together. Later, I let him read my book. I was actually reading a book by Eckhart Tolle, called ‘The Power of Now’.

Max seemed to like it. Well, I hope so. My friend, Danny, gave it to me. He said it was a good book. I was actually planning to leave that book somewhere after I was done reading it — perhaps in Vietnam. I was hoping that someone will find and read it, too!

At about 8pm, we stopped by a local restaurant to eat. Food was provided for everyone, except for Max as his bus ticket was not inclusive of meal. But he also sat with me at the table. Max is a vegetarian. Most of the food that we were eating that night were meat, or cooked with meat. I offered him some eggs and rice. After all, the food portion was too big for everyone. It just seemed like there will be a lot of leftovers and these food were going to get wasted, especially the eggs. So why waste them, right? When the bus driver saw him at the table, he got a little upset. 

At the dinner, the other passengers tried to talk to us. Despite the language barriers, they were still very friendly to us. Most of the time, we used our body language to express ourselves. 

After dinner, there was nothing much to do. Sleeping was everyone’s best option. The lights were also switched off. I tried to sleep, but the sound of the honks kept me awake. In Vietnam, people use their honks for two reasons: to express their anger when someone violates the law on the road and to warn other drivers/bikers that they’re nearby. Usually, it’s the latter case.

Bus to Hanoi

I didn’t mind the honking. The problem was the drivers (especially Mr.A), kept honking all night. I can bet that they’ve probably honked more than a thousand times in just one night! Perhaps the experience wasn’t going to be as bad as I am describing it now if I had sat much further from the driver’s seat.  If you’re curious to know what it was like for me, try spending 48 hours behind the driver’s seat and let me know how you feel later.

Oh, that’s a tricky one. The experience may vary, depending on the driver’s attitude. Not all drivers honk as much as these drivers did!

Well, at least I still managed to get some sleep. Not for long, though. I was awoken by the crazy motion of the bus. The annoying Mr. A was driving like a drunkard. It was quite a scary ride. When it was finally time for him to have some sleep, the other driver took over his position. Mr.A pushed my button even harder when he made himself comfortable in between my bed and the bed next to mine. Not only did Mr.A try taking my space (when he placed his boxes on my seat), he’s now trying to take more space from me so he can sleep. I wanted to sleep so badly, too.

How Max made my journey less depressing

My bus trip could’ve been worse, but Max made it a little less depressing. He made my boring journey unboring! Even if he wasn’t there, I’m sure that I won’t lose my sanity. It wasn’t that bad. It was just not that pleasant.

Could that be the reason why most travellers didn’t want to take the bus? When I was at the bus station, I didn’t see any foreigners. They have probably taken the plane or the train. There weren’t any train tickets left that time as they were all fully occupied.

Despite the bumpy ride, Max seemed very relaxed. Unlike me, I wasn’t relaxed when I discovered that someone stole my power bank. My phone battery was running low and I needed to charge my phone so I can call Alexandre, with whom I was going to travel.

What’s done was done. There was nothing much I could do about my stolen power bank, anyway. There was no need for me to cry over spilt milk. After sometime, I’ve moved on.

A breezy morning in Hanoi

It was about 6am when I arrived in Hanoi. I was so relieved because the journey was finally over. I hugged Max goodbye and exchanged emails with him. Till this day, we still talk and ask each other how we’re both doing. He’s a rock climbing instructor in Vietnam.

His journey wasn’t really over. He was going continue his journey for another 4-6 hours. 

Road to Hanoi

After saying goodbye to Max, I walked to a nearby restaurant to eat. Thankfully, there was a power plug available for me to use at the restaurant. I was so happy. Then I ordered myself a bowl of noodles so I could eat while I wait for my phone to charge. The weather at the time was really cold. Honestly, I wasn’t used to it. In fact, that was the first time I’ve ever been in that kind of weather. P.S. I haven’t seen snow yet. But I believe it’ll happen soon!

I tried calling Alexandre many times, but he didn’t answer my calls. I knew he was sleeping. It was still very early after all. So I waited until it was 7.30am. When he finally texted me back, I walked to another side of the bus station where he could pick me up.

Phew! I was happy and relieved to know that everything has turned out well in the end. That was also the beginning of my motorbike trip in Southeast Asia.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons during this trip. It may not be the best bus trip I’ve had, but it will not be the worst I’ll ever experience in my life. I’m pretty sure of that. Yes, I’ve lost something during this trip, but it’s okay. We can’t always keep things forever, right? My misfortune was also caused by my own carelessness.

Last but not least, I’ve learned that if I maintain a calm and positive attitude in whatever circumstances, things will eventually turn out alright.


Have you also been on a long bus ride in Vietnam? Feel free to share your stories, too!

Liszt The Walking Writer
Liszt is always thirsty for new adventures. Apart from music, she’s also passionate about travel, art and entrepreneurship.