I vividly remember how my first bus trip from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi was. It’s a road trip I’ll never forget. In 2016, I travelled from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi a few days before the Lunar New Year. 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 long bus trip. Maybe I just didn’t like one of the 3 bus drivers whom I thought was very rude and annoying. I called him Mr. A.
Whatever the reasons were, the only thing that matters now is I reached my destination. 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 do my first motorbike trip in Southeast Asia. Two of my friends, Leo and Vyna, were also with me. All of us went on the same flight.
Leo, Vyna, and I parted at the Tan Son Nhat International airport. Leo was going to join Vyna’s family for the Lunar New Year. After saying our goodbyes, I rushed to the local bus station to get my bus ticket to Hanoi. I was worried if all of the bus tickets had run out.
Fortunately, I managed to get one of the few tickets left at the bus station. Hooray! It wasn’t long until I finally went on the bus. Since it was the holiday season, the prices of the bus tickets had all become expensive. At least taking the bus was cheaper than taking the plane, or the train.
As I entered the bus, all eyes were on me. For the Vietnamese, I looked just like them. But they figured I wasn’t a local the minute I started talking. Everyone on the bus seemed friendly. One of them spoke to me in English. She was one of the few passengers who actually opened a conversation with me.
I got the front seat, which was just at the back of the bus driver’s seat. I didn’t like my seat, though. For someone small like me, the size of the seat was alright. Unfortunately, almost half of my space was occupied by Mr. A’s belongings.
I felt very 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 seemed to ignore me. I wasn’t surprised.
Instead of being assertive, I did nothing. I convinced myself to just deal with the problem. I asked myself, “How bad can it be?”
48 hours of bumpy, loud ride
I felt obnoxious as soon as the bus started to move. The traffic jam was massive and I could see many people trying to leave the city. It took an hour for us to leave the city. I looked around me and noticed most of the passengers had fallen asleep. I thought since it was going to be a really long ride, I might as well get some rest, too. But I wasn’t sleepy yet.
So I tried reading a book. I was hoping it would make me fall asleep later. But that didn’t work. And to be honest, I tend to get motion sickness when I read on the bus, or in the car. Not when I’m on the train, though.
There was a small TV on the bus. Instead of movies and dramas, we were watching karaoke videos of local music. An hour later, I finally went to sleep.
Next to me on the bus was an American guy whose name was Max. He slept on top of the bed next to mine. We talked and shared some good conversations together. I was reading ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. I let him read it, too.
It seemed like he liked it. Well, I hope so. My friend, Danny, gave it to me. He wanted me to read it because he said it was a good book. I was actually planning to leave it somewhere once I had read it. I was hoping that someone would find and read it, too.
At about 8pm, we stopped by a local restaurant for dinner. Food was provided for everyone, except for Max, as his ticket didn’t include any meals. But he still joined me at the dinner table.
Max is a vegetarian. Most of the food provided by the bus company were meat, or dishes 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 was going to be a lot of leftovers.
Nobody seemed to be bothered to finish the scrambled eggs. I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I told Max to help himself. Why not? 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 themselves when someone annoys them on the road, and to warn other drivers or bikers that they’re nearby. It’s usually the latter case.
I didn’t mind a bit of honking on the road. But honking all night was just too much for me. I bet the drivers honked more than a hundred time that night.
Perhaps the experience could’ve been better if I sat much further from the driver’s seat. If you’re curious to know what it was like, try spending almost 48 hours behind the driver’s seat, and let me know how you feel about it.
Okay, that’s a tricky one. The experience may vary, depending on the driver’s attitude. Not all drivers honk as much as those drivers did!
At least I still managed to get some sleep. Not for long, though. I was awoken by the crazy motion of the bus. Mr. A was driving like a drunkard. I was a little worried.
When it was finally time for him to sleep, the other driver took over his place. 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 take my space (when he placed his boxes on my seat), he also took more space from me so he could sleep. I wanted to sleep as much as he did, too.
My overall experience
I was glad that Max was on the bus to keep me company. I enjoyed his presence. Even if he wasn’t there, I don’t think I’d lose my sanity. Frankly speaking, the whole experience wasn’t painfully awful. It was alright, but 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 foreign travellers. They had probably taken the plane or the train. The trains were all fully occupied. The plane tickets were just off my budget.
Despite the bumpy journey, I was glad to have taken the bus. I made it to Hanoi safely. I was just a little upset about someone stealing my power bank. I really needed it to charge my mobile phone so I could call Alexandre, with whom I was going to travel.
What’s done is done. There was nothing much I could do about my stolen power bank. It’s no use crying over spilt milk.
A breezy morning in Hanoi
It was about 6am when I arrived in Hanoi. I was relieved that the journey was finally over. I hugged Max goodbye and exchanged emails with him. We still keep in touch.
His journey wasn’t really over. He was going to continue his journey for another 4-6 hours. I can’t remember where he was going. All I know is he was going to a place in Vietnam where he works as a rock climbing instructor.
After saying goodbye to Max, I walked to a nearby restaurant to eat. Thankfully, there was a power plug I could use to charge my mobile phone. I sat at the table, ordered myself a bowl of noodles, and waited for my phone to charge.
The weather was quite cold. I’m not a big fan of the cold weather, but I tried to deal with it. P.S. I haven’t seen snow yet. But I believe I will soon!
I tried calling Alexandre, but he didn’t answer my calls. I knew he was sleeping. It was still very early after all. So I waited until 7.30am. When he finally texted me back, I walked to the bus station to meet him.
I was happy and relieved to know that everything turned out well in the end. That was also the beginning of my motorbike trip in Southeast Asia.
I learned some valuable lessons from this trip. I should be more assertive next time. I shouldn’t let anybody (like Mr. A) push me around. I should also be more careful with my belongings in the future. I lose something during this trip, but that’s okay. We can’t always keep things forever, right?
Last but not least, I learned that if I maintain a calm and positive attitude in whatever circumstances, things may just turn out alright.