I arrived in the Chinese town of Nanning exceptionally early in the morning and looked about for transport to the border. I honestly can’t remember how I got there, but I did and was one of the first people that day to cross into Vietnam. I’ve got to say: nice border post: it seems to double as a national park. After being stamped out of China and being stamped into my ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THIRD country (WOO!) I took a free ride on one of the large electric golf buggies that take you to the nearby minibus park.
I arrived just after nine and was gutted to be told that the next minibus for Hanoi wasn’t going to leave for another hour. That was until I saw that the nine o’clock minibus hadn’t made it out of the bus park yet. Arms flailing and bags akimbo, I whistled the minibus which ignored me and was just about to make off down the highway before my banging on the back window slowed it down long enough for me to clamber aboard.
‘Hanoi?’ I asked, gasping for breath.
‘Hanoi!’ said the driver and welcomed me on board.
The minibus arrived in Vietnam’s capital city around one in the afternoon and it wasn’t long before I was at the southern bus station looking for a coach to Saigon (now called Ho Chi Min City, but not by the people who live there. Or me.). There was one leaving at 3 o’clock that went direct and would take 48 hours to get there. Another two nights on buses: that would be five in a row.
It seemed simpler than changing in Danang, so I went for it. It was only when I got on board did I see the error of my ways. Mollycuddled by the splendour of Chinese buses, I had forgotten just how back other countries (like the USA) treated their coach-going public. There was cargo everywhere: in fact the back seats had been removed to make way for more cargo and there were people making beds on the cargo. All the overhead shelves where full of cargo, as was the cargo hold and even the spaces under the seats were jam packed with cargo. The passengers seemed a minor concern. The reels of electrical cable on the floor at my feet meant that my knees where up by my chest, but that’s okay, because the seat in front of me was so damn close I couldn’t have sat with my knees out straight anyway.
In a fit of bugger it, I bought the seat next to me, but before we got going a bus pulled up alongside: it was a bed-bus, the kind you get in China. Within seconds I was off my bus and asking them were this luxury liner was going.
Danang. Halfway to Saigon. That would do.
I charged back into the ticket terminal and demanded my money back, using the (fair) point that I wasn’t cargo, I was a human being. I’d be prepared to put up with these kind of shenanigans in Africa were there was no other choice, but to sit and try to sleep scrunched up for two nights in a row when I could be laying horizontal on a bed of swan’s feathers FOR THE SAME PRICE would be nothing short of insanity.
They were a little reluctant to give me my money, but I was in no mood to play that game, so I did what I always do in these situations, whipped out my phone and started dialling the tourist police. Works a treat 😉
With my refund in hand, I jumped on the bed-bus to Denang. What’s more, this bed-bus had fully adjustable beds, so unlike the Chinese ones, you could put the back completely upright! Oh happy day! Even better, it left before my original bus, and if all went to plan, I’d get into Saigon six hours earlier, even though I’d have to change buses in Danang. RESULT!
As we departed, I saw that it was Hanoi city’s 1000th birthday this year. Happy birthday Hanoi! I have wonderful warm memories of this place from when I was last here, it’s a cracking town: billions of scooters buzzing around like benign hornets, a beautiful central lake, sensational food and lovely people. I pressed my hand against the window. Sorry I can’t stay Hanoi, I’ve got a promise to keep with an old friend.
Wednesday’s blog can happily be tagged on the end of this one. What happened? Well I got off the bus in the morning in the city of Danang, had breakfast down by the river and then returned to the bus station to take the FIFTH overnighter in a row to Saigon. I looked out of the window and watched Vietnam go flying by in the pouring rain.
Brief and to the point, I don’t think it warrants its own entry, do you?