And now, for an entirely new way to travel. We boarded the “sleeper bus” at 8:40 am for our seven hour trip to Da Lat in the central highlands of Vietnam. After the intensity of Saigon, I was desperate for somewhere less masochistic, and so we escaped to the mountains.
Shortly out of town, we crossed the mighty Mekong river as it widened into its famous delta that has made this land fertile and productive for millennia. The river starts somewhere in Tibet, and crosses through six countries to end up here, in the East Vietnam sea (also known to others as the South China Sea). The Mekong provides water, life, food and sustenance to millions of people along its path, and nowhere was more apparent than here.
The river was dotted with houseboats, home to fishermen who farm the waters for fish and vegetables that need the water to grow. The river is life to them, and if the puppet show in HCMC didn’t tell that story, then the hundreds of homes built on its banks certainly did. The river is more than a body of water to them…it is a way of life.
The sleeper bus was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The seats were situated in three columns down the bus, stacked two high, and reclined to almost flat, with a foot well to stretch your feet into — that is, if you’re Asian.
At 5’4”, I just fit in the seat, but Mark, at 6’ tall was a bit cramped. There was no way to sit straight up, so careening down the road like an out of control rocket, feet first through flat rice fields and around high mountain passes and over endless pot holes was the only way to go. I don’t speak Vietnamese, but I’m pretty sure the driver told us to hold on for dear life, my unsuspecting passengers, this is going to be bumpy.
Travelling in Vietnam
The road was packed with anything on wheels – children on bicycles, trucks laden down with the rice harvest, local buses, tourist buses, farm machinery, and of course motorbikes. Trillions of motorbikes. He who honks the loudest in Vietnam gets the right of way, and our bus had one hell of a horn. If you have a horn, you don’t need brakes, and we lived, and nearly died, by that rule. Thank god we had a properly loud and obnoxious horn, and our driver wasn’t afraid to use it. So much for sleeping on the sleeper bus!
The internet was full of nasty reviews about all of the bus companies, but I don’t really understand the problem. No, it’s not going to be a luxurious ride at £7 for a 7 hour trip, and no, you really can’t expect them to speak your language or cuddle with your luggage when you stop.
What they did provide was an exceptionally clean transport – so clean in fact, that we were required to remove our shoes upon boarding, and place them in a little bag that was provided. At rest stops, a basket of thongs was set just outside the bus, so you didn’t have to put your street shoes back on, and cold towels, a snack and water were handed out at the start of the trip.
We were the only tourists on that bus, and apart from the leg room, I’d say we got more than what we paid for!
But eventually, we did arrive in Da Lat, much to our own delight. The air was fresh and cool, free of pollution, and importantly, there were about 2% of the amount of Motorbikes clogging the roads as in Saigon.