Thursday, October 25, 2007

Overnight Cruise; Rough Bus Ride

Cheap Cruise: $60

In Hanoi I took at 2-day, 1-night boat cruise.

Here's what I got:
- transportation to and from my hotel to cruise boat
- 1.5 days cruise to view national landmark called Ha Long bay, which is dotted with island cliffs.
- 1 breakfast, 2 lunches, 1 dinner (food was great. drinks were a rip off)
- nice room with bathroom (but had a roomate, so not much sleep)
- 2-hour cave tour with guide
- 1-hour kayaking

Next day, I left Hanoi to head down the coast. For $25, I bought a bus ticket that went all the way down to Saigon (a 40-hour drive, 930 miles on rough roads. In college, friends and I drove from Vermont to Fort Lauderdale in 27 hours.) My guide books warned that this ride was a little rough.

The bus allows you to get off and on again at 5 stops on the way to Saigon. The first leg of the bus ride was a 18-hours. Once again, I failed to ask enough questions about the bus ride, such as:
- why the was it so cheap? (if you're concerned enough to ask, take the train or fly)
- did the bus have a bathroom? (no)
- when was the last time the shock absorbers were changed? (what shock absorbers?)
- what is the Vietnamese word for giant, concussion-inducing pothole? (there probably isn't one)
- did it have sleeper seats (hah! There are buses with beds but they cost considerably more)
- is there a legal limit on how many Red Bull energy drinks the bus driver can consume while driving? (probably not)

So, I got on the bus at 6:30 pm. It was due to arrive at 12:30 pm the next day in a beach side town called Hoi An.

The Drive

Several things make highway driving in Vietnam particularly interesting:
- mopeds are allowed on highways, so there is endless honking.
- the highway we took had two-lanes (one going one way, the other lane going the opposite direction. To pass you have to dart out into oncoming traffic. This is most fun on blind turns)
- tailgating is the norm and usually means you're within 5 feet of vehicle in front of you. It's actually more like drafting, a move bike riders use to ride in the air wake of the rider in front of them.

The bus personnel:
- Once we were on the highway, our tour guide pulled out a small hammock, strung it to the armrests of four seats and promptly went to sleep. At least someone got some sleep.
- the driver was probably 4 Red Bulls over the legal limit and weaved in out of traffic, bashed through pot holes rattling the bus to the point where the little buttons above our seats for air and lights fell out. I felt like a viction of shaken baby syndrome.

The rest stop:
After about 2 hours we pulled in for a bathroom break. The urinal was a 50-foot long concrete trough. It was a completely in the open. Using it was almost like getting caught pissing on a wall only you were with 20 other people. In other words, passers-by could see just about everything including the post-piss shake. The urinal was also about 20 feet from the kitchen. The woman cleaning dishes could see us all pissing into the trough and then zipping up. (At least she was attractive.) Also, your shoes were all covered in urine when you left. (I have extra long shoe laces that alo got wet.) When we got back on the bus we were all on an amonia high from the smell of the urinal.

Sleeping on the Bus

I didn't sleep at all on the bus, but some of those around me did. The trick is finding a comfortable position. Luckily most of us had double seats to ourselves.

How to position yourself for sleep:
- get the back row of the bus (ours didn't have a bathroom, so the back row had 5 seats across -- anyone lucky enough to claim those seats could recline completely back there.
- lie down on the aisle floor. (this became less attractive after we tracked in urine from the rest stop.)
- stretch across so your legs go onto the seat of person across the aisle. Hope they don't get angry.
- put your head on seat closest to the aisle, your butt on seat near windows, and rest your legs against the window.

The Morning After

I felt fine, but a lot of the women had developed angry zits on their cheeks and chins, probably from resting against dirty bus upolstery. (I guess that's one benefit of having skin that's over 22 years old -- no more pimples.)