Another sleeper bus experience

Trip Start Dec 18, 2011
Trip End Feb 29, 2012

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Overnight sleeper bus travel in Vietnam can be an economical way to cover long distances. Because Hoi An and Hanoi are far apart, we opted for a sleeper bus operated by Camel Tours to cover the distance at a fraction of the cost of an airline flight ($25 vs about $165). You usually get what you pay for.

I had taken a sleeper bus operated by Sinh Café travel agency to get from Saigon to Hoi An when I was in Vietnam three years ago. I hadn't heard of Camel Tours and was inclined against them for that reason. But the hotel travel desk used Camel, so that’s what we booked.

I would strongly recommend Sinh Café.

The first leg of our trip – from Hoi An to Hue – was on a packed normal bus (no reclining seats) that took a couple of hours. The scenery along the way was lovely…rice fields right up against the sea, forested mountains, fishing villages and the longest tunnel I’ve ever traveled through (Hai Van).

Finally in Hue, our normal bus reconnoitered with a sleek, modern sleeper bus that was already nearly full. Nancy and I commandeered a triple berth in the back, lower (the bunks are all double-decker). We were next to the toilet, which is a convenience for those of us who have aging plumbing. But we were soon joined by a guy I came to call Stinky Feet Guy, who took the space beside me despite my warning that I get up frequently during the night to visit the loo.

We were also joined by a number of people who had no choice but to inhabit the aisles, blocking the normal path to the john. That meant I had to crawl over Stinky Feet Guy several times during the night in a very confined space.

Oh, yes…and the toilet compartment was none too clean, with questionable water sloshing about on the floor that soaked two pair of socks I had brought onboard for the journey.

Nonetheless, I managed to get quite a bit of sleep, stretched out fully with my hat over my face to block the headlights of oncoming vehicles and the odor of my new close friend.

We rolled into chilly, rainy Hanoi about 7 a.m., I plucked our packs from the luggage compartment without dropping them into the mud puddle the bus parked beside, and we made it to our pre-booked hotel (Royal Orchid, 95 Hang Chieu street), which kindly hurriedly cleaned up a room for us even though we arrived well before the noon check-in time. After a shower, I went out to explore the Old Quarter and was soon invited to join a bunch of local guys at a tiny plastic table on a tiny plastic stool for a bia hoi (fresh beer, about 30 cents a glass, brought foaming to the table by a hurried woman owner). This particular sidewalk brew pub was inhabited solely by guys, who got quite a kick out of this aging Western guy joining them. And it was good beer and "conversation."

With such a great first experience in Hanoi, I went back to the room to fetch Nancy. For lunch, we found a great restaurant (New Day, 72 Ma May street) that was packed with Vietnamese and Westerners and had amazingly helpful, friendly wait staff. The bun (cold noodles with meat and fresh herbs) was excellent as a first real meal in about 24 hours.

On the way back to the room, we stopped at a sidewalk beer place with almost entirely young Western backpackers for a Bia Ha Noi bottled beer and bargained a pair of flip-flops from a woman pushcart footwear vendor.
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