Vietnam is not a small country. Traveling from south to north (or north to south, which is the more common route) is a JOURNEY and not for the faint of heart. Since the road from HCM to Hoi An was so long, Selma and I wisely opted to break up the trip, staying in two towns along the way, the first being Mui Ne and the second Nha Trang.
Here’s a little glimpse into what it’s like to travel by bus: When the bus arrives you are hustled on as they’re almost always running late. “Go go go! Sit sit sit!” The driver barks at you. They are notorious for being assholes. I’m sorry, but there’s no nice way to put it. Assholes are exactly what they are. After throwing your big pack into the storage space below, you climb onto the bus, put your shoes into a plastic bag and hurry towards your seat.
The best way I can describe the bus is a double-decked sleeper, but there’s just a small 2-3 rung ladder from each bottom lounge chair to the top one above it. There are three rows – two along the windows and one in the center. I’m roughly 5’6″ and can almost completely stretch out in the chairs (but not quite) and my hips fit comfortably in the seat. But for anyone much taller or wider than me, it is not an overly comfortable ride.
You usually stop once (maybe twice) for the bathroom which can range from a decent reststop with working toilets and food to purchase, to a back alley hole in the ground with no light that is meant to be shared among the entire bus. We stopped at the latter when it was raining and when a rat scampered directly in front of my feet I almost reached my breaking point. Luckily I didn’t have to go to the bathroom the time that the driver just pulled over to allow people to relieve themselves behind a small building – no toilet, no wall, no hole in the ground. Just a bunch of people stooping to animalistic levels because that was the only option.
Now, with that said, the bus ride itself is not really all that bad. When you’re riding at night it’s especially fine – you read or write for a bit, maybe look out the window, listen to music, then cozy up with the blanket they provide, contort your body into a comfortable position (they’re real, you just have to find what works for you) and get some shut eye. Three MUSTS for the ride though are 1. snacks (in case they don’t stop for meals, which happens), 2. music/headphones, and 3. an eye mask. These three things will get you through a lot.
After surviving our first bus ride, we arrived in Mui Ne, a very small, but nice beach town. In the morning we found a nice pool near the beach where we relaxed for a bit, and that afternoon we did a jeep tour around the area. The highlights were the white sand dunes and then sunset, which we spent in a fishing village, drinking beers, looking out over the bay and snapping selfies with a little cutie Vietnamese girl who couldn’t get enough of it. She was a doll.
That night I went out to dinner by myself and had some incredible seafood. Outside the restaurant was that day’s catch – I pointed to the fish and prawns I wanted, which they then barbecued in front of me on the street.
The next afternoon we bused to rainy, busy, depressing Nha Trang. I was glad to be getting off the bus for the evening and staying in a proper bed, but there was nothing remarkable about Nha Trang except for the amount of Russian tourists who had overrun the city, which I would alike to Fort Meyers Beach or Daytona Beach Florida. Fat, grumpy Russians push their way through the streets in groups and flopped their flabby bodies into the gray ocean. Everywhere you looked were Russian restaurants and drink deals for vodka. It was a bit odd actually with Russia being so far away, but I’m told their presence was due to old military ties between the two countries. But to me this sounds like saying, “Oh yes, of course there are Israelis all over Florida. We’ve been political allies for YEARS.” But whatever.
The next day followed suit with lots of rain, so Selma and I spent the day with a Welsh guy we’d met on the bus, playing pool, Connect Four and drinking beers. Not a bad little afternoon as it would turn out. That evening we were finally off to Hoi An and I couldn’t have been more excited to get to the good stuff… and it was about to get really good.