Somehow during my roughly 60 days in Thailand I managed to avoid any overnight buses, of course, I had my fair share of interesting train rides, but I escaped the bus. This all changed when I got to Vietnam, after my adventures in the South I decided it was time to head north. Thanks to the recommendation of Mr. Kim I altered my plans a bit and instead of the beach town of Mui Ne I booked my ticket for the central highlands city of Da Lat. The town is apparently popular with Vietnamese newlyweds, but the promise of greenery, mountains and some cooler temperatures peaked my attention.
Thanks to some blog reading and even a recommendation from Mr. Kim I decided to use FUTA Bus Company and having now ridden with them twice am grateful for that advice. I read about the buses a bit online but was still surprised when I boarded and saw the seats; it was set up in three rows of seat bunk beds. This was much different than any bus I’d been on before, A+ to Vietnam for creativity. I was on an upper bunk which was a bit of a challenge getting into but surprisingly comfortable once I was there. Having been on buses throughout Asia before I was correct in assuming there was no bathroom on board but we were given a small bottle of water upon boarding.
All in all this first ride was pretty uneventful, no crazy passengers, missing luggage, angry drivers or getting kicked off in the middle of nowhere. There were two other foreigners on board which was comforting when we arrived in Da Lat at 5:30am. We were all a bit half asleep and confused as to where we were, the bus boy kept saying “Da Lat? Okay, follow me, and then pointed to the bus” leaving us confused as if we should get off or stay on. Eventually, we got off and found our way to the mini vans, which would take us to our hostel if we had one booked. I for one had not, but I did have a few in mind so told the driver to drop me at the Newland Hostel. Being 6:00am the gates were closed and securely locked when I arrived, but I was lucky to not only have a working phone (local SIM cards are gold in SE Asia) but also that the owner answered. A few minutes later I was greeted with the warmest smile from Peace, the bubbly, welcoming, awesome owner. First bus adventure - success!
After a few days cooling off and relaxing in the mountain town I decided it was time to move on, and unless I wanted to fly, another overnight bus was my only option. This time the bus was scheduled to be a wonderful 14 hours versus the 7 of my last trip, but I tried to ignore that fact. Although there are no online reservation sales for FUTA I was pleasantly surprised with the ease of booking my tickets by phone, both in Saigon and Da Lat. A minibus picked me up from my hostel 30 minutes before our 3pm departure and after a elbows and pushing in the ticket line I was soon boarding my bus. Unlike the first ride, I was the only foreigner on board and of course drew lots of attention. I was stuck in the middle aisle with two smiling old men on either side of me, both of whom seemed extremely amused and/or intrigued by my presence. I was also lucky enough to have a TV screen smack dab in front of my face, which I was excited about for a few seconds until I remembered I was in Vietnam.
The bus left on time and soon after the Vietnamese tunes began, the best part being the cheesy music videos that accompanied them. Just as I was thinking I’d need a bathroom break we pulled over and people started piling off, great timing! The only catch was, there were no bathrooms in sight, just big fields of tall grass, pick your spot!
The next break was for dinner and although I had no idea what the bus guy was saying I got the gist of it. Just in case I didn’t though the man next to me looked at me with a big smile and said “Eat rice!” while making the spoon-to-mouth action, seriously love these old guys (Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam – all the same). I made the wise adult decision of eating bananas and ice cream for dinner, thus escaping the cafeteria room looking chaos and before long we were back on the bus.
My only near issue with the bus was arriving in the morning, once again bright and early. My actually destination was Hoi An which is approximately 45 minutes south of Da Nang (the buses final destination). I was prepared to ride the whole way and take a local bus back to Hoi An, but when I noticed others getting off along the way I decided to see if I could do the same. I communicated what I wanted to the bus guy but when it was time for me to get off we appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure I could have found a motto driver to take me away but I decided to play it safe and stuck to my seat until Da Nang.
After two successful journeys, I would definitely recommend FUTA bus lines, or overnight buses in general, to those traveling through Vietnam. There are definitely many different options: buses, trains, motorbikes or easy riders and ideally I’d say to try them all. Many people scoff at the idea of long bus rides, but really they’re not that bad and super cheap so if you have the time, why not? I got lucky with bathroom breaks, drivers, and other passengers so my rides were fairly enjoyable. I’m sure things could go wrong or you could sleep like shit, but isn’t there a saying for that….sleep when you’re dead.
I was warned that I'd either love it or hate it. For some Vietnam is a food and adventure paradise while others just can't seem to find their grove. With a turbulent history and remains of division between north and south, it's an interesting place to say the least.