Our experience on the Vietnamese roads started in a bus. After a short trip with this means of transport, between the Halong bay and the Cat Ba island, our true first trip in a “night-bus” leaded us from Cat Ba island to the montainious area of Sa Pa. Kilometres of asphalt, curves and cols will last the 11 hours of journey to reach this city located nearby the Chinese border.
The sleeping-bus is an usual experience for the backpackers travelling in the South-Eastern part of Asia. The experience started in front of the bus. We even didn’t have the time to put our foot on the first step that the driver requested us to remove our shoes. He offered us slippers, if we wanted. To reach our bed, we went between the two alleys of the bus, guided by fluo neon lights. On the ground, there was a small mat made with a kind of red leather to amortise our steps. In each bed, there was a blanket.
It was 4pm when we sat down. Like the “bad guys”, we chose the back of the bus and had all the seats for us. But quickly, we were not feeling as the “kings” of the bus anymore. Indeed, a few minutes after we left, the bus stopped again. A Vietnamese passenger arrived and took the seat left between Marie and I.
A quick break around 8pm, the time to eat a noodle soup in a restaurant looking like the one in a highway rest area. The big building had a restaurant area and a shopping area with some snacks. At 3am, our bus arrived and parked on the bus station of Sa Pa. Some of the travelers went out of the bus. Some others, mainly tourists like us, stayed to get some rest. At 6am, the driver requested us to go out. It was time to find a place for breakfast.
We had a second “sleeping-bus” experience when we left Sa Pa. The departure for Hanoï was at 10pm, just behind the artificial lake of the city. This time, we chose the beds near the ground. There, the feeling of being in a box was even stronger. The bus was full, occupied mainly by backpackers but also some locals.
We arrived in the town-centre of Hanoï at 3:30am. Unlike our first sleeping bus trip, the driver didn’t let us in the bus to finish our night. We have been requested to leave the bus. We walked in the streets of the capitale, without knowing where to go, and we finally stopped in front of a Burger King. Some members of the team laid down to get some rest, and some other played cards. The night life of Hanoï stopped and the ones getting up early arrived. The partiers let the place to the employees and students. The street was animated by the street vendors.
The Vietnamese streets became busy again. On scooters, the drivers were like acrobats with a strong ability for anticipating. In spite of the hundreds scooters moving forward at each traffic light, the serious accidents are very rare. Their agility is their second main ability. This one was indeed revealed when we crossed by foot a little street market in the borough of the 36 Streets of Hanoï. Many times, we crossed the way of scooters but they managed to slalom between the stalls, without stopping at any time.
Inspired by this, we also chose to ride scooters. But the first metres didn’t went like we wanted. But the first meters didn’t go as expected. At the first junction, it was the accident (as a NDA has been signed, we won’t give the name of the pilot).
Luckily, nothing bad happened as the speed was very low. The result was only some bruises. The young Vietnamese pilot felt guilty even if it was not her fault. She apologised a few times before leaving. She was behaving with a great kindness even if it was our fault… After this bad start, we took the direction of the rice fields of Tam Coc in the middle of the terrestrial Halong Bay. But on the way back we have been unlucky again. 13km before the hotel, Julien’s scooter broke down. This mechanical issue didn’t let the machine start again. We left the scooter at the next service station, where the owner came to pick it up. We continued with 6 machines for 7 people. We took nice narrow paths in the middle of the rice fields.
During this travel with backpacks, the scooters were an excellent way to escape from the mass tourism and to discover a different Vietnam. We did it again on the island of Cat Ba, crossed by 20 kms of deserted and winding roads. The several turns between the mountains brought us to the pier of Tuan Chau, it offered a great view over the Halong Bay.
The last adventure with scooters, allowed us to enjoy the neighbourhood of Hoi An. From the water coconut tree reserve to the fine sand of the Chinese Sea. These were the final kilometres with the scooters on the Vietnamese lands, but also during our world trip. Because a few days later, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, we will met again our beloved 3-wheel machines. But that is another story!