Bus Transport Blues - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 17, 2016

Bus Transport Blues

Hai Binh to Hue

Dear little friends,

I was pretty chirked to have a nice clean bicycle. I think the bikes like it too, although we were holding off on cleaning and oiling the chains despite all the sandy puddles we had been riding through. After watching the weather forecast, looking at the map, and dabbling in some actual “planning” we had decided to forego riding and fast forward south to Hue. No advisable to put a newly-oiled chain on a bus.

We are not Ride Every Inch cycle tourists, I will reiterate that for us cycling is a condiment to our travel, not the whole hot dog. That being said, now that we see how rich it is to our experience, how it takes us where we would otherwise not go and places us more intimately into the world, we were feeling unenthusiastic about our upcoming bus segments.

The first thing we had to do was leave the quiet back roads and get back to AH1 where we would presumably flag down a bus for the first leg down to Vinh. We rolled through Hai Binh on our sparkling bikes, drawing the usual double-takes and commentary and shouted hellos. It was already hot and humid.

Leaving Hai Binh
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A heavy load
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Bruce, in the post before this one, had forgotten that we rode on AH1 in northeast Vietnam but we had been trying desperately to avoid it then also. It’s just not much fun even though there usually is a decent shoulder. And we will be on it again because in some sections of Vietnam it’s the only route that exists. But we could hear it before we saw it, and seeing it from a quiet rice area, the buses and trucks honking and passing each other like the Dakar Rally, fills one with dread.

We crossed it and stood on a corner on the southbound side. We had seen a young guy flag a bus for some people, maybe he would for us too. And sure enough, true to Vietnamese kindness, he did, after ascertaining that we had two small bikes and eight bags and that we wanted a large bus with a cargo hold. Unfortunately those are also often “sleeper” buses with permanently reclining seats bunk bed-style, so after he flagged one of those down and the bikes got tossed in as they do, with the motorcycle tires and styrofoam coolers of seafood, we came aboard, took off our sandals as required and stowed them in plastic bags, and crawled into the seats furthest in the back.

The bus steward came back and gave us blankets and extracted a pretty significant amount of money from us considering it was only about 40 miles. That’s how it goes on those buses, unless you buy your ticket at the station you get fleeced when they pick you up along the road, but of course we recognize that our cargo-bound assets are not small. Another reason to avoid buses.

It was freezing on that bus! There were tv screens constantly looping violent shoot-em-up movies with explosions and porn-style drumbeat soundtracks. So that wasn’t too cool. On the other hand, my reclining seat was rather comfy and I may even have napped. Bruce sat up on one elbow looking out the window and appearing to be insulted by having to ride on a bus. He also was in position to see them remove the bikes at least once in order to take out other people’s cargo, including a full set of wooden doors and windows and their framing.

From the bus window
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The usual scene at a bus station is chaos and touts but it’s pretty sweet to turn away the mototaxi guys and set up the bikes. The public toilet there was 2000 dong, about ten cents to use. Bruce reports that the Nam toilet was clean but I’m here to tell you that the Nu toilets were ghastly. All of them.

For some reason they had dropped us at the southern bus station and now we had to go back across town to the northern bus station to get a ticket to Hue. We would have to find that bus station, buy a ticket for the next day, and find a place to stay. We needed to refresh our maps and so that meant a coffee house with screamin’ fast Vietnamese wifi. The internet speeds here put Portland in the shade, will somebody explain that to me, please?

Outside the bus station we found one and the owner spoke pretty good English and she got our ca phe sua da going and I whipped out my iPad. Immediately we were joined at our small table by a group of regulars, one of whom was apparently the Life of the Party (and I don’t mean the Communist one) who peered over my shoulder, tried to fill in the password for me, and tried on my reading glasses. The Montanan in me wanted to clock this asshole. The traveler in me told the Montanan to stand down and laugh with him, and that worked well. Soon we had our route to the bus station worked out, glasses of delicious iced coffee placed sweating on our table, and many curious and friendly people pulling up chairs to listen to the owner talk with us.

Maps are wonderful things!
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She was very kind and implored us to stay and explore Vinh, to go many kilometers into the hot steamy countryside to see Ho Chi Minh’s birthplace. She was very emotional when she was saying this, or at least I thought she was until she mentioned that she had something in her eye that was causing it to tear up. That made me feel better because we had no intention of going to HCM’s birthplace but we refrained from telling her that anyway, in case it had been indeed a real tear.

Along with some other family members, the owner’s 80-year-old mother came out and smiled so sweetly at us we just melted. Often older people are rather arch with us here in Vietnam, they have had difficult lives and seeing outlandish foreigners doing ridiculous stunts like riding clown bikes with more stuff than they even own makes them either completely opaque or downright disapproving. But Mama smiled radiantly and said something to her daughter.

“She says she is so curious about you!”

I asked the owner if her mum had any questions for us. This led to us getting out family photos and they were passed around and commented on.

“Big family!” they said of the Brown Family Reunion photo of my fertile clan of at least 60 people and these are just my sibs and their offspring and grandkids.

Looking at a photo of Andrea's extended family
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Then it was on our merry way to the northern bus station, buying a ticket to Hue, walking across the street to a Nha Nghi, dumping our stuff, and searching out our first and only meal of the day.

Vinh had some cute little alleyways that reminded us of the sois of Chiang Mai. In one was a “Com Binh Danh” our favorite kind of place to eat in Vietnam. This was a good one with lots of pots of this and that. A young boy appeared and urged us in with near-perfect English. We told him we were going to walk a bit and then be back in an hour.

“Oh! So you want to go exploring in Vinh!”

Why yes, we did. But we couldn’t wait an hour because we were starving so we were back in half an hour, and the kid told us what was in each pot, helped serve us, sat at our table and talked with us, and it wasn’t until we were leaving that we discovered that the woman cooking there was not his mother but his best friend’s mother. Duy told us that he had a cousin in Europe and they spoke to each other by phone in English, that is why he spoke so clearly and with such a fantastic vocabulary. Soon a woman across the alley stopped by, she was his English teacher and commented that Duy spoke English very naturally. This was not the first time we had people entreat us to stay in Vietnam and teach English, by the way.

Duy speaks English and is a bright, engaging kid. And we had a great meal here.
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It’s not that I think that everybody in the world should speak English, far from it. I wish I spoke a hundred languages! But once again it appears to us that for much of the world English is the main tool of communication with others. We are all so curious about each other, so it was fun to ask Duy all sorts of things about Vietnam, including all the different personal pronouns used depending on your relationship to the person you are speaking with. This was purely informational, not that I could ever hope to use since I can barely remember the numbers from one to ten.

The next day I woke up with an itchy left hand. There was a tiny owie in the heel of the palm below the thumb. Spider bite? That was the suspicion but of course we have no idea. We had other things to think about, like getting to the bus station by 7 am. This time they tossed the bikes up on top which was not what we wanted at all but when you are dealing with bus people you hardly ever get what you want. We rode another recliner bus all day to Hue and it rained for most of it.

It wasn’t freezing, there was no violence porn or even tv screens, and we met nice people and cute kids. The bus even had wifi, which I still find amazing and futuristic and puzzling because there is no such thing in the states as far as I know.

Our main bus entertainment
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Lounging on a sleeper bus to Hue
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Once again I napped and lounged and Bruce looked out the window. He reported that he spotted a sign, amongst the million signs in Vietnam advertising food, that said “Obama Bun Cha”. We’re not making this up. Our president’s visit last May made an enormous impression and we have not met anybody yet who was not keenly aware of it and proud that he ate an otherwise obscure regional dish.

This little one was pretty intimidated by the big bus and burst into tears when she boarded. But she soon relaxed and took a nice nap.
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At one stop, a lady in protective garb fries up some crispy rice cakes.
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At last we were in Hue. We rescued the bikes from their bus roof hell. Bruce’s stem riser got twisted around and his bike computer wire snapped. And his Bike Friday head badge was literally scraped off. This is why we hate buses. We rolled into the Hanoi-style traffic, found a tiny cheapass Nha Nghi, and a place that served fruit shakes, our first of the trip. How odd it was to see Western tourists walking around. We tried not to stare at them. Imagine how we look to rural Vietnamese! If a parade of camels walked down our street in Portland I’d run to the porch and yell things too, that’s pretty much how incongruous and odd we look to them. Sadly, as far as I know no camels have so far but then I’m not always looking.

The weather was gray and humid. I was having a hard time with the humidity but we strolled out and took a gander at the riverfront and watched shoals of motorbikes cross a beautiful bridge and perform their traffic ballet at the intersection. Hue seemed like it would be an interesting place. My hand was still itching.

The steady stream of motorbike commuters in Hue
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Today's ride: 4 miles (6 km)
Total: 406 miles (653 km)

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