It was time to head to our first volunteering project. We booked a sleeper bus from ‘Bến xe Mỹ Đình’ bus station, in Hanoi. It is half the price to buy from the bus station than from any travel agent. We paid 200,000VDN (about £7) one way.
The bus station is slightly out of town, but the public bus there is just 7,000VND (25p) … you can probably get a ticket on the day but we went to get our bus ticket the previous day to ensure we got a seat, or what turned out to be just a bed. Even though there are only 50 seats on the bus, there can be up to 100 people travelling, 2-3 people to a seat/bed and then people just piled up in the aisles.
In the morning we arrived at 11am for a 11:20am departure, we boarded the bus and were given a plastic bag for our shoes. The bus liaison ushered us to the very back of the bus where there were 5 beds in a row, not divided by anything. Essentially you are sharing a big bed with complete strangers. This was news to us, and probably one of the most intimate travel experiences I have ever had. We left at around 11:45am.
If you like the sound of horns then this is the bus journey for you. Our driver loved his horn with all his might, and I think there was more horn than not. He swerved and sped and skidded and stopped, just briefly enough for passengers to get on or off. The people in the aisles kept piling up and the bus kept roaring around the spiralling mountain roads. Was I scared? No but a little anxious! The usher was in charge of yelling and directing, ‘HELLO!” “Off!” “You!” “No!” were the only words I could understand. If you need to get off before the main stop, you just tell the driver and they will stop where ever you have requested. We stopped 21KM from Ha Giang, having all of about 2 minutes to grab our stuff and bags underneath before the bus roared off. First time for everything!
Our volunteer host informed us that it was a “7 hour journey, so stock up on snacks”. We had uploaded a few movies onto our laptop and bought snacks, a lot of snacks: Xoi Xeo, salted mango and other rice parcels, content unknown. 2.5hrs into our journey we stopped and got ushered off the bus where there was a huge Auschwitz style pile of communal flip flops for us to wear, (we opted for our own), at a place serving lunch. While Rick got the Pho, I got a variety tray; Mountain greens, rice and then the weirdest selection of meat and fish. There was pork ribs, sardines or mackerel (could not tell), chicken, more pork, more chicken, some other fish. I had to leave half of it. Word of advice, if you are hungry, order Pho. Our meals came to 70,000VDN for both. We then bought some interesting looking green chewy things that we had spotted someone eating.
After a long incomprehensible Google translate chat with the 21 year old boy lying next to me, 2 movies and copious snacks we arrived at Vi Xuyen.