I walked into the first tour company outside my hotel. I didn’t know what I wanted. I had plenty of money. I had only been in the country for a few days. I didn’t do my research yet. I was leaving in two days. I was just the customer they desire–no objections, slight sense of urgency, gullible and willing. My agent was a young man who had a nice face and he told me about the open plan bus schedule. I would get several stops along the way from Hanoi to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City), and stay in each place as long as I wanted. It cost 50 US$. It sounded great. Then I got to Internet searching and found terrible reviews all over about this tour company and any tour company for that matter. I got real nervous, thought about eating the ticket and just waiting for tomorrow to take the train. I walked around aimlessly, ate pho, drank a few mango juices, bought a beautiful sandwich from Joma (don’t miss this place if you’re craving a decent sandwich, evidently they are all over the big cities of Vietnam), got some chocolate, stretched and waited for the bus with severe apprehension about both making it in one piece and possible leg cramps. The transit bus packed 17 people and luggage into a minivan built for 12. It was crazy; and then another guy hopped in the front seat. We were dropped off at a street corner and waited. Nobody else seemed nervous. Two German speaking girls assured me it would be fine.
The giant bus arrived lit up in day-glo colors, clean and new. I got a great first impression. I jumped in front of the nice Israeli guy I was chatting to because, I wanted first choice of seats. I protested with the driver’s request to go to the back and picked the first row, window, upper bunk. There were three rows, each with two bunks. There was also a functioning toilet, but with shoes not allowed and an increasingly wet floor (as men and bumpy buses don’t equal good aim), this was an unfavorable combination. It wasn’t as comfortable as a bed, but I was prepared with kindle, Ipod, clothing layers, sandwich and small pillow. The bus hit minor bumps along the way, made cargo pit stops, honked occasionally, but we arrived on time and safe. There were three drivers who took turns driving (and sometimes while moving). They were reasonably polite and careful with baggage. They talked and texted endlessly. I slept a few restless hours, similar to airplane travel, where you wake up from a crazy nap dream to see that only seven minutes have elapsed. I finished a book, delighted in my choice of road snacks and arrived fairly happy and relaxed.
I have two more night trains left, so we will see if they measure up to this one.
Camel Travel Tours–Hanoi to Hue to Hoi An to Nha Trang to Da Lat or Mui Ne and finally to HCMC.