Sunday, March 14, 2010

Night(mare) bus to Nha Trang

We’d flown to Hoi An from Hanoi to avoid a long overnight train trip, and had initially thought we might fly to Nha Trang, our next destination further south.

However, this would mean getting back to Danang by taxi, then getting another taxi into Nha Trang. We decided to try a sleeper bus instead.

IMG_4005Well, it didn’t turn out to be quite as advertised: instead of the 2/1 arrangement we’d expected, it was three rows of bunks! There was room to squeeze down the aisle—barely—and the seats did not recline. Instead, each bunk was like a recliner chair with a caged area for feet providing the pillow support for the person in front.

When the bus pulled up to our hotel, Katharine asked the driver: “You do have a bathroom on board don’t you?” “Yes, yes!” He wasn’t terribly friendly and seemed to want to get moving.

Wrong question: she should have asked if the bathroom was functioning. In large letters that looked like they’d been there for quite some time: ‘Toilet not working’!

P3130032It went from bad to worse. The bunks were arranged three across, two up – and resembled coffins in width and length. But less than an hour into the 12 hour trip, a passing truck kicked up a stone. Bang! Glass was all over me and several people around me as the window exploded. The driver did stop, but after a cursory inspection—and letting more of the broken glass fall out onto the road—he hopped in and continued!

We were only on the bus to Nha Trang—a 12 hour ride—but several young women were on for a full 24 hours to Saigon. When I approached the driver to tell him that sitting in glass with an open window would not be acceptable, he just shrugged. “Ten minutes! Don’t worry!”

IMG_4015Half an hour later, we did stop, and a group of local people helped install a series of plastic panels with several rolls of packing tape as a makeshift window. Only at the urging of many passengers did they agree to take out the seat cushions and bang out the glass.

The temporary window held to Nha Trang, but it was the worst bus ride either of us have ever experienced.

P3140064Several people in Nha Trang shook their heads about it. Apparently this particular bus company—T.M. Cafe—is well-known for shabby equipment catering to backpackers—mostly young people—who seldom complain. We thought it was a shame, because many of them will end up having a very distorted view of Vietnam because of this quite atypical behaviour.

Sadly, the price was not substantially lower either: for a few dollars more, good buses with comfortable sleepers and decent shock absorbers can be had.

We have let our hotel know that their choice of bus operator was totally unacceptable—and have steered several other people away from T.M. Cafe.