We all have those things in life that seem to cause us unnecessary rage, those moments, rules, people, or jobs that just seem to make us see red. It seems to have the ability to drive us beyond our breaking point and all you want to do is go Michael Douglas ‘Falling Down’ on everyone and everything around you. Destroying an entire city, bashing a convenience store, shooting up a fast food joint, blowing up a construction site, and killing a racist skin head. All because of a traffic jam that seemed to catch you at the wrong moment in life.
But there is no better feeling than knowing that something, that nearly drove you off the edge, is officially over. Giving you the rest of your life to put nothing but the distance of time between you and listening to Christina Aguilera destroy the national anthem, staying off the grass even if it means you have to walk ten minutes out of your way, Bill O’reilly, and burning shit in Iraq. Or in this particular case traveling by bus in third world countries.
This is a subject that has been overly expressed throughout our travels, but it still feels like we haven’t put enough emphasis on the actual level in which it blows ass. The blow ass level if you will.
You might ask, “What exactly is it that makes you hate bus travel in third world countries with such a passion?” or “Damn Bret, I wish you could construct a simple and easy to read list. That way I could better understand a summarized perspective of your distaste.”
Well I thought you would never ask!
Why Bus Rides Blow Ass In Third World Countries(The Official List That Indicates The Actual Level Of Blow Ass)
1) The bus companies ability to find the most incompetent and unsafe drivers possible.
2) The bus companies ability to find the most incompetent and unsafe drivers possible.
3) The bus companies ability to find the most incompetent and unsafe drivers possible.
4) The AC (Broken, blowing hot air, blowing foul-smelling air, blowing out dirt, directed away from you and can’t be moved).
5) The wet patch that smells like garbage and piss that is now on half of your bag that you were required to put under the bus.
6) The general lack of cleanliness.
7) The driver’s ability to choose the absolute worst place to stop for food.
8) The cramped conditions.
9) The bus companies ability to find the most incompetent and unsafe drivers possible.
*Please note: The preceding list excludes services provided by Cruz Del Sur in Peru (first class seats). Those buses fucking rock!*
But it’s now official! We don’t ever have to get on a bus in a third world country ever again!
Well. . . . . .except a four-hour bus ride to Ha Long Bay. . . . . . . and then back from Ha Long Bay, that’s another four hours. . . . . .but then we will be done forever!
To commemorate this monumental moment we have put together a collection of our readers top rated blog posts (most read) that contain our best bus ridding complaints:
First bus ride - Last over night bus - Laos over night.
We arrived in Hue mid afternoon and were pleasantly greeted by the staff at Jade Hotel with a cold towel and icy beverage. There isn’t a better contrast of love and hate then getting off a sweaty afternoon bus ride and cleansing your soiled mood with an icy cold, neatly rolled, wash cloth. We happily quenched our thirst with the freshly prepared juice and we were content with our decision to stay at the Jade Hotel.
This instant approval was quickly put into jeopardy when our gracious host changed hats and brought out the tour options book. Being up sold during the first five minutes you walk into the hotel does not set a good precedence for the remainder of your stay. We have had instances in the past where we literally had to dodge the manager for fear of being asked, “What you do today?”. An opening line in a conversation that leads to the various ways they can help you spend your money. With a nice chunk of commission for themselves factored into the price of course. A conversation they seem to be insistent on having every-fucking-time you walk by the front desk until the moment you check out. Regardless if you have already exhausted all of their available services or not booked a single trip. They seem to be on your ass right up to your ride to the airport, bus station, or down the street to find a different hostel that won’t harass you.
The only thing keeping our fake smiles on and our death eye stares refrained was the pleasant welcome, the plate of fruit they provided during the pitch, and the fact that this was an employee running through the formalities of her job. Not an over zealous owner blatantly trying to squeeze our wallets for every last dong we had. (That’s an interesting name for currency isn’t it? It doesn’t translate to English very well. “I have a pocket full of Dongs”, “Man, I would kill for some more Dong”, “The job didn’t offer enough Dong for me to take it”. . . and with that my twelve-year-old humor has exhausted itself, I apologize).
But the pitch from our host wasn’t a complete waste of time. It divulged the fact that a majority of Hue’s highlights are far from the hotel and even further from each other. We were left with four tour options:
1) Rent a scooter
2) Ride on the back of a scooter
3) Get a bus and do a tour group
4) Hire a private car
It wasn’t much of a debate about which options we should/would consider. Our past experiences have pretty much put us in lockstep on our desired mode of getting around.
1) We have rented plenty of scooters on our trip and in other countries this might be a cheap and fun option. But it only took a day of being in Vietnam to see that their driving style is as well-organized as a prison riot. It’s fairly comparable as well. That is, you might not be actively participating but you still run the risk of getting killed just being near the situation. Walking beside the street is risking your life enough for us.
2) Set aside the fact that you have to grab onto a strange Vietnamese man, sitting nut to butt. The same risks apply from the first option. Only now you’re not responsible for your own destiny and forfeit the outcome of your life to the lowest bidder.
3) While you gain the organization of a strict itinerary. It is quickly offset by being ushered too quickly or too slowly through the attractions, the side stops at shops to get ripped off, and the fact that it is now impossible to avoid the crowds, because you are the crowd.
4) $45 for three hours: Granted, that is 70% of our daily budget slashed away in just three hours. But if we want to see the attractions on our own terms, it is pretty much our only (safe and comfortable) option. Now all we have to do is decide if our desire to see the local sights is worth the hefty price tag.
We decided to spend the day walking through the Citadel. Leaving the decision about the tour for another day.
“The Citadel Complex of Hue, set up by Nguyen Dynasty from 1805 to 1945, is now one amongst the relics of the Hue ancient Capital. . . ” (continue reading here if you are interested)
There is a noticeable lack of Tuk-Tuks in Vietnam, but the hustle and hassle is replaced by the cyclo operators. A cyclo is a three-wheeled pedal bike with a seat in the front. From my observation they seem to attract the same caliber of characters as Tuk Tuk drivers in other parts of South East Asia (see Tuk Tuk Ten Commandments).
As soon as we walked through the gates of the Citadel we had a cyclo on our tail (Ghost Rider, we have an unknown aircraft. Vector 090 for bogey). Each time we stopped to take photos, check the map, or itch our ass, he was in our face. Asking if we wanted a ride, a tour, cheap tour one hour, where are we going, where are we from, lying about distances to encourage us to reconsider. We actually had to cross the road three times and double back by ducking behind traffic, giving us freedom from our stalker just moments before I reached the point of dismounting him from his bike and throwing him under a passing vehicle.
The days struggles went beyond the annoyances from the cyclo operators. The heat was at an all time high for our time in Vietnam. Reaching a sweltering 37 degrees celsius. For you Americans, that is roughly the same temperature as hell. The somewhat pleasurable and cool temperatures we had been experiencing thus far in Vietnam (overcast and rain) created an adverse reaction to this drastic change in climate. The fact is I looked like Weird Al singing the chores to Amish Paradise. Sweat was dripping off my face at such a rapid pace that I was forced to find an improvised solution.
With my $1 bathroom floor mat in hand, we continued on our journey.
After circling the Forbidden City (the main / only attraction inside the Citadel walls) for 20 minutes, we came to the realization that it was closed for lunch (several locals telling us and then we confirmed with several more locals while we were searching for the entrance). That meant we now had 90 minutes to kill until it reopened. Not exactly what I would consider electrifying information when the heat is draining you more than a Business, Government, and Society class. Fucking-yawn.
With no shelter to hide us from the sun and a belly full of lunch we just ate, we didn’t have many options to fill our time. We checked the map and noted a pagoda a couple of blocks away. Nothing of great significance, but we had to do something with our time.
Four hours after our initial start time we finally made it to the Forbidden City.
The full day of walking the city left us fairly exhausted and somewhat enthused about our accomplishment. The decision was made to wake up early the next day and walk the 5K (supposedly) to the closest and one of the more popular tombs.
Our thought process is as follows.
$45 will get you quite a bit of frosty adult beverages in a country like Vietnam. We run at least 8k on a regular basis and it doesn’t take us more than an hour. By my expertise calculations we can walk 3-4 miles an hour if we step it out. So we should be able to make it to the tomb in less than an hour and fifteen minutes, easy. We gain the benefit of exercise, we save money, we see if the whole tomb thing attracts enough of our attention to seek out the remainder of the tombs in the area. It really was a plan of genius, at least we thought.
The following day wasn’t quite as hot as the preceding day. It must have been about 36.9 degrees instead of the life sucking 37.
Great walking weather. . .
There were no sidewalks or the few sidewalks that were available were packed with scooters and trash. That meant it was three or four steps on the sidewalk, a glance behind us to ensure we weren’t drilled by a scooter, seven or eight steps on the road (continually checking over our shoulders for more scooters), then back on the sidewalk. This strenuous walking behavior slowed our pace down to a crawl. The constant horns, obstructed walking path, and unrelenting heat gave our walking campaign a moral level that was on par with a sick dog trapped in a puppy mill.
After an hour and a half of single file, traffic dodging, life risking, drag-ass walking, we made it to the halfway point. Unbeknownst to us, there was a (I am not sure what? We didn’t really care, just wanted a fucking break) a nice park area that had some significance we were unaware of. It was a welcoming break from the heat and almost gave us the energy to walk the additional 2.5 kilometers
We had set out on our adventure just after breakfast and it was now inching incredibly close to lunch time. Unfortunately the tomb was originally constructed by the emperor as a sanctuary away from his palace and home life. Basically a summer home. Surprisingly and disappointingly, this purposeful isolation hasn’t really dissipated over the years as you would assume with urban sprawl. As our stomach began to ach for sustenance, our frantic eyes made the realization that we were leaving the density of Hue city behind. It wasn’t until we reached the tomb itself, an hour later, that we were able to plop down at a restaurant and ease our pain.
In passing conversation as the waitress dropped off our menus she asked if we were on a tour or motor bikes. When we expressed to her that we walked, her jaw almost hit the floor. It was not a look of tremendous accomplishment she was giving us. It was a look of “you guys are fucking stupid!”, and yes, we had come to the same conclusion many, many, many, steps ago.
It only took us two and a half painful hours to walk the “5k” and we easily came to the unified conclusion that we would be catching a cab home. A cab that only cost a mere $5. The taxi home drove us the exact route we took to the tomb on our death march. Short on money, we had to stop the cab 10 blocks from our hotel. The metered showed 8.5K on the dashboard.