Sunday 4 November 2018: Goodbye Hanoi (for now) – catching the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang

Hola everyone!!

It’s been a while since I posted something…

If I had to tell you the truth…it’s because I’ve been too busy enjoying myself and living in the moment in Brazil (I’m in serious love with this country). It’s only now that I’ve had a minute to actually do a little bit of work (it’s been over a month – WOW!) But despite how much I’m enjoying my time…I feel guilty for not writing and being consistent. It’s about time I shared another story with you (thank you all for your patience!).

Side rant: I’m definitely learning that writing a travel blog is extremely challenging because I’m constantly trying to balance between seizing the day without being glued to my phone and taking precious time out of my day to write a blog, make it all pretty and publish it. I have this serious problem of starting a blog and not finishing it. The more I do…the more I have to write, and the more unfinished blogs I end up having. The worst part is ~ the longer I leave them, the harder it is for me to build the motivation to write because it becomes increasingly more and more difficult to remember what I’ve done and what I wanted to talk about. What’s worse is that I’ve had this strange obsession with trying to post things in chronological order…but it’s SO counterproductive and just doesn’t help my situation.

The reality is that some blogs are much shorter than others…so why not post them first when they’re done?

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I am going to let go of the need to write things in chronological order (be prepared to see blogs from all sorts of different dates)!

That’s why the blog you’re about to read is from a random date ~ I wrote this entry months before and it was virtually completed but I never took the time to post it…

It’s a random entry I wrote about riding a bus in Vietnam in November last year to go far North in Vietnam to do a motorbike loop I was dying to do. It was nothing extraordinary…but I definitely faced a few challenges. I hope you enjoy! 

 

Sunday 4 November 2018: Goodbye Hanoi (for now) – catching the bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang

After having a relaxing time in pristine waters among thousands of limestone rocks and relaxing on a private island, coming back to Hanoi almost defeated me last night.

I had a nice 5 hour bus ride back meeting a really nice Vietnamese gentleman named ‘Boss’. He worked at a hostel in Cat Ba and also grew up there.

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Me and Boss

As soon as I hopped off the bus back into the hectic city of Hanoi, nothing had changed from what I remembered ~ there were people and traffic everywhere. It was still as overwhelming as the first time I stepped into the city. After partying for 3 days and coming back from on a reasonably long bus ride…I really wasn’t in the mood for the crazy. To top things off…my phone data stopped working all of a sudden. I had no idea what why.

When I got back to the hostel, I knew I had to sort out a lot of important things. I had to look into the visa extension process, book the next bus to Ha Giang, look for an underwater case for my phone, sort out the data on my phone and find a bikini bottom because I left mine on the island (it’s not what you think I promise)! It was a pretty large task considering I arrived at around 8 at night and didn’t have much time.

But the priority was to book that bus ticket and sort out my sim card.

I asked one of the beautiful staff (Rosie) at GA Hostel to help me investigate my sim card first.

She grabbed my phone, entered some numbers and told me that I needed to recharge my phone credit. I didn’t understand because I only bought my sim card 10 days before and I paid for 30 days data! I was fuming by this point because it was nonsensical that I paid for 30 days and didn’t get them – did I get scammed!?

Tip #1 The Viettel V90 sim card gives you 2GB per day and should cost 90-110k but its incredibly difficult to find the sim card in Hanoi after dinner time. It’s better to organise the card during the day when the official Viettel shops are open.

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Best sim card for Vietnam

Ok…so it seemed like I had to buy a new sim card.

Great!

I quickly contacted my friend while I still could use the hostel’s Wifi to ask her about the sim – she’d been living in Hanoi for about 6 months and instructed me to get the Viettel V90 sim card.

I quickly ran out onto the street looking for the closest vendors which were selling sim cards – there was a little one right across the road. When I asked them how much the sim card was – they asked me for 250,000 dong. I wasn’t 100% sure if it seemed right. It was even more expensive than the original price I paid. Strangely, they let me test the sim card – I didn’t really need to test it but I used it to message my friend to see if the price was OK.

Friend: “It should be 90k. Go somewhere else”

I demanded the vendor to drop the price but they firmly refused my demands…insisting it was a good deal. I wasn’t 100% convinced but I was a little bit desperate.

I decided to try my luck at other places…running into every place I could find that could possibly sell a sim card. I ran into every hostel and convenient store. But nobody had the Viettel V90 sim.

Fun fact: hotels sell random things like sim cards in Vietnam

I was so so close to caving in and paying the premium price of 250k but time was ticking…I had to give up on my sim card hunt and sort out my bus ticket to Ha Giang if I wanted to get there the next day (I was desperate to get there ASAP because I agreed to meet a friend there and was starting a Workaway in Da Lat in about 4 days).

Tip #2 get your head around the bus booking system in advance. Booking buses in Vietnam is a little complicated and confusing.

I ran back to the hostel and begged Rosie to help me. I must say I’m SO glad she was there because trying to sort out that bus ticket certainly gave me the biggest headache ~ Rosie advised me to book a bus with any company at the bus stop but for some stupid reason, I didn’t take her advice and chose to book with “the most reputable bus company” for the 8 hour bus journey (somehow I think it’s because I was scarred from my first horror bus ride in Vietnam).

When I found the best time which suited me on the website, I apparently had the option to make the booking online but when I actually tried to complete the booking, the website wouldn’t let me. I was so confused…I had absolutely no idea how to do make this darn booking. Nothing was clear (thanks confusing Vietnamese bus company websites). I didn’t understand why the website had a “make the booking” button which didn’t do anything when I clicked on it. I sat in the common room of the hostel for about 30-40 minutes on this website trying to make it happen but it just didn’t want to work!

I had no choice but to ask Rosie to help me again for the millionth time. I was very lucky that Rosie was such a helpful and kind person which did all the work and booked the ticket on the phone for me…because I could almost guarantee that most people in hostels wouldn’t go that far to help me in making a booking.

Tip #3 if you cant book a bus ticket online (in Vietnam), you must buy your ticket at the station or over the phone

The process was so complicated that it even took poor Rosie ages to make the booking…I could see the stress on her face.

She carefully instructed me to wake up and be ready by 6:30AM to get to the station by 7:30AM…then to get my driver to call the bus company when I arrived at the station.

She printed my ticket for me, wrote the number and some instructions on the back of the ticket.

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The bus ticket & detailed instructions

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By the time Rosie finished sorting out my ticket, it was 10pm. I was defeated, frustrated and exhausted but still wanted to check out the night market to buy a waterproof case and bather bottoms.

Getting there and walking through the market was a mission and was overwhelming. By the time I got there, most vendors were packing up but there were still a good amount of places open. It wasn’t too busy but there were still a lot of people around. All I wanted to do was eat, find what I needed and get out of there but like you’d expect with any South East Asian market…there were so many different vendors everywhere selling lots of different random things. Finding specific things in such a market-jungle takes time (and a lot of patience). I walked up and down for quite some time. Every place I looked in didn’t have what I wanted and when I did eventually find them, the price was either too expensive or I plainly didn’t like what I saw.

I gave up on trying to find a bikini bottom but did find a waterproof case for a good price (hallelujah!)

Getting food was also a mission. I wanted something substantial…but all that was available was typical basic Vietnamese street food. The best food I could find was Banh Mi.

The next day: on the way to Ha Giang

I woke up as instructed… so tired from the long commute, sorting out my things last night and not sleeping until probably 1:00am (woohoo…another day of sleep deprivation)…but it didn’t bother me too much because I figured I could sleep on the bus.

Half asleep, I ordered a Grab bike and followed Rosie’s instructions to get the driver to call the bus company. He quickly makes a call to them, speaking things in Vietnamese which I don’t understand but I have full confidence that he’ll get me to where I need to go.

The ride to the station took about 30-40 minutes. It was much nicer than normal because it wasn’t so busy at that time in the morning but my bum was hurting quite a lot by the time we arrived at the bus station entrance.

Once my driver parked the car, he signals to me to wait while he tries to contact my bus company. I was a little concerned because he  looked lost and I had no idea what was going on. It didn’t help that he called them a few times but I was glad someone was looking after me.

After waiting there for about 20 minutes and fending off a few people trying to sell me a bus ticket, a guy from the bus company eventually came and led me to the bus – woohoo! I finally made it!

Thoughts and journey on the bus

I am finally on the bus! Yay (woo another sleeper bus)! But Gahhhh I am so hungry at the moment. I have no food and don’t even know where the next food point is since I felt like I had to rush to the bus station. In retrospect, I think I had time to find food first before booking my grab.

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Back on the sleeper bus again…sleep deprived

I remember the driver playing Vietnamese music so loudly… at full volume.

Virtually almost after 10 minutes of driving, I completely passed out until more passengers got on..including lovely Spanish couple on the bus who were my “roomies” for this trip. It was really nice because we had the whole back area to ourselves (imagine a bed wider than a king size bed – you can fit about 5-6 people in the back area).

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The lovely Spanish couple I met on the bus
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Lying in the top berth of the back of the bus

We made a quick 15 minute pit stop after about an hour and a half which was great and the food looked decent but for me, the toilet was the priority. I tried a few toilets to realize most didn’t have a lock, walking in on almost 5 people until I found one (lol)

Then I lined up for banh mi but then saw bananas…opting for that instead (I was still full and bloated from the banh mi at the night market from the night before and take advantage of every opportunity to be healthy overseas when I can).

The journey continues

The Spanish couple and myself shared a make-shift plastic bag bin. Sadly…we had to give up our space at the back as more people hopped onto the bus. There was an old man who lied next to me and a younger girl who fell onto me as she was trying to climb up to our seats.

The Second pit stop – more food and toilet

The restaurant offered something similar to a little buffet. Even though the food smelled and looked amazing…I didn’t take anything because I didn’t want to pay. I prioritized the toilet instead which was right outside at the back of the restaurant…stumbling across a while bunch of caged chickens crammed to every corner and some pigs in a ‘pen’ along the way ~ typical Vietnamese culture…

Once I was done, the Spanish couple and myself waited outside the restaurant and shared some snacks until the driver shouted at us to get back on again.

Finally! There was about 2.5 hours left in the journey.

The other two Vietnamese passengers sleeping next to me before hadn’t come back on and the bus went off.

Did the driver forget them or were they supposed to leave??? Oh well.

In the last 2.5 hours, the bus turned vigorously many times so much to the point where I had to hold onto something to stop myself from falling onto the ground of the bus. And even a couple of times, the driver would suddenly slam on the breaks. Every single time, both myself and the Spanish guy almost slid off our seats and fell onto the ground floor. The music continued to be ever so loud… Never stopping.

I don’t know how but I managed to completely passed out again…waking up when the Spanish couple woke me up to let me know that we arrived.

Yay!!! Finally!!!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and got a feel for what riding an 8 hour bus ride is like.

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