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One World in One Lifetime

Archive for May, 2017

Hue Beach

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 20, 2017

Saturday April 8 – 9, 2017

Time to Relax

Gone were the Hanoi times of hot days and cool evenings. Hue was blazing hot during the day and manageably hot in the evenings. This was not the weather we wanted to go sightseeing in. Walking around took too much effort at these temperatures. Breathing took too much effort. It was time to relax.

Mark and I headed to the beach. We heard many backpackers going on and on about Hue beach. They would rent a scooter and drive out there in the afternoon and come back to Hue in the evening. We wanted more. We would stay at the beach for several days.

We found accommodations in a grass hut bungalow. That sounded real-island-like. We packed our stuff, leaving behind more clothes to lighten our bags and headed over. It looked like a dream come true as we walked down the semi-tiled path to the beach and to our hut.

We entered the hut. There were six bunk beds, meaning the bungalow could sleep 12 people. Each bed had a fan and a mosquito net. But, only 2 were made up and ready to be slept in.

Sometimes the wind just blows the doors open.

“Where are the lockers?” Mark asked.

The lady showing us around opened a cupboard made of dried grass and bamboo. The door was held close not by a lock, but by friction. She pointed inside.

I took a look. I could see that some termites had had quite a feast there recently. “How does it lock?” Mark asked knowing fully well that it could not be locked. The lady shook her head.

“Well, we’re the only guests in this hut,” Mark thought. “As long as we keep the front door locked we should be okay.”  Then he asked, “Where is our key?”

The lady showed us the door, pointing to an obvious lack of a key hole. “No key,” she said. Then she walked outside to show us the bathroom.

We looked at each other wondering if it was too late to get our money back. It would not do for us to be robbed the first month of our around-the-world trip. We weren’t given too much time to think about things. The lady was out the door. “This is the bathroom.”

We followed her. The bathroom was very rustic. The toilets were okay, I guess. But, the showers could have done with more walls or a bigger door at least. There were three showers each with a set of 2 feet long saloon doors about 3 feet off the ground. No locks. No curtains.

It was actually the shower for the beach goers. It was meant to be the place where swimmers rinse the salty ocean water off themselves. These people would be clothed in their swimsuits and didn’t need complete privacy.

Mark and I would be using these same semi-open showers as showers. We would not be wearing clothes.

But, we didn’t want to admit that the place was a dump. Or at least that we pick the dump option of this resort. Our hut hotel was operated in conjunction with another resort, one that cost 350 euro a night.

The pamphlet for our bungalow was made up of mostly photos of that resort. The resort had several indoor pools. Some rooms had their own pool. There was an outdoor pool and a room of marble pillars, for some reason. On the last page in the corner was a picture of our hut.

The huts were the “backpacker friendly” accommodations at 8USD per night. So, we weren’t expecting much, just a locker and a private shower… the essentials.

It’s way past shower time.

After our tour we sat on the beach to discuss things. “What are we going to do?” I asked Mark.

“I guess we can put all our stuff in the bamboo cabinet and hope no one looks in there. If all our stuff is put away, maybe people will think the hut is empty and that there is nothing to steal.” Mark tried to sound reassuring.

“And I guess we could shower really early in the morning and really late at night…” I added.

Things didn’t seem so bad. We ordered food from the kitchen and took photos of the beach. Maybe everything would be okay…

That used to be Mark’s face.

For the first few days things did seem alright. We woke up with the sun and took showers. We got dressed and put all our stuff away. But then we got more comfortable and started hiding everything except our swimsuits and towels; they needed to dry.

We tried swimming. The beach was very nice, but the water was too rough to relax in. Even when the water only came up mid-thigh, it would be just a matter of time before a wave would come along and knock you over. I could only be in the water for about 15 minutes before getting tired of being thrown about.

Sand flea bites one week later

Then one night we stayed out on the beach a little too late. We got bitten up by sand fleas. This got us to our breaking point.  We were ready to get the hell out of Dodge.

While we were at the beach we made friends with other guests. Not the guests from the 350 euro a night resort, but other guests like us. They told us about beaches further south that were better and calmer than this beach in Hue. Mark and I decided then and there that we would beach hop our way to Ho Chi Minh City.

Checking reviews on google, booking.com, and hostelworld.com.

This time, we would choose our hotels more carefully. This time we would read online reviews and make sure our next stay will be more pleasant.

I know how complaining about our stay at a beach may come off. Three weeks earlier we had jobs, responsibility, and winter coats. No matter how you looked at it, this was an improvement.  …sand fleas and all.


Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Posted in Hue, Vietnam | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Best beer and coffee?

Posted by mracine on May 15, 2017

Beer
Let’s stop and talk about locally crafted beer.  Do you look for fresh, high quality malt and hops?  Does the brand or batch size matter to you?  Or do you, as a connoisseur of the bubble brew, look for a different aspect to determine your enjoyment?

If you are anything like me, then you’ll be pleased to know that in Vietnam you can get a special kind of beer that pleases the pallet at an extraordinary price. “Bai hoi” also known as “fresh beer” can be found littered all over Vietnam, but predominantly in the northern regions.  I was first introduced to this delectable treasure in Hanoi.

So by now, you must be wondering what magic makes this beer stand out from the rest.  Well, it’s outstanding price.  It’s usually priced around 5,000 dong.  For those who need a price conversion, it come to 22 cents per glass.  In other words, you can drink a small kegs worth for what you usually carry in your wallet.   In fact, the first hostel I stayed in gave it away for free during happy hour.

 

P4020117

Okay… Maybe more like happy half hour.

Now, beer this cheap comes with a catch.  That would be favor.  In a fair contest, PBR would retain its ribbon and Budweiser would still be king.  But if your watch is often set to Miller Time, then you’ll have no problem pushing down this kind of libation.  Also the alcoholic nature of the drink is less than its kin.  It hovers around the 3% mark.
To those who come to South East Asia, you’ll quickly learn that beer can be inexpensive and tasty.  I suggest giving “fresh beer” as taste, but also give other locally brewed beer a chance.  Many like “Bai Saigon” and “Huda” have much more to offer in overall satisfaction.  The price may be an exponentially higher at four or five times the cost; but as with all things in life, you get what you pay for.

P4230742.JPG

Food goes down better with local beer.

Coffee

Do you remember this legendary scene from Happy Gilmore?

 

This begs the question; why not have poop for breakfast?  Well, maybe not that exactly.  You see, I had the synthetic version.

Ever since I watched the movie “The Bucket List”, Kopi luwak was something that was on my radar. Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for about US$3,000 per kilogram (2.2 lbs).

kopi

The specialty Vietnamese coffee beans are made with the help of wild civets also called “weasels” here.  Now, don’t imagine these weasels wearing barista aprons.  Instead, they help with the bean selection.  They supposedly only select the ripest and, as a result, the best coffee berries.  Then the weasels eat them.  After some time and nature doing natures work, the berries arrive on the other end of the weasel.   In what I assume to be “the new-guy-at-he-coffee-farm’s job”, a person goes around collecting the digested oblong berry logs laying on the ground.  The weasel excrement gets washed and then the beans goes through the same process as the rest of the coffee that gets served to us.

luwak-2-reu.jpg

And I helped.

Now, I want to make clear that I did not drink Kopi luwak.  For one thing, I hear rumors of some weasels being mistreated.  Some farmers looking to profit, cage and force the beasts to only consume coffee berries to maximize yield.   For another, most poop coffees are fake.  They are just regular coffee bean passed off as the genuine article.  And lastly, I’m not insane enough to pay more than Starbucks’s prices for coffee and I rarely allow myself to do that.

P5061077

That’s $20 per cup for possibly fake weasel coffee!

However, I learned that there are legitimate fake poo coffee at a reasonable price.  Now, that’s the kind of thing I go for. You see, the weasel poo coffee get’s its fame for two things.  The selection of the best coffee beans and the digestive enzymes in the civet’s stomach which rounds out the flavor and adds to it somehow.  Some Vietnamese companies learned how duplicated this process chemically.  Now all I had to do was to buy some.

However, I encountered some difficulty in getting my synthetic poo coffee.  In Hanoi, they are trying to sell you the “real thing”.  However, the “real thing” isn’t real at all.  It’s either synthetic poo coffee or just regular coffee.  But this doesn’t stop them for trying to sell it for “real thing” prices.  There are also lots of companies selling coffee with a picture of a weasel on them.  Technically, they don’t say its real poo coffee or synthetic poo coffee, it’s just coffee with a picture of an animal and if you get the wrong impression, well…  It gets really confusing very quickly.

Look, I’m just your average tourist looking to sit down somewhere and have a nicely brewed cup of coffee that mimics the beans that been digested by weasels.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Well, after studying up on it online, I learned that Vietnam was the second largest supplier of coffee in the world.  And I also learned that Vietnam also has a problem with some places selling fake coffee beans.  Yes, you read that right.  Fake coffee beans.  Apparently, you can dye soy beans and bake them a certain way to resemble and taste like coffee.  And it actually fools people.  What I can’t understand is why there isn’t coffee flavored tofu on the shelves of my local supermarket?  I would eat that.

So after some time, I found a few brands that sell the actual synthetic poo coffee with real coffee beans.  Imagine that!?  When I discovered this, I was off going in and out of stores asking where they kept their best “weasel dropping beans”. I eventually found a box that met my qualifications, I bought it and brought back to my hotel to try.

Both my wife and I were excited to give it a try.  However, a coffee pot wouldn’t work for this.  Mostly because we didn’t have a coffee pot in our hotel room.  Instead, we did like the locals and used a device that slowly drips the brew directly into our coffee cups.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We precisely measured the amount of coffee grinds needed with our eyes.  Slowly poured in the hot water over the coffee grounds and waited.  Using my expertise, I wanted to know if I could detect all the subtle differences between regular Vietnamese coffee and this special kind.  When the coffee making device finished I looked inside my cup to discover that my wife, in tradition to how most Vietnamese make their coffee, filled it half way with condensed milk.

So did my sophisticated pallet discern the hints of weasel dung over the condensed milk?  Well, no.  The major flavor in the forefront was the delightful sweetness that is condensed milk.  Then it’s followed up by the espresso like taste of the coffee.  The subtle earthy hints and chocolate flavors or the less bitter taste didn’t really come through.

On my second go, I had my weasel manure flavored coffee straight.  And this time, I tasted… coffee.  Yep, a good cup of coffee.  A bit anti-climatic I know, but there is one good take away I get from this.  The next time I make a pot of coffee and someone tells me it taste like crap, I’ll just take it as a complement knowing how much crap coffee can cost.

gourmet-sht

 

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hue

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 10, 2017

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The Forbidden Purple City

This was the day it suddenly got hot. In Hanoi it was warm. But in Hue, it was hot. I brought a coffee tumbler with me on the trip. This was the day I started using it religiously. It is a Starbucks Lucy Tumbler. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold for hours. This tumber is saving my life right now.

We would buy some cold drinks, preferably one with lots of ice. When all the drink was gone and I had nothing but ice left, I would put that ice in my tumbler with water. Then I would have cold water all day.

The Forbidden Purple City is so beautiful. I wanted to take way more photos than I did. It was just so hot. I would walk around for 15 minutes then have to look for a place in the shade to sit and sip my cold water. If the place wasn’t so spectacular, I would have given up and spent the day in an air conditioned coffee shop.

My Recommendations for surviving a Hot Day in Hue:

  1. Bring lots of water.
    • Even if you don’t have a coffee tumbler.
  2. Get an umbrella.
    • Mark bought his on the walk from the hostel to the ancient town.
  3. Go early in the morning (8:00 – 10:00) and then in the evening (after 15:30).
    • Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day.
  4. Wear a hat and sun screen.
  5. There are sections of the palace that have fans and an air condition unit. Hang out there for a while.
    • Unfortunately, the doors of the air conditioned areas are never closed. So, it’s cool only right in front of the ac units.

Vietnam
(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
    • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
    • Or you can apply for a visa online if you do not live near an embassy or consulate.
    • Remember if you enter Vietnam on a single entry visa then leave, you must wait 30 days before returning to Vietnam on another visa.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the bank in Vietnam. (DO NOT get money at the airport. You will never get a good rate. Use an ATM/bank.) Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
    • Also, asking the average Joe on the street for ABC hotel will do nothing. Locals don’t stay in hotels, so they don’t remember hotel names. But Mr. Joe will know where 123 Hanoi St. is.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
  • There are companies that charge 10USD to take you from Hanoi to the airport. They are all around Hanoi. Use one of those instead of jumping into a random cab.

Imperial City
(Hoàng thành)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates: 16°28′11″N 107°34′40″E

Address: 

  • Huế, Thua Thien Hue

Phone:

  • 0234 3501 143

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 8:00 -17:30

Notes:

  • The Forbidden Purple City in the restored part of the ancient town.
  • This place is very beautiful.
  • Bring lots of water.

Map:

Posted in Hue, Vietnam | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Trains in Vietnam and Other Ways to Get Around

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 5, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017 — 19:30

Top Bunk

Come and Ride the Train

Mark bought our train tickets from the travel agent at our hostel. He was a little dissatisfied with this process. He kept having to explain what he wanted. He also had a hard time understanding what the agent said too. With the length of time it took to get the ticket, he felt the commission rate the agent took was too high. In the end, Mark felt confused and he just hoped everything worked out all right.

It did. But not wanting to go through that again, Mark turned to the internet the next time we took the train. Buying the tickets online, doing it yourself, and doing it in English leaves little up to chance.

Bottom Bunk

Later we met a man and his cousin who wanted a compartment to themselves. They went to a travel agent. She told them to get a compartment for just the two of them, they would have to book all four beds in a soft sleeper berth. “Fine,” they said. “Give us the best bunks you have.” One was sold 2 upper bunks and the other sold 2 lower bunks.

When they boarded the train they found that the two sets of bunks were in two different compartments. One compartment had a screaming brat of a child. The other had Mark and me.

It took a while for Mark and me to find our berths. There was a big drunk guy fumbling with his ticket pulling a rather large non-spinner suitcase behind him and blocking the way. “I don’t have my glasses,” he kept repeating. “I don’t have my glasses.” If I wanted to hurry things along, I had to help him find his bunk.

I took his ticket and looked at it. “Oh, you’ve past it,” I told him.

“Did I?” He seemed very surprised. “I don’t have my glasses, you know. I couldn’t tell where I had to go.”

“Yes,” I said. “I think you’ve mentioned something about that.”

He spun around, but with his suitcase in front of him, he was too drunk to move it. Both he and his luggage were too large for him to just pick the suitcase up and place it behind him. He kept spinning around hoping that one more try at turning would somehow get to suitcase on the other side.

It took no time at all for a line of people to form in the corridor. I had to get this fat man out of the way quickly. He was just so drunk and clumsy.

“Hey!” I tried to get his attention, but he kept turning. “Push it instead of pulling.” He didn’t seem to hear me. “Or you could walk backwards.” I got no reaction out of him. “Probably to uncoordinated for either of those anyway,” I thought to myself.

Then I suggested that he step into any compartment, pull his luggage further down the way, then step out again. That would have easily solved the problem. But by then he was squeezing around his luggage. He wedged himself between the wall and his suitcase. There were groans and inelegant Chris Farley-like twitching.

I looked past the drunk and saw some train officials headed his way. The man was still telling everyone about his lack of glasses as he struggled to get free. Just as the officials got to him he popped out on the other side of the suitcase as it fell over.

I got everyone to back up a bit and showed him to his bunk. The train officials carried his enormous suitcase for him and placed it next to his bed. Thankfully, he was on a bottom bunk.

Later I heard him, a man of about 60, flirting with some teen-aged school girls. It made my skin crawl.

the neighbors

When we got to our bunks there was a man in his bed already. He had a little radio blasting old timey Vietnamese music. Mark and I got into our bunks and waited for everyone else to get on the train. We both had top bunks.

The fourth person in our compartment entered, pulled out a vodka bottle, and tried to talk to everyone. Only radio man could speak Vietnamese. Vodka guy asked Mark and I, “Where from?” But that was the limit to his English. We told him, but he did not understand our reply.

Giving up on conversation, he tried offering everyone vodka. Mark, radio man, and I declined. Not wanting to drink alone he left the bottle on the table unopened. Vodka guy offered many more times, after dinner, right before everyone  went to sleep, as soon as he woke up the next morning, after breakfast, and a few more extra times. There were never any takers, so the bottle sat on the table the whole ride, unused.

Since talking was out (I guess radio man was not that interesting) and drinking was unsuccessful vodka guy took out his smartphone and played American pop music. This was probably a gesture on Mark’s and my behalf. But, mind you, radio man was still playing his radio.

I began to wonder how I would deal with this. Listening to one persons bad music was one thing, but two! Then the train itself started to play very loud awful music too. It was deafening. Both Mark and vodka guy scrambled around looking for a volume button to turn down.

Once they found it, the train music was turned off. After that the duel of crappy music didn’t seem that bad. At least it wasn’t horrendously loud.

About an hour before I wanted to sleep, radio man’s radio had long since been turned off and vodka guy’s phone’s battery was dying. I prayed that he left his charger at home. Right by his head was an electrical outlet. I knew that the outlet worked. Both Mark and I had been charging our electrical devices.

Vodka guy took out his charger and my heart sank. He plugged it in. He waited a while then unplugged it. Then plugged it in again. His outlet didn’t work! He had to turn his phone off to save power. I was never so glad for a dying battery.

The Train

Best Information: Seat 61

Buying Tickets: Baolau

Pro:

  • Usually cheaper and faster than buses.
  • Generally more comfortable than buses.
  • It has air conditioning.
  • You can buy food on the train.
    • There are meal, snack, and drink carts that come by.
      • Everything cost 20-30,000 VND
      • If you are in the first car, the food cart might run out of food before it gets to you. If this happens just go to the dining car at the opposite end of the train.
    • There is usually a dining car at the caboose.
    • At longer stops, vendors from that station will jump on the train and quickly sell drinks, food, and snacks.
  • There is always a bathroom you can use.
    • If the nearest bathroom is extremely filthy, try the other end of your car or another car.
    • All train bathrooms are dirty, but not all are filthy.
    • There is usually toilet paper, but it might not get restocked often enough. Bring your own to be safe.
    • Bring your own hand soap or hand sanitizer.
    • Unlike in other countries, the toilet is never locked when the train stops at a station. This is the best time to go!
  • Very low chance of being in a traffic accident.

Con:

  • You have to go to the train station which is usually a cab ride away from your hotel.
    • Many tour/ long distance buses pick travelers up in the downtown area just a few minutes walk from most hotels and hostels.
  • Doesn’t run as often as buses in some areas.
  • Doesn’t stop at every city.
    • Some towns are between two train stations.
  • Trains only run north or south.
    • If you need to travel east or west, you have to take a bus.

Tips:

  • Bring your own toilet paper, hand soap, and hand sanitizer.
  • Bring your own snacks.
    • Even though they sell lots of snacks on the train, you might not like any of them.
  • There are hot water dispensers on every car, but they look really, really gross.
  • Book your tickets online (https://www.baolau.com/) or from your hotel.
    • Don’t buy tickets from someone who doesn’t speak English very well. You might not get what you asked for.
    • You pay a smaller commission when buying tickets online than buying at your hotel or hostel.
    • If you buy your tickets at the train station you pay no commission, but that might be quite a hassle.
  • If you try to buy your tickets on the same day you plan to travel, you run a huge risk of either getting no seat or getting a really bad seat.
    • You don’t have to buy your tickets too far in advanced, unless the day is on or near a holiday.
    • Buying tickets a few days ahead of time will do.
  • Get a soft sleeper for long rides or a soft seat for short ones.
    • The soft sleeper is softer than the hard sleeper, obviously.
      • The bottom bunks are better, in my opinion, but it costs more. (Like a few dollars or so more.)
    • The soft sleeper has 4 beds per cabin; the hard sleeper has 6.
      • You can sit up in a soft sleeper, but not in a hard sleeper.
    • I’ve never tried a hard seat, but it just looks like torture to sit on for more than a few minutes.
      • Essentially, it’s just a wooden park bench on a train.
  • Since the toilets aren’t locked when the train is pulled into a station, that’s the best time to use it since it’s not moving.
  • Don’t expect too much.
    • The trains are dingy, but so are the buses.
    • The bathrooms are dirty, but so are the ones on the buses and at rest stops.
    • The dining cars are also dingy, but so are a lot of restaurants in Vietnam.
  • Unless you are leaving from Hanoi or Saigon, your train will depart behind schedule.
    • When heading south, the further away from Hanoi you are, the more off schedule your train will be.
    • When heading north, the further away from Saigon you are, the more off schedule your train will be.

The (Sleeper) Bus / A Rest Stop / Bus Ticket

Best Information:

Buying Tickets: Baolau

Pro:

  • There are more bus destinations than train destinations.
  • Sometimes, they pick you up right from your hotel.

    The Sleeper Bus (bottom bunk)

  • The stops are right in the down town area.
  • There are many buses to choose from throughout the day.
    • There are tons of bus companies.
  • You meet a lot of backpackers.
  • The bathrooms at the rest stops are better than the ones on the train. But, only in that the train moves making it harder to aim.
    • Bring toilet paper and hand soap/ hand sanitizer.
  • You are usually given a bottle of water for free.
  • Most of them come with wifi
    • It’s good enough to check your e-mail, but that’s about it (if it works at all).

Con:

  • They are more expensive than trains and have longer travel times.
  • There is no sleeping on a sleeper bus.
    • They are uncomfortable. There is never enough room.
    • They are usually either too hot or too cold.
    • Every time you drift off to sleep, the driver will honk loudly at no one in particular on the road.
    • If you are in the bottom bunk, the person above you will constantly drop things on you and never ever apologize.
    • If you are on the top bunk, things will always slip out of your hands when the driver swerves. It’s not your fault; never apologize!
  • Half the time horrible loud music will be blasted from cheap speakers.
  • On board, there is usually no bathroom or the bathroom is broken.
  • Companies try to pack as many people aboard as possible.
    • This is not too bad on buses.
    • On vans, this means that someone (or a few someones) has to sit in a jump seat.
  • There is a higher risk of traffic accidents with the bus than with the train.

Tips:

  • Don’t take a bus if you have a weak bladder.
  • Use your headphones. (You’ll be surprised how many backpackers act like they’ve never heard of headphones or earbuds.)
  • Don’t drink too much water. Bathroom breaks are too few and far between.
  • Keep a jacket and a fan with you. Sometimes it will be too cold; sometimes too hot.
  • Bring snacks and water.
    • But, again, don’t drink too much water!
  • Wear comfortable clothes. (Well, if you’re traveling, you’re probably wearing comfortable clothes everyday anyway.)
  • Some seats are better than others.
    • On the sleeper buses, there are seats that are a lot shorter than the rest.
    • You might prefer a bottom bunk or a top.
    • Ask about the seats when you buy your tickets.
  • Take the train, if you can!
    • I have met people who genuinely enjoyed taking the sleeper bus. I’m just not one of them.
    •  Do research. There are some sleeper bus companies that have high road accident rates.
    • As for non-sleeper buses, if it’s a short trip (3 hours or less) it’s okay. Still do your research of the bus company’s safety record.
    • Check online reviews for the company before buying tickets.

And of course there is always flying. Air fare is sometimes cheaper than train tickets, but getting to and from the airport can be a big hassle. I would fly if I were pressed for time. Since I haven’t flown domestically in Vietnam, I can’t do a pros and cons list.

Tip:

  • Take a shuttle bus to and from the airport. Try not to take a taxi.

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