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XXXIX - XXXX: Hanoi to Hue

The overnight bus journeys begin!

sunny 39 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

The overnight sleeper buses in Vietnam are notorious, infamous even, for their lack of comfort and the insanity of their drivers. Nevertheless, the thousands of negative trip advisor reviews were ignored and three tickets were bought for the 12-hour bus ride to Hue leaving at 1800. After a lie-in and two breakfasts (I was hungry) we checked out, dumped our bags at reception and found a nice streetside cafe for Felix's last Vietnamese iced coffee. The owner seemed glad of the low-season business and introduced us to his two birds who were given baths and a fruit buffet next to our table. Felix's taxi arrived at 2pm, so we shook hands and made plans for a reunion beer in the autumn - Oktoberfest! Back at reception, Muhn admitted her feelings for Felix to me: "he's just SUCH a nice man". I agreed of course, waiting for my own compliment but it never came.

I met up with Russ & Rachel a few hours later and we each set off on our own missions before the bus came: Russ went in search of pizza for our evening meal on the bus; Rach headed down the street to grab some last-minute souvenirs; I sat at the table in the lobby writing postcards and watching the bags. Unbeknownst to Rachel & I, there had been a power cut in the food quarter and when Russ arrived flustered and irritated in a taxi he explained that he had only managed to get one pizza. Our shared knowledge of night buses told us that we'd have a food stop at the half way point so we weren't overly worried, and we had a reserve stash of Pringles, Oreos and teeny tiny bananas. The hotel staff very kindly gave us clean towels to have a shower before the bus journey, though this proved to be completely unnecessary once we arrived at the travel office in our taxi and were drenched by a surprise rainstorm!

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Dripping wet and with strict instructions to put our shoes in plastic bags we found our seats, double-decked semi reclined chairs with a small storage compartment which were laid out in three rows along the bus with a walkway either side of the middle row. We all ended up on top bunks, and Russ & I quickly realised that we were a good foot longer than the seats! It was far from comfortable despite being a "VIP" class bus, which essentially just means it has a smelly onboard toilet and doesn't have to make any toilet stops. We devoured our shared pizza a little too early in the trip, as the very angry driver (short man syndrome methinks) announced that there would be no food stop. There was no entertainment so the bus was soon illuminated by various blue gadget screens, and I was very impressed at R&R's practised journey routine - Rach even changed into her pyjamas! As a few muffled snores started I put my earphones in and prayed for sleep to come swiftly.

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Russ awoke after an 8-hour sleep as we approached the Hue outskirts, and looked round to see two pairs of very bloodshot eyes. For Rach and I sleep had never arrived, and we had had to endure hour upon hour of high-speed, often near-miss driving on pothole-ridden roads which had been especially brutal for the top bunk sleepers who faced a constant risk of being launched onto the floor. This, coupled with the bright interior bus lights, endless horn beeping and the snores of the giant man at the front kept most of us awake all night and we couldn't help feeling quite resentful towards Russ' well-rested face. The sleep-deprived rage helped us meet a couple from Manchester, Neil and Rachel, and after checking in at our hotels we arranged to meet up see the city together. Without the luxury of a partner to keep me warm I opted to stay at the Hue Backpackers, with a very nice dorm room with mini lockable charger lockers and giant suitcase-sized under-bed storage. I met the other four for breakfast downstairs (egg & cheese burger!) and we all set off across the very lovely river to visit the Citadel, Hue's main tourist attraction.

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It is very easy to do Hue in a day, and before we'd even arrived at the Citadel we had all decided that we would leave the following day! Lonely Planet had advised that the entry fee was 55,000 dong so even allowing for inflation we were a little surprised to have to fork out 105,000 dong each to get inside. I wouldn't have cared so much if I hadn't then found that the east gate to the citadel was open with no admission fee, and I was already regretting the money I'd spent on a glass of sugar cane juice from a nearby street stall which had triggered all sorts of wonderful stomach cramps. Inside, the citadel is made up of a collection of restored buildings and ruins within two outer walls and a large lily-filled moat. There is no set route around the complex so after setting off in search of decent photo spots I managed to lose the others and didn't see them for the rest of the afternoon. Outside the east gate there is a Vietnamese antiquities museum and a small car park housing several captured US tanks and planes from the war. I gave both a moment of my time before clearing out the nearest supermarket and scoffing a giant cheese baguette, Pringles and a dodgy yogurt in the park.

Back at the hostel I narrowly avoided being dragged out to a club by my new roommates and after a reunion spent the evening playing pool and abusing the bogof beer deals at a bar, before an interesting Skype chat informed me that my little brother had decided to throw himself and my bike off a wall and ended up in A&E! I booked myself a $5 bus ticket for 8am and had the worst night's sleep of the trip - it had been over 3 weeks since my last night in a dorm and with a few too many beers on board I spent the next 7 hours in a cold sweat convinced that there were giant bed bugs lining the walls.

Posted by WorldWideWill 12:37 Archived in Vietnam

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