Trains, buses and supermarkets
Our journey to Hoi An has been a bit of an epic to say the least. Luckily for the train from Hué to Đa Nang (the closest town with a train station) we picked the soft seat option for the three hour journey. We say luckily as we got a glimpse of the hard seats and if you can imagine rows of wooden park benches shoved into a railway carriage then you pretty much have it. Just take away the surrounding grass and shove in a couple of hundred Vietnamese and you’re there.
Upon our arrival in Đa Nang we eschewed the typical onward taxi to Hoi An instead favouring the cheaper local bus. We managed by some dint of luck (and Rach’s amazing navigation) to find our way to the bus station, which turned out to actually be a supermarket. So Alex went off on a mission to try and find out where to buy the bus tickets from and after having spoken to two security guards, five different members of staff, two random strangers, and a heavily pregnant cashier finally discovered that the bus to Hoi An was actually free with every 20,000 dong worth of goods purchased in the supermarket. Weirdly, in the store, there was “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” being played on repeat which was somewhat wishful thinking on the managements part being as how it was around 30 °C outside.
Meanwhile during Alex’s odyssey inside Rach was facing some battles of her own outside guarding the bags. We’re pretty used to people staring at us by now so she ignored the passers-by gawking at her. However what she was unprepared for was a large group of men sitting right opposite her and openly watching her and discussing her. She tried to carry on eating her sandwich but every time she looked up, they would say something to each other, something to her in Vietnamese and laugh. It’s pretty intimidating for a girl by herself to be surrounded by men, particularly when she doesn’t speak the language and she was even more startled when one appeared next to her side. She looked up and saw a camera pointed in her face and felt very uncomfortable so said no to a picture. That didn’t stop them though and they continued to persist until she had to put her hands over her face until they left her alone. You leave her alone for five minutes....
Finally Alex emerged flushed with success waving the receipts in the air which would be our tickets for the bus. And so we settled in to wait until three when the bus was due to leave. Come three we found ourselves once more asking a security guard where to catch the bus from. He grunted and pointed outside at a large, plush air-conditioned coach. The coach then pulled away showing us our actual bus. It was a tiny rattler of a bus that looked as though it was being held together by rubber bands similar to those which held the engine cover closed. There was no air-con and so sweating we settled into our seats.
The bus driver got on and almost kicked us off after seeing our massive bags but luckily we had some lovely women as our co-passengers and they leapt to our defence surrounding the hapless bus driver until he had no option but to retreat and slink around into the driver’s seat. He started the engine (on the third go) and we set off, with a huge metallic thunk accompanying us every hundred metres or so.
It was then that we realised, that aside from a grunt from a security guard with dubious English (and our Vietnamese being non-existent), we had no idea if it was the right bus. We frantically asked around but sadly struggle to communicate to our new friends what we wanted to ask, receiving only confused smiles in return. We decided to stick it out and enjoy the beautiful rice paddies and rivers as they sped by.
Aside from the worry it was an amazing journey and we need not have trouble ourselves anyway as we did eventually pull up in Hoi An. When we say pull up we mean break down. Luckily for us we were only a short walk from our hotel and so we left the bus driver trying frantically to restart it with a long queue of tooting cars behind him.
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- Take a taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An if you want less fuss. If you do want to live a little the bus is a great way to get a local feel.
- Don’t fret about asking, for the most part everyone is friendly and will try to help as much as possible.
- Supermarkets are a little hard to come by so if you are craving a little grocery retail therapy go nuts when you get the chance.