Hanoi to Cat Ba, Vietnam: The Bus Station that Didn’t Exist

We’re a little over 2 months into our travels and we’re still in awe by how smoothly everything’s gone for us. Travel’s not always smooth sailing. Instead of only sharing the beautiful parts of our travels, we’d also like to share the small hiccups we encounter to provide a full perspective. Our first semi-disastrous travel day was when we went from Hanoi to Cat Ba, Vietnam.

Here’s what happened on Day 5 of our first week in Vietnam.

The Bus Station Fail

  • We planned to take public transportation from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island, which is fairly straight forward. It entails taking a bus to Hai Phong where you take a boat (or hydrofoil) to Cat Ba, and then board another bus to Cat Ba town.
  • After politely ignoring our hotel front desk’s suggestion to take a taxi, we stubbornly chose to walk to the bus station: Luong Yen. In the mid-day August heat. With our backpacks on. Seriously – will we ever learn?!?
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Running through Hanoi, hoping to avoid beeping motorbikes
  • We walked past where the bus station was supposed to be. Then we continued to walk through some very non-touristy streets for 15 minutes. Pete said, “Let’s face it. We’re not going to make this bus.” I was starting to think he was right.
  • Sweaty and desperate (and feeling betrayed by Google Maps), we hailed a cab.
  • “Please take us to Luong Yen!” I exclaimed. We had 10 minutes to catch the bus, and we still had no idea where we were.
  • The driver looked very confused, so I pointed to it on my phone. “We want to go to Luong Yen, the bus station.”
  • He grabbed my phone and after an uncomfortable pause, he incredulously said, “Luong Yen? Luong Yen?” …”Yes, sir. Luong Yen.” I’m thinking, Ok dude. At this point, how is it unclear where we want to go?
  • He started shouting to us in Vietnamese about Luong Yen and a bunch of other things we definitely couldn’t understand. Pete and I just kept looking at each other, then looking back at him with blank stares. Eventually, he shrugged and said, “Luong Yen!” and we were off.
  • We proceeded to take the shortest taxi drive ever. He drove literally around the corner, stopped, and pointed to this sign we walked past 15 minutes prior:
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“Transport routes transferred from Luong Yen Bus Station to other bus stations in Hanoi since July 27, 2016.” It was August 7. Great.
  • Finally, we understood why the cab driver did not want to take us to Luong Yen. He was definitely trying to help us, but since we speak 0 Vietnamese and he speaks 0 English, we ended up with a 20 second cab ride to the closed entrance of the bus station.
  • After paying & thanking him, we exited the cab and burst out laughing.
  • Literally dripping sweat (a new theme in our travels), we took a new taxi drive-of-shame back to the Hilton, where we met the same woman at the front desk with hanging, drenched heads. She kindly arranged for us to take the “tourist” coach bus (our name for it – $19/person) straight from our hotel to Cat Ba, so we couldn’t mess things up again!

The Aftermath

  • We had 3 hours to kill. We spent 30 minutes cooling off in the air conditioned lobby.
  • Still wallowing in defeat, we went to the nearest, newest American steakhouse and ordered wine, beer, salad & spaghetti carbonara. Shameful? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely.
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Free bread can always cheer us up
  • The “tourist” bus was great. It had air conditioning, plenty of room and very friendly people. We met a couple from the Netherlands and a family of 6 from the UK who lived in the France. Spoiler alert: we ended up meeting this same family 3 more times during our stay in Cat Ba. They’re the happiest, friendliest family we’ve ever met and offered some great advice, which we’ll share later.
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Our boat: made it to Cat Ba!
  • The bus drive to Cat Ba town was incredibly scenic. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by nature after Hanoi. This island reminded us of Jurassic Park & we were excited to explore.

Even though this day started with frantics and frustration, it turned out to be a fantastic day. We’re so lucky that this was one of the “hardest” travel days yet. Everyone we’ve met (no exaggeration) has been so friendly and willing to help out, whether they’re Vietnamese or foreigners.

Do you have any travel-day horror stories you’d like to share? Comment below!

8 Comment

  1. Janice THOMPSON says: Reply

    This was great and really made me laugh 🙂 Glad there are always cheerful people that try to whisper help to us, even when we are not yet ready to hear. So happy you retreated to double back, but happier that you laughed first. Yup- my tribe 🙂

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      I’m glad it made you laugh! I’m also really grateful for those cheerful people 🙂

  2. Caren says: Reply

    Wow, what an experience! That is too funny. Your positive attitude and sense of humor is awesome!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      It was quite the experience! I’m glad that you appreciated it 😀

  3. Jerome says: Reply

    Hey! I was just introduced to your blog from Nicole and CAN NOT wait to read and learn from all your travels! I hope all is and goes well!!!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      Hey Jerome! I’m so glad she introduced you! 🙂 Let me know if there’s anything specific you want to learn – otherwise, stay tuned!

  4. Craig says: Reply

    Really funny! Glad there was a happy ending!

    1. Brittany says: Reply

      So are we! 😀

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