The Sleeper Bus Experience
I’m glad I didn’t do any online research before deciding to book our second sleeper bus, this time a 12 hour ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang. Our first bus was a slightly shorter, 10-hour ride from Phong Nha to Hoi An. Turns out sleeper buses have a pretty horrible reputation for both comfort and safety; they’ve even been lethal (sorry, moms – at least we’re telling you after!). I’m glad I didn’t research because, well, we had a really enjoyable experience on this bus! Had I read in advance, I may have been swayed to fly or take the train, and wouldn’t have gotten the following experience.
Since this was our second sleeper bus experience, I thought I knew what to expect. When we boarded this bus, however, I was simultaneously overcome with fear and delight. Yes, I know this is a crazy mix of emotions. Here’s why.
The bus was a total downgrade from our first one. It didn’t have a toilet and the beds were much smaller. Initial thought: how the heck am I going to go 12 hours without peeing?!?!? (Recommendation: don’t drink liquids before this bus. I’m dead serious.)
If you haven’t been on a sleeper bus before, the seats are pretty crazy. They are horizontal and don’t go fully upright. They’re also double-decker.
Pete and I were the last ones on the bus. The driver
forced ushered us to the back of the completely-packed bus. When we saw our seats, I couldn’t contain my nervous laughter. There was absolutely no way Pete and I were going to fit.
Picture the width of a coach bus. Now picture a platform spanning that width. Got it? Now, imagine that space being divided into 5 “beds.” Pretty snug, right? That’s what the seats in the back, upper-level looked like. The seats that were going to be ours for the next 12 hours.
When we got to these seats/beds, there were already 3 people back there: 2 large guys (both well over 6 feet) and a girl. If you’re following me, that means our bed situation entailed 3 men, all over 6 feet, taking up 3 of those 5 beds. Now picture me in the very middle bed. Snug as a bug in a
rug dirty old blanket between two huge men. Not such a comfortable situation for anyone involved.
This situation could’ve been a recipe for disaster. I could’ve had a panic attack (the ingredients were all there!); we could’ve been restless and sleepless all night; the people we were smooshed against could’ve been horribly smelly or rude or obnoxious. Thankfully, none of that happened!
The folks in the back were a great crew. Despite all odds, we actually had a blast. The energy was fantastic right when we boarded. Everyone was in great spirits; people laughed and joked about out sleeping situation. Everyone talked excitedly of their next destination (mostly Da Lat) and shared travel tips and funny stories.
After about 3 hours, we took our only break for food & the bathroom. After that, it was sleeping time. Pete and I begrudgingly took our seats and starting discussing the sad truth: that we’d most likely be awake for the next 9 hours. People overheard our whining and took pity: not 1, but 3 people offered us sleeping pills. We happily accepted the offer and slept soundly for the next 7 hours, when we arrived in Nha Trang. (If you’re paying attention, yes – our driver got us there 2 hours early. I don’t even want to know what that drive was like.) So there’s the happy ending: we ended up having a glorious bus ride!
The Part Where We Almost Got Robbed
Here’s the not-so-happy ending. In a stuper from the sleeping pill-induced sleep, we de-boarded the bus. As usual, men on motorbikes were waiting eagerly to entice us to take a ride on their motorbike to our hotel. Now, I’ve warned Pete many times in the past few weeks against taking these motorbikes. “They’re total scams!”, I’ve warned, “We’re never going to take them.”
Ignoring My Own Advice
When I got off the bus, however, I was in such high spirits about how well our bus went (and did I mention in a stuper?) that I forgot my own advice and started talking to one of these men. When I answered his question about which hotel we’d be staying in, he said, “That’s my hotel! I will take you there.” He swiftly grabbed my backpack from the ground in front of me, put it on his bike, and motioned for me to get on. Pete looked at me skeptically and said, “This is a bad idea. I don’t think we should do this.”
For some reason, I had complete faith in the man’s words, totally believed that it was his hotel and was convinced that he simply was providing a pick-up service for his hotel. Plus, it was 5am, the man had my backpack, and I honestly wasn’t in the mood to fight. So I jumped on the back of his bike and convinced a confused Pete to get on the man’s friend’s bike.
When we rode a very roundabout route to our hotel, I knew what was about to happen. Sure enough, when they stopped across the street from our hotel, the men shockingly asked for money! They wanted 50,000 vnd each for the 2 minute ride. That’s equivalent to $5, a ridiculous price for the distance. My stomach dropped at my own shame.
I looked my driver in the eye and shouted, “You told us this was your hotel! You lied! We are not paying you.” Obviously, he wouldn’t take that for an answer and literally started yelling, “MONEYYYY! MONEYYYYY!!!!” louder and louder. We looked around; the streets were deserted. No one would be able to help us out of this situation.
We argued for a bit more, and by argued, I mean he kept shouting MONEEEEYYY and I kept screaming that he lied. At that point, it wasn’t about the money at all. Sure, we could’ve spared $5, but after their behavior, there was no way we wanted to give these guys anything.
Then something fantastic happened. Pete looked at me like a lightbulb had just gone off and said, “Wait. Let’s just go!” He started walking away and I frantically said, “But he has my backpack!”. Pete, in all his tallness, walked over, plucked my backpack from my driver’s tight grasp, and said, “Let’s go.”
When I looked at the drivers’ faces, they were of absolute and utter shock. Me? I was absolutely beaming. This was AWESOME. As we walked away, they feebly continued yelling that they needed money. Pete turned around and, for the first time in this confrontation, yelled at them: “You LIED to us. You are LIARS. We will not pay liars.” They did not make a sound after that.
When we finally entered our hotel, I told Pete I’d never been so attracted to him. 😛 This “stand-off” may not seem like a big deal to you, but given that Pete’s normally such a quiet, reserved guy, and knowing how much we both hate confrontation, this was a big moment for us.
What I Learned
I promised Pete that I’d never pull something like that again, and I mean it. However, while this is the first time we’ve gotten “scammed,” I’m sure it won’t be the last. We will continue researching scams of the countries we visit to stay aware. We’ll also avoid sleeper buses, because of the sketchy things we’ve heard.
This experience also made me realize how lucky I am to be traveling with someone else, especially someone who can physically protect me. Had I been alone, I definitely would’ve had to pay the driver – and that would’ve been the best case scenario. Had I made the same decision as a solo traveler, I would’ve been completely alone on a deserted road in the wee hours of the morning, scared out of my mind. As a solo traveler, you won’t always have someone else to bail you out of scary situations. While every traveler should stay vigilant & steer clear of sketching situations, solo travelers definitely have to be on their toes at all times. This made me really appreciate having such a great travel partner.
There you have it! Our more-exciting-than-expected journey from Hoi An to Nha Trang.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear them!