There are no toilets on the bus.
And I am the only Westerner on board.
And no one speaks any English.
These were the first thoughts that crossed my mind as I boarded the Phuong Trang (Futa) bus from Da Lat to Da Nang. Not before having had a major argument with the Futa staff who refused to tag my suitcase and give me any form of receipt when they stored it in the luggage hold.
This 14-hr bus ride is going to be fun. Not.
I had reserved a seat on the sleeper bus via my hotel in Da Lat and I hadn’t really bothered with many questions. I got picked up at the hotel and dropped off at the Da Lat bus station, where my ticket was waiting for me. Once I got to the bus I realised it was going to be an eventful overnight ride…
My seat/bed was actually quite comfortable and having booked on the “upstairs/window” I had a nice view. We went through mountain villages and stunning scenery, until the sun started setting and I feel asleep (courtesy of the travel sickness tablets).
Three hours into the journey we stopped at a restaurant. I think we were in the Nha Trang area, judging by some road signs. All announcements were made in Vietnamese only, though, and the rude and unhelpful Futa guys on board ignored any of my requests to explain how long we were going to be there. Great: I am completely on my own here! Roll your sleeves up, Chiara, I thought.
Back on the bus, we followed the road along the coast for some time. In the darkness surrounding us, the lights from the fishermen boats looked like a huge number of fireflies. It was stunning.
Then the bus started climbing up towards some mountain pass, overtaking on hairpin bends seemed to be common practice.
When we stopped again a few hours later – the Futa guys needed a smoke… – a few men got off the bus so I followed. Toilet break, yay! Only to find out that there were no toilets: we were in the middle of nowhere and the men were all standing on the nearby bridge with their legs apart. “Toilet for women?” I asked the Futa guys in my total naivety. They stared at me showing no understanding of my question, then looked at each other and started laughing. Their attitude was really getting on my nerves at that point. Then one of them pointed at the line of men standing by the bridge. Great: bush toilet, but with nowhere to hide. All I could do was going to the other end of the bridge and hope that the darkness would protect me. Not happy.
Back on the bus I fell asleep and slept most of the night.
At 6am we arrived in Da Nang. The bus dropped us off and left. This was not a bus station. And now where do I catch the bus to Hoi An? I was suddenly surrounded by ten men saying “Motorbike! Motorbike!”. No, I don’t want motorbike: it’s 30Km to Hoi An, I want the local bus. Tired and dehydrated I walked to the ticket office and asked for the bus. A heaven-sent guy told me to follow him, and walked me all the way to the bus station, which was 500m away, and left me in front of bus #1 to Hoi An. I got on board and was asked to pay 50,000 dong. No! I know the real price is 20,000 I said. I had read enough internet forums about this scam. The price dropped immediately to 30,000 and I agreed to that. Too tired to argue any further. After all, we are talking about 50c difference here…
An hour later we arrived at Hoi An bus station, which happens to be out of town. On for the last fight! Surrounded again by “motorbike!motorbike!” men, I got asked for 50,000 dong for a ride to town. No! You gotta be kidding. I know the price is 15,000 I said. “Oh town very far” they replied. I stubbornly stood in front of the town map with the GPS on my phone switched on, trying to work out how long it would take me to walk to my hotel and which direction to go.
And I didn’t give in to the motorbike men pressure. And I walked all the way.
Half an hour later and completely covered in sweat, I arrived at my hotel. Shattered.
It was 8am.
I had left Da Lat yesterday at 4pm.
Not at all! I had travelled by bus in Mexico and Malaysia (both daytime and overnight) already…Most issues on the DaNang bus ride seemed the result of my initial heated argument with the bus staff member :-(
That was your first ever busride outside of a city in Europe am I right?
I’ve been traveling for seven months in SEA, and considering each country only allows you a visa of about one month, and each country’s language is (quite) different, “trying to learn the language” equates to learning 6+ different ones. I think it’s a good idea to try and learn basic words in each country, but beyond the basics it’s almost impossible given the time constraints.
I found drivers in Vietnam (and Lao) pretty reckless in general! Overtaking on hairpin bends on mountain roads at night seemed the norm….For certain routes, buses are the only option so not much of a choice there.
My worst experience was a taxi ride from Hanoi city to the airport at 4am, with the taxi driver falling asleep at the wheel and the car swerving from side to side. A nerve-wracking hour!
I don’t want to scare you too much, just be prepared that the driving in SE Asia is pretty bad so check out all your options first!
I’m planning to take a sleeper bus from dalat to danang / hoian this June. I read that sleeper buses are unsafe as drivers are often tired and / or drive recklessly at night. What is your opinion on the safety of such bus journey. I would be travelling alone. Would appreciate your honest response. Thanks!
Sorry for late reply! I don’t actually remember: I booked through my guesthouse in Dalat and the ticket cost was pooled together with the accommodation cost…
What did you pay for the bus from da lat to da nang?
Fair enough! 20 words is a pretty good effort. We lucky enough to be dropped off at Hoi An from Dalat and a free shuttle to the centre (don’t mean to make you feel worse about your trip) so looks like you were a little unlucky!
I could have certainly made my life easier by catching one of the open tour buses that most backpackers use…But I wanted a more “local” experience and I do not regret my choice, even though it was a bit tiring at the time.
As for learning local languages, good luck with Vietnamese! I managed about 20 words and was happy with that :-)
Interesting to read that you love travelling yet from this article you would struggle to guess this. A bus trip in South East Asia where you manage to sleep most of the ride sounds pretty decent. You might also want to try to learn the language if you are visiting a foreign country and struggle with the fact that the locals haven’t learnt yours. But what do I know