Saturday

Driving in Vietnam

I wouldn't dare drive in Vietnam. I don't know how the Vietnamese do it. So I left myself at the hands of professionals. My first experience was with a cyclo. Strangely, I never felt in danger or under threat in the chaos – organized or otherwise – that is Ho Chi Minh City traffic.

When I set off for Nha Trang, I booked with a good local bus company. I heard the words "open bus" and thought that maybe I would travel in an open top to see the sights. What a silly assumption: how would an open top bus cope with a sudden tropical downpour? No, what I got was a "sleeper bus" for the 10--hour journey. That's right, a sleeper bus. Three rows of bunks on two levels take the passengers on their journey. Travelers can adjust the bunks upright for sitting, way down for snoozing, and all points in between.

Upon boarding the bus, we are asked to take off our shoes and place them in individual plastic bags into a large basket. There are two or three drivers who take turns at driving and sleeping, and they spend time alternatively on a bunk or hanging out on the floor in the cockpit.

Traveling down the highway in dense traffic, dodging motorbikes, bicycles and the occasional ox cart, is quite an experience, but the Vietnamese habit of tailgating before overtaking (which buses do very frequently) is unnerving. Sometimes, the driver would pull out to check the road ahead, only to have to pull in behind the vehicle in front in double quick time because of oncoming traffic. When he does overtake, it is with the narrowest of margins. I observed my bus getting back into its own lane just as it and the vehicle coming from the opposite direction cross their A pillars with less than a meter to spare, at about 70 or 80 kilometres per hour.

Sleeper bus: built for comfort, not speed.

Take your shoes off please.


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