Vietnam is blessed with a super-strong tourist infrastructure, and buses can easy ferry you hostel to hostel without having to set foot on local public transport. Sometimes, however, the bus connections just aren’t quite right, either going to late or too early. The local bus service can be a way to get there quicker and with a look at local life. Just don’t always expect a lighting-fast trip, as I discovered on a journey from Hanoi to Ninh Binh:
Smugly spurning the tourist shuttle bus, I made my way to the public bus station via the easily google-able local public buses. As soon as the ancient doors creaked open, a youth with slick hair and a leather jacket urgently shouts Ninh Binh at me, rushing me through the turnstile and running after a breadloaf minibus. I throw my bag in the back and leap aboard to see no other passengers. Welcome aboard the Vietnames Bus Ruse.
We crawled at the slowest of snails paces around the bus station, as a few more passengers were hustled on. Despite our tectonic pace I wasn’t allowed to get my backpack from the boot to grab my headphones, so spend the time listening to the gory sound effects from my neighbors phone games.
Finally leaving the bus station I hoped we would pick up some speed and actually set off for Ninh Binh. It was not to be. We spend the next 45 minutes crawling at 3km per hour - I checked, I could see the speedometer - up and down the streets surrounding the bus station, looking for potential passengers to lasso. As at least five lanes of traffic streamed quickly past us we continued to roll forwards, the driver resting his elbows on the wheel and looking rapidly around, constantly seeking seat fillers.
Larger, more comfortable-looking express buses to Ninh Binh sailed past regularly, tauntingly on their way as we stall a mere 200 meters from the bus station.
As we progress onto the highway I see the road's sides spotted with the occasional hopeful traveler, perched on a massive suitcase. The system of filling up the bus to the brim has led to people giving up on the bus station, preferring to wait in ever more distant and uncomfortable locations in the hope of being one of the last and latest passengers on the bus, skipping the slow prowl around the streets and cutting journey times. In parallel, the bus, rather than picking up all passengers at the station and set off quickly, ever extends the stop radius to locate more people. The system feeds off itself, becoming an increasingly slower way to leave Hanoi.