As always, trying to get information on traveling like a local from locals was like pulling teeth. For those who managed to actually get on a local bus they had to face super inflated prices, dangers and the occasional incident with police. Fortunately, for once we weren’t trying to travel like locals, as we only had 18 days to see the entire country and couldn’t waste the time. So, for $34 per person, we bought the open bus ticket that let us get on and off at six different destinations while traveling the 1000+ mile stretch between Ho Chi Min (Saigon) in the south and Hanoi in the north.
Buses ranged in duration from a few hours to overnight. They could be nice comfy AC ones just as easily as a teeny minibuses that crammed people, bags and even a motorbike into the seating area. The worst ride we had was an overnight one where we were in the front row behind the driver. There was no leg room and I was forced to rest my feet on either a fire extinguisher or the driver’s toothbrush holder all night.
When I did manage to fall asleep, I was woken up every few minutes by the sound of a horn: either ours or that of another driver. When I would open my eyes for a second I usually saw the bright headlights of oncoming traffic heading right at us from the driver’s window. I guess passing cars when he didn’t have enough time or space to do so and driving in the shoulder of the wrong lane was how he stayed awake all night.
On another sleeper bus, the seats in front of us reclined so far that the only position I could sleep in was with my body completely straight, bracing myself against the wheel hump on the floor in front of me. At one point it was so uncomfortable that I took my blanket and slept on the floor for the rest of the night.
Buses aside, the other transportation method we used was the cyclo. Propelled by a Vietnamese man on a bicycle, it is a variation of your classic bike rickshaw. The seats are big enough for one person to fit comfortably, though locals often cram whole families onto one cyclo. As for us, we managed to both get into one only once. The other times they told us we were too big and had to take two. Really, they just wanted more money.