From Hanoi to Ninh Binh, the distance varies depending on what website or guidebook you read. It’s between 80 – 100km and the bus was the cheapest option to get between the two places.
In Vietnam, you can get the tourist bus or the same bus that the local people use. As it was just a short journey, we opted for the local bus. It was also much cheaper and gives an insight as to how the local people travel.
Very quickly, it became obvious why so many Vietnamese people prefer to travel by motorbike over public transport.
As soon as we got out the taxi at the bus station, a guy appeared to ask us where we were going. We knew not to buy tickets from people outside the bus station as they are normally more expensive.
So we told him Ninh Binh and we pointed to the bus station entrance for our tickets. Even at that, he was happy to come with us and direct us to the correct ticket desk and then took us to our bus.
At this point, being the well read travellers that we are, we were a bit suspicious of him. Sometimes, I think not reading about all the so called scam artists is maybe the best way as 9 times out of 10, people aren’t up to no good.
I’m not really sure if this guy worked at the bus station or why he was directing us to where we had to go but he did.
We got on the bus, there was another passenger and a driver and that was about it. As we waited on the queue to leave the bus station, another person tried to board the bus. A security guard at the station wouldn’t let him on though.
A few hundred yards round the corner, the bus stopped to allow this guy on. He was shortly followed by another guy. They knew each other and were fairly friendly with the driver.
We stopped next to someone with a motorbike who passed a large polystyrene box on to the bus. They didn’t come on with the box though, what was it ? Was it a bus / delivery service ? Was it something more sinister ? Was the contents of the box legal ?
A few minutes later, we went round a corner, turned left and went round the same corner. The bus was, literally, going round in circles. The guys from before were still there along with the female passenger and the driver. And of course, the mysterious white box.
The guys who knew each other were strange. If they were doing something illegal, I think they were the worst under cover criminals ever. One sat at the back, looking through the curtain of the back window.
The other was at the front door and standing where the door is while constantly looking out of the door, sitting down for a few seconds and repeating.
As the driver clearly got fed up going round the same block, he went somewhere else. On the way, they were stopping at various points in the road to pick up more passengers.
Every time that they found any more than 2 people at the side of the road, the dodgy guy would hang out the door and shout to them. We had no ideas what he was shouting but we could recognise the name of our destination.
As the bus filled up, the driver was perhaps pushed for time. He was a maniac. A lot of people mention that the driving in parts of Asia is quite bad. Back home, some drivers are bad but the bad drivers back home couldn’t hold a candle to these guys.
Sometimes, over taking is done by passing on the left. Other times, on the right. And if there’s no space there, the hard shoulder will do just fine.
The roads aren’t in great condition either. Back home, when a rough road surface is approaching, we tend to slow down or drive round it. Not in Vietnam, they had passengers to find and the driver was in a hurry so straight through the bumps at high speed would be ok for now.
We had a bottle of pepsi and it was flat by the time we got off the bus, I think the shoogling on the road took any gas out of it.
At the same time, other passengers were sleeping. They were obviously used to this. Or else, they were awake but they closed their eyes as they couldn’t bear to watch what the driver was doing.
On top of that, a two lane road can be going in one direction but a lot of people prefer to cycle or drive their bikes on the wrong direction.
As we approached Ninh Binh, I noticed the street of our hotel so I asked to get off but the dodgy guy pointed to indicate that the bus station was nearby.
It was, we got off the bus with our flat pepsi. We were no wiser as to what the contents of the big white box was and walked to our hotel.