Night buses in Vietnam are probably not high on anyone’s list of things to do in life. The pros are of course that you save money on accommodation for the night and also save time on traveling while sleeping.
There are really two main concerns with bus travel (or any road travel in Vietnam) which are the comfort and the safety. For comfort, imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep on a slanted trampoline with in an overcrowded daycare that has a bizarre affection for bright flashing lights. The bouncing leaves bruises if you fasten a seatbelt (if you have one) and you risk ejection from your sloped seat if you don’t. Honking is the primary form of communication for drivers in Vietnam, meaning anything from ‘I’m planning on passing you on this blind corner’ to ‘hey, you’re driving on this road; me too!’ to ‘I’m bored at the moment and thought I would check out my special double loud horn to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth’ and more. The range of custom horns is impressive, from swinging goose, to skydiving child to whale songs. It can be pretty entertaining trying to place the horn inspiration at the beginning of the night. The downside is that after about 3am when the honking seems to increase as drivers battle drowsiness, the horn symphony becomes less amusing and a little more like Disneyland with a raging hangover.
The safety concerns are of course real. Road conditions aren’t good, oversight for things like vehicle maintenance are lacking, drivers hours are largely unchecked, potential drug/alcohol testing of staff is likely unheard of and a generally creative interpretation of road rules by all drivers add fuel to the fires of those who want to point out the horror of bus travel in Vietnam (especially overnight busses). There are countless articles and discussions that all come back to the same idea, ‘you are crazy if you risk your life by getting on a bus’. All of that said, there are thousands of tour busses plying the roads of Vietnam every single day. The number of accidents involving tour busses is in the single digits each year, when you take out the number of accidents involving unlicensed tour busses that number gets much smaller. So, while there is certainly danger in getting on a bus with all the concerns above; the statistics still say it is likely no more dangerous than your morning commute.
So, Liz and I are on our third city in Vietnam, and have taken a bus into each one so far. The reason is not that we enjoy the abuse of bruised hips from seat belts or that we have no concern for our personal safety; really it is more that they still tend to be the best option. The other options are planes (sometimes) trains (even less of the time) and driving ourselves. While the buy a motorcycle and drive ourselves idea is certainly appealing; even I get hesitant with safety concerns when looking at satellite images of typhoons off the coast promising torrential rains. Also, while riding two up on a motorcycle is fine, adding two large backpacks full of stuff makes that a little more cumbersome, which is not a good way to ride. Planes are great, and the low cost carriers in Asia are in some pretty fierce price battles to get business making them all the more affordable. Even with that, they are more expensive and vastly so if booking last minute as we have been doing with all our travel. They also have safety concerns with plane age and maintenance and pilot training, the same as the busses. Also the airports tend to be far from city centers which means of course we are hopping a bus or taxi for part of that trip as well. Trains are a little better (though no more affordable than planes really) but are even more limited on travel destinations. Hopefully we will end up taking more trains on this trip. Sleeper cars on trains really are one of my favorite ways to travel.
Hope everyone is doing well, this post comes to you from the back seat of a sleeper bus heading from Dalat Vietnam to Danang.