Getting from Hue to Hanoi on the bus can be one of the longest journeys of your life time. It took me SIXTEEN hours. Yes, 16 hours!
So, I’m here to tell you how to survive this epic journey using my tips below:
You might just think why didn’t I get a flight from Hoi An in Central Vietnam, my previous destination, all the way to Hanoi in North Vietnam.
See more: It’s Hoi An, innit?
But you simply cannot miss out Hue, the old imperial capital of the kingdom. It’s beautiful, full of history and there’s the Perfume River too! It’s where I got the best pose of my guns too!
So, a long bus journey is needed. What can you do to make sure the journey go faster than you can say Vietnamese Coffee?
1) Charge, Charge, Charge all your electronic devices
I don’t think I would have survived without my iPhone, iPod and my iPad. If I wasn’t listening to my music (S Club 7, I’m afraid to say), I would be typing up my adventures.
2) Go luxury style from Hue to Hanoi
You may be tempted to go with the cheapest bus journey, I did. I went on one for $32 and I lived to regret it. The bus looked like it was about to fall apart, the suspension was shot and I swear the bus driver looked he’s just passed his driving test. It was a really uncomfortable journey. So, go upmarket and perhaps take a bottle of champers with you to celebrate!
3) Get on the bus first and grab your preferred seat
Whatever you do, always get the seat in the middle or the back. Never the front. If you do, you’ll have a panoramic view of the craziest driving in the world where vehicles pass each other by mere inches. I swear I saw a motorcyclist move his arm out of the way so our bus could get pass. Terrifying!
Even so, get on first to see if your seat works. Many Vietnamese buses have a horrible reputation that their seats don’t work. My friend and I soon discovered ourselves to find my seat broken that it couldn’t lay down backwards and that her seat couldn’t set upright. Therefore, I had to try and sleep rigidly upright with my feet poking out to the side of the passengers in front of me. Not a nice experience for them!
4) Bring your sleep mask and ear plugs
Vietnam is bright at night thanks to over lit establishments and glaring street lamps. Bring a sleep mask to block out the light when travelling overnight from Hue to Hanoi.
The bus can be noisy depending on which bus you take. Bring ear plugs to block out the hum. However, this leads to my next point…
5) Be prepared to stop for a break in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere
Toilet breaks are too far and too long in between. We only got two toilet breaks and one of them was at the god forsaken hour of 3am. Many people on the bus simply slept on while I took a tinkle and they lived to regret it with bursting bladders until the next stop. So, if you get an opportunity, be prepared to vault over the seats to rush to the restroom.
6) Keep your eyes peeled on the bus driver at breaks
Toilet breaks don’t last for long and bus drivers have a habit of wanting to get to their destination immediately. So, toilet breaks can last as long as five minutes. Take a quick wazz and while you’re stretching your legs, keep your eyes on the bus driver as they may suddenly climb aboard and turn on the engine for 30 seconds before starting to drive off. There were a couple of incidences when we had to alert the driver of missing passengers particularly one who was running after the bus while hiking up her shorts.
7) Bring a sick bag
If you can get travel sick, bring one. If you don’t, still bring one. There might be someone close to you who will need a sick bag on the 16 hour journey from Hue to Hanoi. I had the misfortune to find a passenger behind me throwing up his guts. The next two hours until our demanded toilet break passed by with the stench of sick in the air until all of us had enough and demanded to be let off. The bus crew cleaned up while we waited. It all could have been avoided with a sick bag.
8) Pack your day bag with warm clothing
It can get cold in the night, so I recommend you pack a thick jumper to use as a blanket or even to pull on while you sleep.
9) If you’ve been to Cambodia before Vietnam, bring your Khmer Scarf.
I simply loved my Khmer scarf when I was travelling on the bus. It can be used for anything as it is body length, thin but warm and soft to the touch. It’s a great tool to use as a blanket or if you need it to use as a quick drying towel after splashing your face. Of course, wash it at the end of your journey.
10) Always lock up your day bag with a combination padlock
You should never leave your valuables inside your big bag that is stored in the hold. There have been incidences of corrupt bus crews rifling through your bags below. Therefore, it is recommended you take your valuables with you to your seat. However, make your day bag as secure as you can with a combination padlock to ensure no one gets a look in while you are sleeping.
11) Bring plenty of snacks and water for the journey
It’s 16 hours (if you’re lucky!) from Hue to Hanoi. With rest stops far and few between, take your favourite snacks and a large bottled water (sealed) to survive your journey. There will be food and water at the rest stops but be prepared to see some extraordinary stuff. Could that be dog pieces or seaweed flavoured Pringles?
12) Make friends with the people sat around you
You’re gonna get up close and personal with the people around you. So much more than your current beau. You’ll be acquainted into great detail with smelly feet, bodily noises, snoring and a apologetic smack in the face with an elbow. It’s not all bad, you’ll make fast friends bonding over the journey from Hue to Hanoi and bring a pack of cards as an icebreaker. Although, people may draw the line at strip poker.
13) Be respectful to the bus driver but be prepared to stand your ground
Although this didn’t happen on a bus journey between Hue and Hanoi, I had to sleep on the bus in the aisle as I travelled between Nha Trang and Hoi An. It’s because the bus was over subscribed and I allowed a mother and baby to take my seat.
But as I finally rocked off to sleep, I completely slept through a stop where people got off at their destination meaning seats were free. The Vietnamese bus driver, rather than shaking me awake, opted to wake me another way. A huge slap around the face.
I never get furiously angry but it was a flash of red for me as I squared up to the driver. But luckily, the rest mist evaporated when I came to my surroundings and calmly discussed why slapping people isn’t a way to wake people up. He apologised and we were friends later after he hugged me and bought me a delicious cup of coffee. But if I continued with a raging temper, I’m sure I would have been thrown off the bus without my belongings with me. Be reasonable and be firm politely.
14) Just look outside
Vietnam in the day is truly beautiful. Particularly more so at sunset and sunrise. Make the most of the daylight and switch off your gadgets to watch the stunning country go by.
15) Pack a headlight for the night
Chances are you’ll have a paper book with you to read. But as the travelling between Hue and Hanoi will involve night time, it’s best to pack a head torch for reading, talking with your new friends and stop you cursing while you fumble the combination lock.
16) Make sure you know where to get off in Hanoi
As my friend and I would be staying at Hanoi Backpackers when we arrive, we took the misguided assumption that the bus would stop off at a centralised location. No, that didn’t happen. The bus would stop off at several points on the outskirts of the city.
Luckily, my GPS on my battery depleted phone still just about worked to get a bearing to help me work out the map within my lonely planet guide to SE Asia while we neared the capital city of Vietnam. We got off at the right stop and voila, only a few streets away were our accommodation was based. In hindsight, we should have spoken to the bus company first to know where to get off before starting our journey.
17) Try to sleep
Believe me, you don’t want to stay awake on a moving bus for 16 hours. Thanks to my broken seat, I did exactly just that. I don’t know how I managed but I must have slipped into a stupefied trance.