The Long Road to Hue
The day after my memorable experience in the Mường Hoa Valley was profoundly unremarkable, except for one rather significant point. This particular morning, it being my last at the homestay, Mama Chu was kind of brusque and her previously relentless hospitality was replaced with a singleminded determination to get on with household chores. We eventually walked further into the village and she arranged a motorbike to take me to Sapa.
It was paying what I owed for the stay that provided the aforementioned remarkable point. It turned out that I had somehow misunderstood the pricing. When she said that the trip would cost $20, I had thought that it was a very good deal, but she apparently meant $20 per day. In a galling instant, the whole experience had doubled in price. However, I had had such a good time that I paid and still do not feel like I was particularly cheated.
Once I reached Sapa, I waited at the hotel where I’d bought the bus ticket on Christmas Day. With a couple of other passengers, I was then led to a travel agency about 100 metres up the road. From there, with a larger group, we were led to the other side of a park, maybe a further 200 metres away. Beginning to think we would be walking to Hanoi, we were finally herded onto the sleeper bus and the journey soon commenced.
Hello again, Hanoi
Of course, given that it was about 10am at this point, I certainly didn’t get any sleep. Instead, I read most of the way to Hanoi. With no direct bus to my next destination — Hue — my itinerary took me first back to the capital and then on the road south. The first leg was uncomfortable because I’d been given the seat/bed right next to the toilet, but the hours passed without incident.
Once I arrived in Hanoi, my problem-solving skills were really put to the test. I was dropped off after dark in a sketchy-looking part of town, directly over the road from a “massage parlour”. With the words “Sweet Lady” written in glowing letters down the side of the building, I’d be surprised if their main industry was wellness. Anyway, I looked around and found, to my not-inconsiderable dismay, that this was was a dropping-off point, but not a bus station. I had no idea where to board my bus to Hue.
In such cases, my first recourse is generally to look around for someone to ask. The first shop I went into was a laundry, so that was no help. The second was a travel agency — jackpot, I thought! The only problem was that this particular agency was a rival of the one that I had booked my travels with and the joyless man behind the desk flat-out refused to help me in any way beyond recommending that I call the number on the ticket.
On giving the number a call, I found that the person on the other end spoke excellent English and understood my problem. They informed me that I had to travel to their office to catch the next bus. They then gave me the address. This was absolutely no help to me whatsoever. I hadn’t had the time to write it down and I immediately forgot the name of the street. Even if I had remembered it, I later discovered that the store was on one of the main streets in the area and I could quite easily have walked for miles and not reached the right place.
Starting to panic a little, I flagged down a motorbike taxi. Barely saying a word to the rider, I re-dialled the number and instructed the person on the other end of the line to tell the rider where to go. Some time later, with quite a bit of umm-ing and ahh-ing, we set off.
For some reason that I doubt I will ever understand, the bus had dropped me something like 3-4 km further down the same road that the company’s office was located on. Basically, the trip from Sapa to Hue came with the necessity for a 50,000 dong motorbike taxi ride and something akin to a treasure hunt in the middle, just when my brain was most fogged with fatigue, just for the jollies. My considerable frustration was mollified a little when I found that the bus on to Hue was virtually empty and I could claim the three top bunks right at the back of the bus for myself. For the first time in three rides on these semi-sleeper buses, I actually managed to get to sleep.
I’m not especially delighted that this rather pedestrian post is the first on this new site design. The relaunch took me a lot longer than I’d hoped and that was then followed by a long period of being out of the habit of regular blogging. The result is that I’m still writing about events from Christmas 2018, over a year after they occurred.
However, I’ve got to start somewhere.