it’s been real

really real! 6am this morning we lept out of bed, refreshed and ready to face the day (ahem). Technically we awoke, brushed teeth and staggered across the road to get the 6:30 (AM) bus to Ninh Binh. Which is much nicer than it sounds. The bus was utterly bizarre, quite a crazy experience. We managed to find some seats in the second to last row and behind us was a relatively large area for what I assumed was luggage. I also noticed a small stack of red plastic mini-stools (you see them everywhere with people precariously balanced on them at the side of the road eating Pho or Com). I think nothing of it.

We leave the bus station exactly on time with a 3/4s full bus and I settle down for a nap. However, on immediately crossing the road outside the bus station, the bus stopped and people started lifting bicycles onto the roof. Uh Oh. About 5 more people got on. Hmm. So the bus stopped about every 200 metres until we left town, with more and more people getting on and more and more bicycles being put on the roof (the conductor was very good at climbing out the back window and onto the roof while the bus was still moving!). Once we’d left town, the bus was entirely full, loads of people were perched on the red plastic stools, my leg was being used as an arm rest(personal space is not understood here)(and as Chris has just reminded me, I didn’t take to it particularly well)(there may have been muttered swearing). So the entire 3.5 hours to Ninh Binh, people got on and off the bus with it emptying out and getting very crowded several times.

We arrived at 10:30 with approx the same amount of people who left Haiphong but other than us, I think they’d all changed around. Arriving in Haiphong was weird. No one launched themselves at us immediately. In fact, we were entirely ignored by everyone, including the ladies selling food & drinks in the bus station. We felt like the world had come to an end or something. Usually the moto drivers & taxi drivers are reaching into the bus trying to get your business as you arrive anything, they descend like a pack of crows and you have to fight your way through them saying NO firmly. We decided we liked Ninh Binh.

The sun was out for the first time and we wandered out in the (relatively) peaceful streets to look for our hotel. We flagged down a cab and paid him 20,000 dong to take us there (it might have been a rip off as it was only accross the river and down a dirt track but it was the least amount we’d been ripped off for and we had a good feeling!). Arrived at the Xuan Hoa and I despatched Chris to look at rooms. He came back having engaged for us, the best room in the place, 2 king size beds, a balcony, a bathroom (with a bath rather than a shower over the toilet – still no shower curtains tho). $20. Lovely.

After a shower and a mini sleep, we went for a wander, found food and explored. Considered options and decided that we’re running out of time and still have about 900kms to get to Saigon so have booked a sleeping bus to take us to Hue tomorrow night and we’re going to stay there for 1 night to see the tombs and the palace and then we’re getting a minibus to Hoi An for 1 night and then we’re flying to Ho Chi Minh City for $42 and getting the bus to Phnom Penh. Cambodia here we come!!

Tomorrow night’s luxurious palace on wheels.