A Bus Journey from Hell – Hoi An, Vietnam
I was standing in the dark watching a boy load luggage into the storage compartment of the bus. We were running behind schedule but that didn’t seem to bother him as he repeatedly unloaded then reloaded assorted rucksacks, cases, bags and boxes into a space the size of a rabbit hutch. Hawk eyed I stood in the cold, wet, deepening night and watched the proceedings. Luggage, you see, has a disturbing habit of wandering off if left on its own. It has a particular fascination with bus stations and often enlists the help of friendly locals to aid its getaway. Now if my bag had a personality like Rincewind’s luggage I would sleep happy knowing that anyone attempting to befriend or even steal it would be risking loss of life or limb. I would also never have to crawl up mountains, pound pavements, ford streams ( you get the general picture) with it attached to my back as it would follow me with dog like devotion on its own legs.
Finally the boy jigsawed all the bags into the small space bar one which, of course, was mine. As there was no room left, not even for a small clutch handbag, I hauled my luggage onto the bus shoving it onto my bunk bed along with my backpack, snacks, drink, pillow and blanket. One problem though, no room for me. I started to unload and reload the bed!!!! Finally cramped up into a foetal position I tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately a bed designed for dwarfs, a prime position over the toilet, loud Vietnamese music, a driver hyped up on 30 red bulls, a pull over by the police and a manic attempt to make up lost time - and let’s not forget the luggage stuck into my soft fleshy parts, did not a peaceful night make.
Twelve hours later, grumpy, sleep deprived, dishevelled and in need of a shower, I fell out of the bus into the clutches of a tout. Earnestly he informed me that the hotels were too far away to walk and I would need him to drive me to a hotel with vacancies. Despite my zombie like state I knew I was being conned. There were hotels all around us! I started checking them for rooms with the tout in tow haranguing me all the while. Twelve hotels later plus conversations with other roaming homeless established that there were over 1000 delegates in town for the first ever Asian choral convention. The whole town was booked out unless you were willing to pay over 100 dollars – which I was not.
In despair I went with the tout to a hotel he said had rooms - it didn’t – the only vacancy was the space behind me as he shot off on his bike to find another sucker. Resigned to waiting it out until check out time (4 hours away) to see if anyone was leaving town unexpectedly I met a man on a motorbike. He knew of a hotel that had delegates checking out that day. Throwing suspicion into the wind and grasping onto desperation I jumped on the back of his bike. They had rooms, check in 2.30pm (6.5 hours wait) and best of all only 12 dollars for an ensuite! Passports and luggage deposited I headed into town for breakfast and a long wait.