Heading North to Ba Be

I thought, hey, I did three 9-hour bus and van rides in the Philippines, six hours in Vietnam can’t be any worse!

Well, then I watch as the ticket guy spends the first 2 hours opening the door and yelling at people as we zoom by, in case one of them signals they want a ride North, in which case we stop to pick them up. Passengers frequently screaming into their cell phones or at the bus driver, we can’t tell which. Or the movie that plays for a couple hours (after the V-Pop music videos end), but seems to be dubbed with only one female voice doing all of the dialog. Once that movie ends, I realize that there has been a constant beeping through the whole ride that may be related to the flashing LED lights on the front of our bus advertising our route — time for headphones. Oh, and somewhere in there a girl in my row threw up twice into plastic bags and handed them to the ticket guy who threw them out the door of the moving bus. Did I mention the bus had a custom horn and the driver apparently needed to check that it was working between 3 and 20 times per minute?

The bus is also a courier service, so we pick up and drop off packages along the route, including one in a moving transfer with a motorcycle. People were just waiting for the drop-offs along the route, and I’m still not sure if those were the final recipients or just xe-om drivers (motorcycle taxis) that will make final delivery.

By the time we reach our stop, we are the only two on the bus, so our plan to get a little off the main tourist path seems to have succeeded. We got where we needed to go for only $6 (120,000 dong) and had our home-stay host, Mr. Linh, waiting for us when we got off the bus. This was easier than it would have been just a year ago when, according to Lonely Planet, we would have had to take two busses and a xe-om to cover the last 18km.

That’s where I thought the journey to Ba Be National Park was ending for the evening. But no, it was time for my first motorbike ride, with Lisa’s pack wedged in front of our driver Mr. Linh, Lisa sitting behind him, followed by me carrying two 18-liter packs and my 46-liter Osprey, while holding onto the driver with a death grip so I wouldn’t fall off! We reached the lake, loaded everything (including motorbike) onto a boat, and cruised under the stars for about 10 minutes. Another few minutes by motorbike once we reached shore and we were settling in for the night with a huge home-cooked meal of pork, chicken, green beans, veggies, tofu and rice cooked by both his mother and wife!

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