Travelling Vietnam – Final leg

Saigon to Chau Doc

A six and half hour bus trip from HCMC to Chau Doc was the last leg of our Vietnam journey.

We planned to travel by ferry up the Mekong to Phnom Penh for the next instalment of our SE Asia tour: Cambodia. The ferry leaves early in the morning from Chau Doc, so we needed to spend a night in this small riverside town in southern Vietnam.

But first we had to get there.

Having checked out all options we chose to travel by bus.

We thought it would be a great way to see more of Vietnam, relaxing in big, comfy seats and enjoying the journey. The trip booked by the lovely hotel reception staff in Saigon was one filled with curious little surprises.

Picked up next morning by a taxi we arrived at the bus depot. We paid for our tickets and sighted our bus.

A massive bright red double-storied monster of a thing, we felt reassured that it appeared to be purpose-built for a long road trip. All we needed to sort out now was who was getting first dibs on the window seat.

As we walked to the bus entrance, ready to embark, we were presented with a small plastic bag. First surprise. I thought, “Oh good, we’ve got somewhere to put our rubbish.” As I entered the bus, I was greeted with a chorus from fellow passengers of “no shoes, no shoes” in broken English. The penny dropped. The bag was for my shoes, which I had just received unequivocal instructions to remove – second surprise.

Once I gathered my wits and looked around the bus, I became confused. In front of us were two rows the length of the bus, one up and one down cabin, the down ones being at floor level. All were furnished with a privacy curtain to complete the ensemble. We had been booked on a night bus for a six-and-a-half-hour day trip. Surprise No.3.

Now let me explain the encounter, bearing in mind how much smaller and lither the Vietnamese are compared to Caucasians.

The only access to the top cabins was via the passenger’s ability to climb without, hopefully, disturbing the ground-floor neighbour. The floor-level cabins were accessible only by squatting to the ground and leveraging one’s body into the slim long seat, assuming one has managed to stay upright to complete this manoeuvre. For my partner, a 6 feet 95kg Kiwi male, and me, being a 5 feet 9″Kiwi female and 75kg, it tested our ability to see the positive side.

Watching our Vietnamese brethren popping into their seats like feathers and lithely climbing into the higher cabins appealed to my sense of the ridiculous for the hilarious “challenge” we faced manipulating our bodies into position to enter our floor-level cabins. I put out a silent prayer of gratitude that neither of us had been booked in an upstairs cabin. One thing I noticed about travelling in Asia is that they are sticklers for staying in your allocated seat, so there would be no getting away with a sudden swap of places.

Fortunately, once installed, we could stretch out our legs, with the added bonus of some storage space around our now bare feet, and settle into the comfortable leather seat complete with a recline button! Ironic given that once in that position, we would struggle to get out of the seat at all.

Our starting position of sitting upright was akin to sitting in a row boat. We opted to stay in “the rowboat” pose. Even in this posture, our legs were too long to swivel out. So it was onto our knees or nothing. Then, from the knees to standing, I was determined to remain as dignified as possible. No matter how much effort we put into it, there was nothing dignified about it.

But weirdly, no one seemed to notice. I fell in love with the Vietnamese even more for leaving us with a semblance of dignity during these awkward manoeuvres. The biggest plus was that we didn’t have to negotiate the window seat. Each little cabin came with its own. Silver linings and all…

So next stop – the toilet stop, was at a tiny remote village with a massive “one-stop shop” providing all sorts of snacks and drinks and very clean toilets, was a relief. It was a relief to get out (read above for how this was done) and stretch our legs vertically.

We were kindly provided with “guest” orange slip-on shoes as we disembarked. Surprise No.4.

Images of the TV programme “Orange is the New Black” flashed through my mind. Said slip-ons were dutifully returned when we re embarked. This time bending our way into our cabins with slightly more grace.

We continued to our destination, Chau Doc, and three hours later, on the dot, we arrived safely. As we disembarked with our bodies feeling somewhat “folded up”, we were presented with our shoes and thanked, hands in prayer position, for travelling with “Phuong Trang FUTA Bus Lines“.

At the depot, we were met by a local, who whisked us off in a transit van bumping across potholed roads to our hotel in town.

A five-minute trip to the ferry terminal in the morning, then …

The Mekong here we come.

If you would like to find out more about traveling in Vietnam please contact

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