Two days on local buses will take me along the spine of the western mountains of Veitnam & down to the ancient capital of Hue on the east coast...
15.07.2009 - 18.07.2009
The "local buses" In Vietnam are small minibuses, generally 70's beige in colour & covered in dust and rust. Once one is mostly full it will leave the bus station & prowl the streets for more customers, the driver's assistant leaning out of the side door and exhorting passers-by to do what they've never realised they wanted to do and get the bus to [insert destination]. When the mini bus is 1 or 2 people over capacity it begins to leave town, picking up more passengers along the way.
The first days travel was mostly flat; the surrounding countryside shallow hills covered in agriculture and coffee plantations. By 10am it had started to rain, by midday it was pouring, bucketing down; the sky gathered as much heavy rain as it could find and dropped it all on us. Sheets of water spears hurled themselves at the bus, but the driver carried on liking he was driving in a rally. Peering through the waterfall covering his windscreen, he dodged the surprisingly nippy little vehicle around trucks and past mopeds as we sped into a forest of neatly spaced rubber trees...
The second day was thankfully dry while the road wound down the mountains and out again to the flat coastal region. This didn't stop me having to hold on for dear life as rally driver number two raced his way down the narrow twisting roads. The chorus of vomiting that is the background to any bus trip in south East Asia had already begun by the fourth bend and we hadn't even begun to descend yet. For some people on the bus this was going to be a very long trip.
The road left the plateau behind and the mountain in front of us opened up into a huge valley stretching as far as the eye could see and bottoming out in a tiny river far below. Slowly we worked our way down around hairpin bends & stomach wrenching sheer drops until the river was no longer a distant shimmering ribbon but a wide churning tumult of brown.
It was early evening when I reached Danang, 10 hours after I set off, and by the time my bus to Hue began to crawl out of town the last dregs of light were being dragged from the sky.
It was, therefore, pitch black by the time we reached the half hour mountain pass that lies between the two cities. The road, slick and shiny from earlier rain and continuing drizzle reflected headlights as a blaze and as the traffic built up so did the competition to be the bus at the front of the line. As we twisted and turned upwards into the rocky outcrop the exhilaration of the race masked any fear as we overtook slow moving lorries on blind uphill corners with only the narrowest gaps to squeeze through.
We arrived in Hue unscathed, however, and, I like to think, in the lead.
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