I am in love…with the Hanoi bus service.
It’s brilliant. Once you get to grips with the routes it makes you wonder why anyone would risk life and limb riding around Hanoi on a moped.
People will tell you it is slow, complicated and a hot bed of crime. But these tend to be people who never use the bus service. Touch wood, I have had nothing but good experiences on the buses.
And riding the bus is one of the best places to get a free Vietnamese lesson. Sit up the back and say ‘Xin chao’ and you are in. Equally being a Tay (foreigner) you attract attention from other passengers keen to try out their English on you. It is good craic when you get a bit of cultural exchange going on.
At six foot one, wearing a face mask and having a bus pass round my neck, I hardly blend in, “Oh look, there’s a giant Tay wearing a cute monkey face mask and he’s got a bus pass too, wtf.”
Six months ago I found that almost without exception whenever I clambered aboard I would be the only Westerner on the bus. That, however, seems to be slowly changing as more expats (white migrants) abandon two wheeled madness for an air conditioned bus.
Even if you do occasionally screw up all is not lost. Simply get up and stare at the destination board. Within 15 seconds someone with English will come to your rescue and help you figure out where to get off and which bus to catch to get to your destination.
The bus service is also cheap as chips. My bus pass – which is good for a month and can be used on all services – costs the equivalent of £6.24. This is a little over half of what you would pay for a weekly ticket for one bus route in Scotland.
But when the buses stop running about 9pm – the only downside – it is sometimes an occasional necessity to take to two wheels. Fares though should not top 100,000 VND, much less if you want to haggle long and hard with the only xe om (motorbike taxi) driver around in the rain at midnight in a deserted part of Hanoi.
Driving a moped round these parts is not for the faint hearted. I can only envision blood, guts, broken bones and brain tissue (mine) with me being in charge of the controls. Hiring your own moped, as many foreigners do, will set you back US$50-$75 per month plus you have to organise a licence and put money aside for other incidental expenditure such as smoothing things with the Ha Noi traffic cops. So I am told. I am sure that’s a scurrilous lie though.