How to ride the bus in Ha Noi. Pro tips for getting around…
1) Get a bus card – Not strictly necessary but it saves a lot of hassle. That special section in your wallet or purse where you save 5000, 2000 and 1000 VND notes? You can now use them for buying trà đá or bia hoi instead of bus tickets.
A bus card costs 200k VND. Assuming travelling to work 20 days per month and spending 7k each way you will be 80k up by the end of the month. In reality it will be more than that as you will become a bus ninja and hop on four or five buses at least at the weekend now that you have a bus card.
2) Don’t assume Google Maps is 100% accurate – I wasted an entire afternoon trying to get to Savico mega mall on the 17. Bad Google. If I had zoomed in on the map rather than taking the directions as read I would have seen that the number 11 or the 59 is what I should have caught. I started getting suspicious after half an hour when I found myself in a township I later couldn’t find on the map. After getting two conflicting stories from ticket sellers and being put off at a random stop, I grabbed a bottle of water from a nearby shop selling cooked pig tails and caught a bus back to Long Bien.
3) Seat choice is tricky – Don’t sit near the doors as you will be first in line to give up your seat. Get as far back in the bus as possible. The back seat is best as people who get travel sick tend to avoid sitting there. For extra leg room stake your claim in the middle of the back row.
4) Earn extra kudos – And a karma boost by giving your seat up to old people, pregnant women and young kids. But you would do that anyway, wouldn’t you?
5) Sadly – Pick pockets are known to operate on rush hour buses. Make sure your backpack or bag is worn on your front, not your back. With a ba lô you can step up to another level of security by wearing it back-to-front on your front, if you see what I mean.
6). Really annoying – If you have to stand avoid standing immediately by the exit door. It causes an obstruction and the ticket seller will get you to move while the bus is in motion. The optimum spot is a little before halfway along the bus so you can scope any seats becoming free.
7). I’m free – If there is a seat free that everyone else is assiduously avoiding there is a good reason. In my case it was a breast feeding mother. Not that I was bothered. Until, at least, she let out a shriek when junior clamped down on her nipple and the entire bus turned round to stare accusingly.
8) Language learning – Buses are good places to meet new people and get a free Vietnamese lesson. Just sit down and say ‘Xin chao’ and away you go. You can’t get that on a motorcycle as you breathe in the equivalent of 20 cigarettes’ worth of pollution while navigating wall to wall traffic and risking life and limb to get home 15 minutes faster.
9) Red button – After taking your seat locate the nearest stop button. Bear in mind it might be directly behind you. Allow plenty of time to get off the bus. Be beside the door much sooner than you might in your home country. The correct approach is akin to preparing for a parachute jump. Or so you would think.
The bus drivers don’t hang around at bus stops. Some barely come to a complete stop, mainly because they are fined for being behind schedule. Allegedly.
10) On time – Bear in mind that timetables can be elastic. The 33 in the morning rocks up between 26 and 29 minutes past. In the evening rush hour of Cau Giay I turn up whenever. I don’t think I have caught the return bus at the same time twice.