Hà Nội Scribbles

Travel & Living in Hanoi, Vietnam

I am a passenger

UPDATE: Maybe I have been a touch hasty with my criticism, I inexplicably got home 15 minutes earlier on Monday night. Time will tell.

UPDATE: Hanoibus surpassed themselves today. They managed to make it a three-bus epic – a 41, 22 and then the BRT. It is difficult to see the gain when you are hopping off and on buses and seeing your journey time increase. Still, we need to make BRT look like a success even if we tick off all the passengers in the process.

I never usually wish harm on anyone but I am beginning to sway towards a rethink after the deletion of the No. 33 bus route.

Whoever thought that up – and it will undoubtedly be a committee – should be cast into the Red River wearing concrete flip-flops. For not only have they fragmented my little bus 33 posse, they have consigned me to an hour of standing on two three buses getting jolted around while playing sardines with several dozen complete strangers.

After making friends with a whole bunch of passengers on the 33, I now have to start all over again, on at least two over-filled buses. If I was a complete narcissist, I would automatically assume this was payback for my recent mixed review of the blue bus replacements.

BRT bus imposing bus only lane discipline in Hanoi

BRT bus imposing bus-only lane discipline in Hanoi

More likely it is connected to the introduction of the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) project which inevitably involved a degree of chopping and changing.

Before discovering the 33 was no more; while standing at the bus stop wondering why it was incredibly late and only finding out when a fellow passenger pointed up at the sign and I saw the 33 had been airbrushed out of existence, life was simple. Walk to the bus stop, get on, sit up the back with Van and join in her little hand and joint workout. Then chat with various passengers who got on at different points along the way.

It was a cosy, familiar existence. Sit there, lazily check off the landmarks en route then think about getting up to go to the door when we crossed the canal into Cau Giay.

Now, though, it is all change. I have options. The preferred one is the 41 as I am guaranteed a seat joining it at the beginning of the route. On the other hand, it does sometimes seem a touch leisurely getting off the mark some days which is frustrating, especially when you see the 58, 55 or 31 drive past on the way to Long Bien bus station, albeit at bursting point passenger-wise.

Either way, I know I will be standing on a sweaty, juddering 22 whether I catch it at Long Bien bus station or on Quan Thanh near the Nha Tron (Round House) if I travel by the 41.

The return journey isn’t much fun either. By way of experimentation from the classic 41-22 combination, I tried the 50 one evening as I knew this went down Kim Ma and on to Ga Long Bien. With a handful of passengers on board, I had the pick of the seats almost. But ten minutes in, I was beginning to have my doubts as we veered away from Kim Ma. Turns out the guy behind the wheel that night used to be a Hanoi taxi driver, so we slalomed our way to the bus station then finished off with a long looping scenic swing up Truc Bac lake for good measure. Won’t be falling for that one again.

Experimentation is going to be something of a theme for the next few weeks to figure out the optimum timings there and back. So hopefully I will be able to reconnect again soon with my little band of fellow travellers.

And it is not just me imagining this and trying to bullshit you. On the first non-33 return trip I suddenly got a tap on the shoulder from the passenger behind me. When I turned around she said: “We need to get off at the next stop to get the 41.”

After thanking her, I followed in her wake as we waded through a mass of humanity to the exit.

At the bus stop, I asked her if she had noticed me on the 33 as this could be the only way she knew I needed to get a 41. She said yes.

“So why did you never say hello before tonight then?” I enquired.

“Because you were always so busy with all your friends,” she replied.

And indeed that is what we are. We only ever meet on the bus. We know each other’s stops. We manage to communicate after a fashion in English and Vietnamese. We get on well and the journey passes quickly.

It’s nice to clamber on board and see a few familiar faces as you scan the interior looking for a spare seat.

If it was the 07:05 bus 33 I caught, Van would be in the centre of the back row. She caught my eye and moved her handbag off the seat for me to sit down beside her. We never spoke much but I always copied her bus joint work out programme she does every morning.

Occasionally, I would meet a teacher from Botswana. Sometimes a French teacher.

Further along, Duc, a guy in his twenties got on and waved at me. Or sometimes he would sit beside me and I would try out my khong tot tieng Viet on him. He usually just smiled. Or laughed. Sometimes both.

Some days on the 07.20, I was joined by Linh, a pupil at a French school who likes to practice her English with me.

On the way back home I would often bump into another Duc and we would have a good old natter. Being a Westerner on a bus, young ladies insist on talking to me. Don’t know why. If Duc was around I would try and gently point them in his direction as A) he speaks excellent English, B) speaks Vietnamese, and C) is usually much nearer their age. I normally manage this by the expedient of pulling him into the conversations to translate.

So to all my erstwhile 33 bus friends, thank you and hope to see you again on the journey.

2 comments on “I am a passenger

  1. Anonymous
    January 9, 2017

    Actually, concrete flip flops would be too kind. The BRT – while great in principle – seems to have been designed to reduce the effectiveness of public transport and force people back on to their motor bikes.

    My travelling time to 3 of the 4 destinations I go to very week in Hanoi has now been almost doubled because of the recent bus route changes. Try getting a direct bus from Long Bien interchange to Nguyen Chi Thanh – now impossible. Try getting from Long Bien interchange to Lang Ha – also impossible. 22 to Ha Dong? Now only goes as far as Kim Ma bus station. Ta Ho to Keangnam? Got 2 hours to spare?


    • Hanoi Scribbles
      January 9, 2017

      I know your pain. I used to get the 33. It was axed. Then it was the 41 and the 22. Today Hanoibus managed to go one better and make it three, 41, 22 and BRT.
      They are clearly trying to shunt as many people as possible onto the BRT to make it look like a success. And pissing everyone off in the process.


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