The "sleeper" bus proved to be anything but. Designed for oompah loompahs, the "bed" was approximately five foot long, which is ample if you're of South-East Asian descent but ridiculous for anyone Western and over the age of 12.
Our plan to catch this bus, get a good 10 hours sleep (the journey time), and then arrive in Nha Trang refreshed and calm, dissolved before our eyes as we climbed aboard and looked around. Now I know I keep whingeing about the bus journeys so I'll try to keep it short, but man, this one took the biscuit...
We located our beds..top bunks next to each other above a large Vietnamese family with 2 small children and grandad sleeping on a piece of foam in the gangway. Kicking off my flip-flops I climb over him and try to cram my size 8's in the rungs of the tiny ladder up to my bunk.I manage to fit only my big toes in and yank myself up using my arms. Then I attempt to lay down. Hmmm, can't seem to fit my legs inside the metal casing of the lower half of the bed, designed to stop you rolling out when Jenson Button (aka the Driver) takes a bend at 100K's per hour.
Bending my knees to one side, I try to lay down. Nope, not gonna work. I try again, this time bending my neck at right angles to my body. I fit in, just. I look over at Liam, who's doing the same. I look like Alice in Wonderland, after she's drunk the potion that makes her grow.It's funny for about 10 minutes, as we crack up and take phots of each other wedged in these little coffins. We're the only Westerners on the bus and the locals nearby laugh as they watch us trying to contort our bodies into the beds,casually stretching themselves out in theirs, elbows behind their heads.
As we stop laughing, reality sets in. We've got to spend the next 10 hours in this unnatural position. The roof of the bus is only a few inches from our heads, so sitting up isn't an option. After an hour, during which the 2 TV screens have played loud sitcoms and karaoke in Vietnamese, the neon strip lights above my head have been switched on and off at least 10 times, and the aircon has broken, it's not funny any more. Combine this with Lewis Hamilton senior at the wheel, honking away and bouncing us out of our beds every few seconds and it soon becomes painful. Liam and I put on the belts that strap you to this metal torture device (aka the "bed") and resign ourselves to a sleepless night...
Thankfully, our hotel's driver is waiting at the bus stop in the pitch darkness to pick us up at 6am, bless him, only it's not the taxi we'd arranged, but a motorbike taxi. He was a little over-optimistic, seriously planning on taking 2 6-footers, 2 large rucksacks, 2 daysacks and another shoulderbag to the hotel on one clapped-out bike. Finally giving in, he calls a mate over to help and we make the journey to the hotel, which, thank God, is lovely. For a two-star. We're shown to our rooms and collapse.
When we woke up we realised that we have a large balcony, seaviews and a lovely ensuite with... a bath. A luxury for a traveller.
Feeling better, we explored the city, taking in the huge sleeping Buddha statue, the Long Son pagoda and the Hindu temple, where the monks were sleeping.
We walked along the picturesque beach, watched the stage being set for that night's concert and had lunch at a restaurant before heading back to rest and change for the night's celebration for Tet and the Chinese New Year.
That evening we headed down to the beach along with a mere 40,000 others to watch the show. Brightly-coloured costumes filled the stage as the live music filled the air. Being the only ones on foot, we managed to get a good postion at the front. Almost everyone else had driven to the square on motorbikes and were staying on them, lined up neatly for miles around.Young men in red satin costumes played the drums and danced, neon dragons on metal sticks were paraded across the stage.The dancing and music continued, followed by parades beautiful young girls dressed in the traditional dress of "ao dai", a silk tunic slit to the waist with elegant wide-legged trousers. The atmosphere was happy, charged, but without the alcohol-fuelled menacing air that often happens in England at such large events.
We took a break to get some dinner, before returning to the beach to watch the rest of the show and catch the fireworks. By now, there were even more people, although we only saw a handful of westerners and were aware of locals gawping at us and whispering, but in a nice way. The people here are extremely polite and friendly towards us, as they have been all over South-East Asia, smiling and calling hello to us. Ok, so it's usually followed with requests that we buy something, but people have also stopped their bikes to offer help if they've seen us looking at a map or looking lost, for example. We've never felt in danger or had any "encounters" as we did in South America.
We watched the fireworks from the beach, which were being let off simultaneously on 2boats out at sea - it was an amazing display and must have cost a fortune.Despite the size of the crowd, it was peaceful to watch, with just the "oohs" and "aaahs" in stereo all around us to remind us that we were not alone.
It had been a fantastic and memorable night, and a stroke of luck that we just happened to be in Vietnam for Vietnamese and Chinese New Year...