back at the Khách Sạn Thịnh Vượng (or Prosperity Hotel in English) Lan had been in contact with one of the bus operators that ran a service between Ha Long and Ha Noi and with our hotel placed directly on the side of the main route through (Highway 18), she arranged with the driver for us to be picked up outside just a short while after. We grabbed our bags from the hotel lobby and waited outside by the edge of the carriageway whilst a barrage of vehicles raced frantically by, spewing dust clouds up into the air ready to be inhaled into our lungs. Just before 4:30pm a coach came roaring up the road and then broke hard to a screeching halt. Our bags were then grabbed and thrown on board and we were hurried onto the bus, the vehicle already moving away again before my foot had made it onto the first of the steps.
We were led down through the aisle to the back of the bus, bouncing off the arms of the people and chairs as it weaved its way back onto the road and accelerated back up to speed. Our bags were propped up and crammed wherever space could be made behind us and the steward gesticulated for another man to switch from his seat to another so that Lan and I could at least sit together. At this point the exchange that had been ongoing between Lan and the steward seemed to be getting more heated, apparent to me only by the look of nervousness shown on the faces around and Lans frustrated demeanour.
The trouble with Vietnamese is that to my ear it's often difficult to decipher the underlying emotion of a conversation. As the words rattled back and forth faster and faster and faster it became impossible to second guess what was actually going on, the whole thing reaching the point where the speed and the tone of the volleys being fired back and forth bore a striking resemblance to the alien dialect in Tim Burtons Mars Attacks. With the shots of verbal gunfire now rattling dangerously close overhead I ducked down for cover and waited for a break in bombardments. It was fair to assume by this point that Lan herself wasn't happy, and I was about to find out exactly why that was.
The bus that had picked us up wasn't the bus that Lan had arranged for us to be on. The reason this bus had roared up so quickly and then rushed off again twice as fast was seemingly down to the fact that the driver had taken the opportunity to "passenger grab" from the bus that we should have been on that was trailing up behind. When the bus had pulled up outside of the hotel earlier, the steward of the bus had lied and bullshitted to Lan, rushing us on board before it was too late for us to do anything about it simply in order to cheat the fare from the bus driver following. What a bastard. Whilst Lan continued to seethe she took the time to phone and explain the situation to driver of the bus that we hadn't managed to catch, before then engaging with a lady across the aisle in Vietnamese in order to clarify exactly what was going on and make sure the destination was the one that we wanted to get to. I swilled out my mouth from a bottle of water in order to wash away the dust and the dryness and slipped down a little further in chair in order to try and find comfort where little was forthcoming.
Highway 18 between Han Oi and Ha Long is described by one particular writer on Trip Advisor as "One of the ugliest, least scenic roads in Vietnam", and it's hard to mount any serious defence against those words. For the next 3 hours and 48 minutes as the light faded from the sky I felt nearly every bump and dip of the road with nothing visually to distract me through the dirt covered window. It was a relief when the the barren darkness outside eventually gave way to the brighter welcoming lights of Ha Noi, on the signs, on the the buildings and even the traffic.
After a short taxi ride from the bus drop off to the Old Quarter and getting checked in to our hotel, there was just enough time for us to head out and get some food. At just before 10:30pm whilst we headed the short walk to the small convenience store close to the hotel, the sky was lit up blue by a flash of lightening, shortly followed by another, and another. Our window of being able to stay dry was closing fast.
With the nighttime snacks and drinks bagged up we hurriedly started to head back to the hotel, getting a minute into a 2 minute walk before our fortune for the day finally decided to run out. A few seconds after the first drop of rain had seeped through the cover of cloud above, the heavens fully opened and the torrential downpour began. Lan in her wisdom decided to make a run for it leaving me and the bags to fend for ourselves.
A few seconds out in that kind of rain is all it takes for you to be as wet as if you had been strapped to a stool by angry villagers in rural England a dunked into a pond and for that reason I looked to take shelter under the overhanging canopies of the buildings nearby. These provided only slim cover from the rain with frequent gaps between the current refuge and the next as well as the occasional rip leaking water directly down as though it was coming from a fully opened tap. There was no cover however from the pools and streams that were beginning to flow under foot and each time I stopped it would only be a short time until I was forced to move off again. With bikes lining the pavements in front of the buildings it was impossible to get close to the hotel without occasionally having to jump out over puddles and into the street to get around them, or occasionally just clamber over if there was no other way but with no sign of the weather letting at all, desperate times called for desperate measures.
It took me between 10 and 15 minutes to navigate that last 100 meters or so to the "Lucky 2" hotel and by the time I arrived I was completely sodden, maybe even more so than if I had just bitten the bullet and just walked back initially when the first droplet fell.
But the way I did it was a little bit more fun and gave me another experience to commit to memory, and finally to paper incase that bit ever fails.