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The runaway bus from Vietnam

Sharing beds with random people was not something I imagined I’d be doing in Vietnam.

But as soon as I stepped into that house in the middle of the night, where everyone was sitting in the dark watching a horror movie, the house seemed..a little overcrowded.

Indeed it was. The house belonged to a Vietnamese couple who had taken on about a dozen other Western volunteers. So I ended up sharing a bed with 3 other snorers.

On day two, I was on babysitting duties and the lady of the house, Linh Pham placed her baby on my lap. I asked if he had any nappies and she said none were available.

The baby was super cute and smiley and I put him in his playpen so that he could play with his toys. But I was having second thoughts. Many of the other volunteers had left to teach English, except for a tall, English guy called James who later turned out to be an enigma and a menace. More about that in another blog.

I’d used Workaway to sign up to new volunteering opportunities and this was my first gig. I never thought it would lead me on a wild-bus chase across the countryside of Vietnam! As it happens, I was lucky to make it to my destination.

By day three, I was helping to teach English at a night class, located fairly close to the house. After the night class, I would sit down with the homeowners and the other volunteers to enjoy some home-cooked Vietnamese food, which was heavenly.

However, I was starting to have reservations about being there and sharing beds with the many was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. I think Peter Pham (husband of Linh) did say something about possibly going to his parent’s house, but none of that was set in stone.

On the fourth day, Peter approached me and said we were leaving to go to another house to volunteer. He called a taxi and off we went. The taxi stopped and dropped us off…by the side of the road.

Peter led me to the side of the highway and there we waited…and waited. I asked him what we were waiting for and he told me not to worry. Eventually, he tried to flag down a few passing buses, but to no avail.

After about 40 minutes, a bus did eventually stop. He said something in Vietnamese to the bus driver, loaded my suitcase onto the bus and waved goodbye to me.

That’s the way things are done in Vietnam…it’s all a little slapdash and you never know what your next adventure is going to be. Disorientated and confused, I got on the bus, without having any money to pay and without knowing if or how the fare had been paid – because I saw no exchange of money. The bus driver also kissed my hand as I got on and tried to kiss it again. Surreal.

Other passengers stared at me in curiosity as I boarded the bus, which had comfortable beds to lie down on.

I spent the next three hours wondering where the hell I was going and how I will know when I get there. We stopped at a local food court to buy food and as I was getting off the bus driver told me we had 20 minutes before we needed to return.

After 20 minutes, I returned to the bus and was greeted with a smile by the bus driver. I was somewhat bemused that the passengers were once again staring at me out of curiosity. I settled back into my bed, which looked like it had been rearranged a little bit.

I got an uneasy feeling and wondered whether I should double check with the driver exactly where I was going. I dismissed that feeling and tried to settle down. But as the bus started to move, I got up to ask the bus driver where we were going. It was then..and only then that he informed me that he had never seen me before and I was on the wrong bus!

I spent a few seconds trying to persuade him to open the door and I lept off the bus! Afterall, the only thing worse than being on a bus ride to nowhere is being on the wrong bus to God-knows-where!

A kind-hearted and informative local person pointed me towards the right bus, which by now was starting to pull away. I chased after it, and the bus driver thankfully saw me and opened the door to let me on. And tried to kiss my hand again….bizarre.

The other passengers gave me knowing smiles as I did the walk of shame past them. I got the feeling that they knew what had happened. The bed was the same as I had left it and I settled uneasily into it. I noticed that every now and again the bus would stop and the driver would call people forward to let them know they had reached their destination.

I wondered if he knew where I was going because I certainly didn’t. It was another two hours before the bus had completely emptied and it was then the bus driver called me forward to let me off the bus. It was the moment of truth. I wondered how the hell or shall I say..who the hell would pay for this random journey across the countryside of Vietnam.

There was a young Vietnamese woman standing across the other side of the road with her motorbike and she crossed the road to greet us. She gave some money to the driver and led me across the other side of the dirt road. Her name was Dung Pham – sister of Peter.

But we had a problem. My suitcase – which was almost as big and much heavier than me – would not fit on her motorbike. So for the next few minutes she tried to get the assistance of random passers-by and was somehow able to convince one of them – a guy that I shall call The Boss – to singlehandedly take my suitcase to her house on the back of his motorbike.

After receiving instructions to find her house he took off with my suitcase with one hand on the motorbike handlebars and one on the suitcase and he sped off like a true Don.

I asked Dung whether she knew the guy. She said no. I wondered if I’d ever see the suitcase again as I climbed on the back of her bike. We arrived at her house 30 minutes later and there it was. The suitcase had been signed, sealed and delivered to the destination as requested. Unfortunately, The Boss had disappeared so I was unable to offer him anything for his Herculean efforts.

I stayed in that little countryside village for a week and boy did it give me a whole bunch of adventures. It started with a runaway bus and ended with James the enigma….

PART TWO COMING SOON…

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