Our south to north journey of Vietnam brought us to Nha Trang. It was our second visit since 2016. Our memory of Nha Trang remained extremely vivid, as we created many fond memories from our first ever visit to Vietnam. We remember the cheap shisha bars, the relaxing mud bath spas and the countless encounters with locals mistaking us for Russian tourists.
It fascinates us that both Russian and Chinese tourists outnumber western tourist in Nha Trang, so much so that the locals speak better Russian and Mandarin, then English. Nha Trang is a family holiday hotspot and after 3 eventful nights here relaxing, doing most of the same activities from our previous visit, it was time to pack our bags to travel from Nha Trang to Hoi An, ready to soak up the culture of the picturesque and vibrantly colored ancient town. Here’s how we made the journey.
Booking the bus based on reviews
Tourist sleeping buses are the best way to get around by land in Vietnam. There are several competing companies that offer the service from Nha Trang to Hoi An. Not much separates the different bus companies in terms of time of departure, length of journey and price. At a glance, the five or so bus choices appear identical, despite one glaring and very important detail: reviews. It was an easy choice to make when the deciding factor was customer feedback. We ended up choosing The Sinh Tourist sleeping bus because it had the most reviews and the most consistent positive feedback.
Checking-in at the bus office
Our bus (as well as every other bus leaving Nha Trang for Hoi An) was set for a 7 pm departure with an estimated arrival time in Hoi An for the following morning at 6 am. We arrived at the tour office with an hour to spare because we like to be very much on-time. It’s no problem at all that the service didn’t include a hotel pick up, because the bus office was within a kilometer walk from the tourist strip and beach front anyway. The office was easy to find along the main road.
The English speaking staff checked us in at the front desk, tagged our bags and then we sat in the air-conditioned waiting room. If you’re feeling a little peckish and need to grab a bite to eat before you board the bus, there are plenty of food stalls in the area. However, it’s important to note that The Sinh Tourist office in Nha Trang charges a small fee for minding your bags. The fee ranges from 20,000 VND ($0.86) to 50,000 VND ($2.16), depending on the length of time you leave your bag.
Waiting for the bus and meeting fellow travelers
It’s great meeting other couples when we’re traveling, so it was nice to have the opportunity to meet like-minded people and share our best and worst travel stories. We met another English couple doing the same identical route as us, overland from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. It was interesting to hear that they had paid for all their buses with the same company in advance, The Sinh Tourist, and was able to grab a bargain from their bulk purchase.
The bus journey – Blankets, water and Pringles are all you need
To gauge whether we’re going to enjoy the service starts the moment we hand our bags to the driver. Will he throw them to the back of the trunk? Will he let them down gently? Will he make sure to lay them cover side down, as to not dirty our bags? Nine times out of ten, it’s the latter, but we always take note of how our bags are treated, because the same treatment is likely to be shown to us as customers.
The driver picked us up and lay us down gently into our recliner leather seats… metaphorically. A backpacker’s bag is an extension of themselves, and as a result, we form a personal bond with our backpacks and treat them with the care and respect they deserve. What I’m trying to say is that our bags were handled with absolute care and as a result, we felt well respected and taken care of.
The clearly old yet well-maintained bus was at less than 50% capacity, made up mostly of locals and a handful of western tourists. Night buses aren’t generally the best setting for engaging conversations with fellow travelers. Before long, the lights went out and everybody appeared to be sleeping.
The comfortable leather seats recline just enough to replicate a bed, although anyone over the height of 6 feet would struggle to sleep like a baby. A few hours into the journey, we found ourselves pulling in at a service station. We stopped for 20 minutes at around midnight for a quick toilet break and for other passengers to grab a late night snack at a small kiosk.
The journey was smooth enough that we slept throughout most of the journey. Our devices, a pack of Pringles and the complimentary blanket and water were all we needed to be happy.
Ripped off upon arrival in Hoi An
The sound of the bus driver yelling “Hoi An, Hoi An, Hoi An” woke us up. We arrived in Hoi An at the promised time of 6 am. We zombied off the bus at what appeared to be an ordinary main road, with our bags slumped on the sidewalk. Local motorbike taxi drivers barricaded us and our bags, asking for the name of our hotel, to give themselves enough time to gauge the distance and inflate the price for us lightheaded zombies, yet to feast on some brains for breakfast.
It sounds like yet another metaphor, but at this moment we lacked the brainpower to consider our options, before accepting a price of 40,000 VND ($1.72) each. We didn’t realize our hotel was within walking distance (1 km), so we paid much more than what the journey was worth. We later checked the price on the motorbike taxi app, Grab, only to see the price was 15,000 VND ($0.65) each.
Upon reflection of the journey, we were more than happy with the service. All in all, it was a smooth and comfortable ride. However, we should have made more preparations for our arrival in Hoi An; notably our hotel booking, which was a 1 pm check-in. As we arrived so early we found ourselves hangin’ out outside of the hostel, desperately awaiting a good shower and a change of clothes.