An Ode to Night Buses
by Steve James
Saigon, Vietnam, 2nd June 2005
On the face of it, night buses seem like a good idea. They're dirt cheap - I'd paid US $20 for my whole open ticket from Hanoi to Saigon, including stops - plus you save on a night's accommodation each time. But in reality, they originate from the same place as Michael Bolton: the very depths of hell itself.
Firstly, the seats recline. A nice touch. Yours, of course, won't. On the other hand, the seat of the person in front definitely will, and they will enjoy pushing the boundaries of international seat technology by forcing it back as far as possible, leaving you with so little leg room that even Christopher Reeve would have complained.
Next, the driver, who by his erratic driving has presumably taken a course of caffeine laced with amphetamine in order to keep him up, will hurtle the bus violently around corners, thwarting any foolish thoughts you had of sleep.
The air conditioning commonly doesn't work very well if at all, and even more commonly has (unbenownst to the valiumed up travellers around you sleeping like babies) been turned off either to save petrol or to give more power to the engine on the driver's speed-fuelled journey into hell (via Michael Bolton's house).
Then there's the entertainment: if you're lucky, you'll be piped loud, dire Europop through a speaker inches from your ear, which in terms of musical worth ranks slightly below that of a flatulent hamster. If you're lucky.You'll get Vietnamese pop music if you're really unlucky.
Finally, even though you sneakily grabbed a free double seat in that quintessentially English "I claim this seat for England, and no bugger's gonna sit next to me" colonising fashion, it will be filled by a Vietnamese man at a later stage. Even though this man is not a shade over 5'2", he will doubtless invade the demilitarized zone between the seats with selected parts of his body, causing you to fold like a human deckchair.
This bile flows from my journey last night and today: twenty hours of seat, window and curtain, and not enough iPod to fill it...
A Year in the Life: a day-by-day journal of travels through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America