Vietnam News

Taking the bus can make you miserable

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I often take the public bus, but many times, it has been a painful, intimidating experience.

Last Tet, my daughter and I tried to catch a bus to Noi Bai airport. As the bus arrived at the station, the door briefly opened and closed, and it quickly drove off. I ran after it and called out. Luckily, the driver heard me, so he stopped and let us get on.

However, as my daughter and I carried our luggage onto the bus, both the driver and the assistant shouted, “We can’t carry your suitcases.” I explained that we needed our suitcases and that we were willing to buy more tickets, but the male driver still refused, even though there were only a few passengers on the bus at the time.

Last summer, we were on another bus to the airport, which was large, clean, and beautiful. But the service was not that nice.

The co-driver in his twenties wore headphones and kept checking his phone while collecting money from passengers. He shouted at an old man who was slow with his luggage. A girl requested a stop, but he did not answer after three calls.

After returning to Vietnam from that trip, I met Momoko, a Japanese girl, at Noi Bai airport. She had a 20-hour transit in Hanoi and wanted to visit the city. She wanted to use public transport as she does at home, because she thought it would be friendly.

We took her to the bus stop next to the airport’s international terminal, and moments later, a bus arrived. Having experienced this several times before, I ran out to the middle of the road to make the bus stop. The driver assistant stood there and watched three women carrying heavy suitcases onto the bus without greeting but only frowning and urging us to “Hurry up!”

I told Momoko to sit down and sleep for a while since she had flown all night. But a few minutes later, the driver assistant got on the phone and started talking loudly. The driver then turned the music up, playing it at maximum volume from a speaker.

I have used public transport in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and other countries many times. There, it’s rare to see anyone making a lot of noise or playing loud music. All public transport moves in silence. On the bus, everyone is quiet, and those who listen to music only use headphones. The only person who “talks a lot” is the driver, who thanks the passengers when they get on the bus and says goodbye every time they arrive at a station.

Back to my story, Momoko woke up and looked around the bus and wondered: “Why can’t I see any instructions? How will I know where to get off?”

I have been loyal to public buses for many years, and I have to admit that I had never seen any signboards, printed boards, or a single line in English on these vehicles. Sometimes there is not even any Vietnamese signage, to inform passengers which stop is next. The schedule plate on the bus was printed long ago, the letters are so dim and small that even people with good eyesight find it hard to read.

On some routes, I have seen loudspeakers announcing the upcoming bus station, but only in Vietnamese. Most of the time, if people want to find out about the next station, they have to ask around, or use their own experience.

A little while ago, on a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, I took a bus from the city’s center to visit the Cu Chi tunnels in the suburbs. There were no signs on the bus either, and the vehicle was in bad condition. It was old, and the window curtains were covered in dust. Many seats had torn, exposing their insides. A huge trash can was fastened to the drinking water bottle in the middle of the bus, and the floor was littered with paper and garbage. A plastic trash bin lay bare at our feet, next to a dusty broom.

One time a bus driver assistant, knowing that I was going to the airport for an overseas trip, even asked me why I had not taken a taxi. “Why make yourself miserable taking the bus?” he asked.

In early July 2022, a transport company in Hanoi had to halt a series of public bus routes due to financial difficulties, while HCMC announced that it would suspend more than 10 public bus routes because they were not profitable. This goes against the trend of urban development in Vietnam and the world, where it is essential to expand public transportation to alleviate congestion and reduce pollution.

It also contradicts the development goals set out in Vietnam’s transport development strategy for 2020-2030, which calls for the rapid development of fast and high-capacity transportation in large cities, especially Hanoi and HCMC, and the strong development of urban transport and public buses.

However, if people do not feel good about taking the bus, and even people operating the bus think riding it is “miserable,” achieving these goals may be a long way off.

By Trinh Hang – – March 16, 2023

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