27.11.2010 - 27.11.2010 17 °C
After several more circles of the town centre, we eventually moved up the hill to the first bus station. There John was taken off the bus by the driver and escorted to the front of the ticket queue. Tickets to Hanoi were put in his hand at the price we had been quoted the day before, 300,000k each. Perfect! In a while the bus left and headed east. One the way at Vieng Xai we picked up two Swedish girls who wanted to go to Thanh Hoa, town in Vietnam which is on the route (but not the direct direction) from Laos to Vietnam. As they got on they were told the bus would go there and indeed the name was written on the front in big letters. Simple enough they thought. About an hour into the journey, the man who had assured them the bus would go there told them it now wouldn’t because no one on the bus wanted to go. He demanded more money and told them they had to go to Hanoi. He also very conveniently forgot he spoke English, despite responding to the question “do you speak English?” with “no I do not....” dubious! Anyway, they refused to pay and standoff ensued for the next 8 hours.
Meanwhile we were passing through some rather staggering and beautiful scenery. We had read that the border crossing was the least used and most arduous to approach but apparently this just means the route is even more beautiful (and of course bumpier) than usual!
After 4 hours or so we reached the border, which was really rather grand, with multi-storey buildings on both sides, as tall as any we’d seen in Laos. We didn’t even have to pay the customary $1 bribe to get our visas stamped. Both borders passed easily enough but the guards did insist on going through our dirty laundry, though not through any of the side pockets or other dubious boxes which had been loaded onto our bus, a smugglers dream!
Once we’d passed the check point we stopped in the border town for lunch for an hour and then headed off into Vietnam!
After another 8-9 hours we arrived in...Thanh Hoa. So much for not stopping there, and fortunately the girls still hadn’t paid. A potential scam to look out for! The whole scam was made all the more obvious and ridiculous because we were taken off the Lao bus in Thanh Hoa and would have to change buses, so we were always going to have to stop there. Grrr. Once we were off the bus we had some time to wait for the next one. Obviously at the moment the bus arrived John chose to go to the toilet. The bus didn’t seem very keen to wait for anyone and Susie was very worried he’d be left behind as we were all bundled onto the bus, which was already moving as John stepped onto it. We’d heard the Vietnamese were efficient but this was ridiculous! Later on the bus would pull away after dropping locals off before the conductor had even got back on, he had to run and prise the door open with his fingers to avoid being left behind! This journey, to put it in one word, was INSANE. Apparently in Vietnam every road (even those with one lane) has an invisible third lane, which you gain access to by flashing your lights and beeping your horn, regardless of the space on either side, oncoming traffic, self preservation or consideration for the sanctity of life.... Noone could sleep on journey where you spend as much time headed wildly towards the lorries in front of you as you do undertaking and cutting up everything in sight. All in a bus: clearly the most nimble of modes of transport!
Ah, well we survived and after another 4 hours we were yelled at. HANOI! We were then bundled off the bus (which was of course already moving away), presented with our bags (which had been dumped by the side of the road) and left to it. No map. No idea where in Hanoi we were (a city of 3.2 million people, whereas Vientiane, the capital of Laos only has 200,000!), very little Vietnamese money, and on the back of a 14 hour bus ride. The rest of the evening could prove to be an interesting night indeed!