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The bus journey from hell

rain 16 °C
View Great Escape to the East! on Tam-Jo's travel map.


As I have been telling Tam repeatedly for the last week or two, you can't come to south east Asia and not do an overland border crossing - it's an experience. You also can't come to south east Asia and not do a hellish long bus journey - it's an experience. We decided to do both at once, and it was definitely an experience!!! Here is a round up of our 26 hour ride from Vientiance, Laos, to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hour 0: Our minivan was late to pick us up from the hostel. While waiting I managed to unwittingly befriend a child named Kola. As those of you who know me will testify, I don't like children - they are scary! They can also smell my fear and are drawn to me. For a good twenty minutes I was left to enteratin Kola, who even drew me a picture of a chicken to take home with me (I subtly left it there!), whilst Tam ignored my discomfort and got on with more grown up things. These things included falling to the floor after breaking a plastic stool - very funny! The minivan eventually arrived to take us to the bus station.

Hour 1: The bus. Us nine foreigners were the last to arrive at the bus station and on seeing the condition of the bus that we would be spending the next 26 hours in decided that there must have been a mistake. There wasn't. The only room left on the bus was in the last two rows. Five "beds" (reclining chairs with a little hole for your legs beneath the headrest of the chair in front) made up each of the last two rows, meaning that those in the last row had to clamber over the people in the row in front to get to the aisle. We were, of course, in the back row! We settled in and made ourselves comfortable for the journey ahead.

Hour 3: BANG! Yep, the tyre below me blew out. Did we have a spare? Ha! As if! Course of action? Flag down every passing bus until we found one that had a spare tyre we could steal! And back on the road we went!

Hour 5: Dinner stop. Everyone off the bus!

Hour 9: We arrived at the border. It didn't open for another five hours. But it had been a bumpy ride until then so none of us had had much sleep. Plus the engine was right beneath us, meaning that our seats were hotter than the sun. So the five hour wait at the border was a welcome relief and we all managed to grab a couple of hours of kip.

Hour 14-16: The border crossing from hell! Into Laos emigration to queue to have our passports stamped. This took a good hour. After trying to get back on the bus half of our group were turned away and pointed in the direction of the border. Our passports were checked and we were ushered through the barrier and into no mans land. It was raining, and muddy and we were all wearing flipflops. We couldn't see more than a few metres in front of us because of the mist but there was nowhere to go but forwards. Our walk to the Vietnamese border was long and punctuated by having to dive out of the way of several passing trucks that seemed to appear out of nowhere. When we eventually reached immigraton we were told that, even though we all had valid visas arranged in advance, we had to pay a "stamp fee" to get into the country. One of the girls we were with started to argue with the man behind the counter that was dressed in military uniform and demanding the money, until we reminded her that he was the one holding the stamp and there was really no way of getting out of paying him! Then ensued a game of cat and mouse with our bus and the Vietnamese border crossing guards: we tried to get on the bus, the driver wouldn't let us. The border control guards told the driver to let us on the bus, fifteen minutes later a different border control guard told us all to get off. Our bags were all taken off the bus and we were marched down the hill to have them scanned whilst a guard checked our bus. We loaded everything back on the bus, had a minor argument with the man at the money exchange place who was talking on his phone instead of exchanging money, then got back on the bus! For some reason, although this was all very difficult to do at 7am, I LOVED IT!!! What an adventure! Onwards!

Hour 22: We were meant to be in Hanoi. 200km to go. It had been a bumpy ride so far!

Hour 26: We arrived in Hanoi! Whoop! We got a very cheap minivan into town and then walked to our hostel through the crazy hustle and bustle of the Vietnamese capital!

After a very disappointing KFC (we've managed to avoid fast food for the last month - don't judge us!), we collapsed in front of HBO! It was an exhausting 27 hours, but what an experience!!

Jo xxx

Posted by Tam-Jo 23:38 Archived in Laos Tagged vientiane hanoi

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Awww poor little Kola!! I cannot believe you left the chicken picture behind! Love that you still get creepy kids attaching themselves to you on the otherside of the world ;o)

Good work crossing the border, sounds scary!!! xx

by Bobbington

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