24.07.2013 - 25.07.2013 35 °C
The past two days have been extremely tiring making our way through Laos and into Vietnam. We started at 8am, checking out of our guesthouse and walking 2km to the bus stop in Nong Khiaw as we had read that the bus to Odomoxai left at 9m. When we got there it didn't leave until 11am so we had a few hours to wait. The lady behind the counter looked like we had spat in her face when we asked to buy the ticket as it meant she had to actually work and refused, saying we had to buy it closer to 11am. We decided to go for breakfast and crossed the street into what was named a restaurant but was actually someone's front room. They even had a Grandmother sat on a chair watching what looked like a Thai version of loose Women and chickens walked around all over. The family was friendly and we pointed to a sign that said fried rice and helped ourselves to some drinks from the fridge. After breakfast we went back to the bus stop and Chelsea made another attempt to buy the tickets as it was around 10.15am at this point. The lady refused again and had the same 'you spat in my face' look. At this point another tourist had arrived hoping to get on the same bus as us and was also flatly refused a ticket. We sat and waited until 10.45am and Liam decided to queue for a ticket. At this point a bus load of tourists had arrived and all wanted tickets for Luang Prabang and the bus driver told me to 'buy ticket now'. I politely advised him that Liam was in the queue and we had been trying to buy tickets for 3 hours. Actually getting a ticket took an age as all the people wanting to go to Luang Prabang had to be sorted first and there wasn't enough seats for them. By 11am we had got our tickets, our bag was on the roof and there were another 3 passengers sat on the bus. The bus didn't depart until 11.30am as we assume it was waiting for more customers. The public buses from Nong Khiaw are small minivans and its cost us 50,000 kip to go to Odomoxai. The sign at the bus stop does say 45,000 kip and we did point this out to the friendly lady at the bus stop but she just said 'no'. To get to Luang Prabang the sign says 40,000 kip but she was charging 50,000 kip for this journey also.
The actual bus journey itself to Odomoxai was the worst we have ever encountered and we have been on some bad ones. The roads are the worst we have seen and the minivan just bounced along, throwing us around inside like nothing we have experienced. The road looks like it has been churned up to re-lay it and then has just been left. There are big pot holes, ditches, pools of water and big mounds of rocks. There was a lot of evidence of landslides and massive cliff edge drops. After 2 and half hours we stopped to stretch our legs at the weirdest place. There was a row of huts acting as shops but all they sold was cucumbers, there wasn’t even water for sale just cucumber after cucumber of different shapes and sizes. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything and set back off. We thought we might be past half way but we were wrong. The views on the journey were beautiful and the whole way was extremely rural, passing through tiny hamlets where pigs, buffalo and ducks roamed around. We didn’t arrive until 4.30pm and everyone on the bus was totally done in. We knew we would be getting back on a bus the following day so we found a guest house next to the bus station and went in. It was overpriced at 60,000 kip but we didn’t care and we unloaded out things and went out in search of some food. Finding a place to eat in this town actually proved quite difficult. The town is run down and everything was closed or boarded up. We found one noodle house that was open that had two tabled but when we walked in the owners looked at us in panic so we decided to try our look elsewhere. We managed to find one place that was open and that looked remotely like a restaurant. Inside was a group of men drinking beer and playing bowls. We sat down but no one came so Chelsea went up to the paying kiosk and ordered two of the only think she knew how to say in Laos, Kow Pad, fried rice and beers. The place turned out to be quite friendly and we were only stared at a little bit whist we sat and waited or our food. The food was nice and we drank our last beer Lao watching a group of men play a weird game of what looked like bowls. After we went straight to our room to relax in anticipation of another day spent on a bus on the roads in Laos.
The next morning was an early start as the bus left at 8.30am. We thought we would have to get two buses, one to Muang Khua and one to the border but there is one bus that goes straight from Odomoxai straight through to Dien Bien Pu in Vietnam which we were thrilled by. We were even more thrilled when we saw it was not another god forsaken minivan but a VIP bus with fully reclinable leather seats. It cost 95,000 kip for the journey which is cheaper than doing it in two legs and much easier and comfier. The bus journey took all day but was so nice, such a comparison to the day before. Everyone got blankets and pillows and the seats were big and comfy. We took snacks on board as we knew it would take all day. The only downside to the bus as it acts as a sort of local bus between the villages in the mountains so it regularly stops to pick people up and to courier goods on. This mean that half way into the journey Chelsea had a travelsick lady from a village sat directly behind her vomiting throughout half the trip. When we reached Muang khua it stopped to let a few people on and Chelsea pointed out a man smoking a giant bong in the middle of the street. ‘Look at that man Liam with his giant bong….. Oh that’s our driver’. However apart from the vom lady and the driver on drugs the journey was carefree.
When we arrived at the border everyone had to get off and be stamped out of Laos. Everyone just threw their passports at a man in an office who tamped them all without even looking at the pictures or the people. We then got back on the bus and drove a few kilometres through no man’s land and then had to be stamped into Vietnam. We handed our passports over and then had to be medically screened to make sure we didn’t have a fever and put all our bags through a scanner. We then picked up our passports and go back on the bus. It was simple and relatively quick.
We arrived in Dien Bien Pu at around 4pm and weirdly drove past the bus station into a small muddy car park. We were then hounded by a bus driver and a man off our bus to get on their bus to Hanoi. We said we would like our bags and the man was quite forceful and aggressive. We got our bags and said we needed an ATM before we got on any bus but they insisted we should put our bags on the bus to Hanoi and they would take us to an ATM. Both us and another couple refused and walked off in the direction of the bus station. Once at the bus station we were hounded at all sides by bus drivers wanting customers. We managed to walk through and Chelsea asked a lady where we could find an ATM. She pointed in the direction and four of us walked together. After getting cash we had to face the bus station. We walked straight through all the men shouting at us and went straight to the lady in the kiosk. She tried to ask Chelsea what time she would like to go to Hanoi but we had been totally surrounded by shouting men so we couldn’t hear her. She wrote down a list of times and gave us a pen to circle the time we wanted. All the men were shouting the time of their bus for us to pick it like an aggressive game of bus bingo but she circles 17.30. We paid the 375,000 dong and all the men were shouting the time we had picked until the bus driver who owned the 17.30 came forward, giving us his card and showing where it departs. It was totally mental.
After the ordeal we needed something to eat as hadn’t eaten a meal all day so went to the first place we saw, a mobile phone shop with a few tables and a menu of a list of different meats. Our friends from the bus joined us and Chelsea ordered chicken and Liam ordered soup. We both ended up with a noodle soup which was delicious and came with a selection of do it yourself herbs. We sat for an hour recuperating from the stress and then went to the bus station flashing our tickets at the men who heckled us to buy. We went to quite possibly the worst toilets ever and boarded the bus.
We had never experienced any bus like it. It was an overnight sleeper bus and had three rows of reclining seats all of them with two bunks, one on the floor and one higher u. we were shown to some seats and got comfy. At first it was quite comfortable but it soon turned into a nightmare journey. The driver turned the lights out at 7pm so we couldn’t read and had to go to sleep but then he turned them back on at around 8pm and then didn’t turn them fully off till around 11.30pm. It was pitch black when we should have been awake but neon, multi coloured bright when we should have been asleep with karaoke TV on. We picked people us the whole way and the lights kept coming on and he continually beeped his horn. The driver flew around corners, braked suddenly and drove like a maniac so we almost fell off our top bunks several times. We had wondered why the entire floor was padded.
We arrived at Hanoi bus station at 5.30am absolutely knackered and were greeted as we exited the bus by a mob of taxi driver poking us and shouting at us. The rules about personal area we have found out don’t apply in Vietnam. We couldn’t believe how busy the streets were at 5.30am. We found a toilet which was dyer, full of syringes and which shockingly we had to pay for the privilege of using (it was only 6p) and then decided to share a taxi with the people from our bus. Chelsea negotiated a price of 25,000 dong each and we set off for St Joseph’s Cathedral, a central point to search for guest houses. We managed to find our first choice guest house and they had a room but we had to wait until 9am to check in. The owner was really friendly and gave us coffee and tea and we sat on the sofa and waited. We can’t wait to explore Hanoi, apparently Saigon’s quieter sister (Saigon must be totally mental!!)