Sunday, July 17, 2011

Return to Vientiane

Note: Quite a few people have ended up on this post after googling for the bus ride from hell. To summarize:

1. It is definitely not as bad as it seems! The bus was comfy and my journey was quick. We reached the border a few hours early, but it was no problem to just sleep on the bus until 8am. I would do it again if I need to, no problem!

2. It could turn out to be nasty if you aren't lucky - it all depends on circumstances and do buy your tickets from a reputed tour agent.

3. You'll have to pay for this and that at the border - so make sure you have small change in Dong and/or Kip!

I am back here, after the week of madness that was Vietnam. When I planned this trip, too many people berated me on my plans and told me I should pick only one country instead of trying to see both Vietnam and Laos. I just couldn't bring myself to pick and now I am glad I didn't. It's been very interesting transitioning between the two neighbours. In that short period of time, being in Vietnam put me through so many different kinds of emotions, often many in one day. It was very up and down, swinging between extremes. I don't know how anyone can objectively say "I love Vietnam!" or "I hate Vietnam" because the country and it's people makes it damn hard for you to decide.

One moment I would be seething in fury and sitting on the roadside with steam coming out of my ears after dealing with a horrible, barbaric person and muttering "get me the hell out of this place!" but it never lasts long. The next moment some exceedingly kind, big hearted person would do something so insanely amazing that all my anger would melt away leaving me all doe eyed thinking "I love this country!". This happened multiple times over the course of one day. It was all quite exhausting, but an interesting experience nevertheless.

I was a bundle of nerves when I first got to Hue and after a while, I calmed down. I even liked the energy of Hanoi, in a particular way. Today my nerves feel slightly unsettled again leaving Hanoi and getting back to Vientiane. This is completely unexpected, who knew the transition from "crazy" to "sleepy" can also make me jittery. As always, my mental self is still in the previous country even though my physical self has moved on, as evidenced by the fact that I accidentally paid for my dinner in Dong (that is the Vietnamese currency, not Lao) and I keep counting my change twice (kept on getting shortchanged in Vietnam).

To get here, I took the overnight VIP sleeper bus from Hanoi direct to Vientiane. Cost me 32USD as I bought it from a travel agency at the Old Quarter in Hanoi. If you buy it from the bus station which is quite a distance out of town, it was 500000 VND, which is about 25USD. By the way, this bus ride is also known as the bus ride from hell. So how did I find it? Well, at 5 pm, this motorbike pulled up in front of my guesthouse and took me to this tour office to wait for the bus. At 5.35pm, this guy came and walked us through the alleyways to a waiting taxi. The taxi brought us somewhere near the bus station but dropped us off in front of a bank, where we were asked to wait for a while. Around 6.30pm, we moved from waiting in front of the bank to waiting in front of a parking lot. After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were all herded to wait in the waiting room of the bus station. Around 7.30pm, we got our tickets and were allowed to get to the places were the buses were parked. Then we sat around in front of our bus waiting some more for about 30 minutes before we could finally get into the bus. I think even reading this paragraph was boring.

To cut a very long story short, after more waiting the bus moved. It was a nice bus, and I'm of Asian proportions (read: short) enough to find the sleeper nice and spacious. But too bad my seat was right next to the toilet and initially there was a bit of a stink... Middle of the night, we stopped in the middle of nowhere and a whole group of Vietnamese people crowded into the bus and made themselves comfy on the floor in the aisles between the sleeper seats. This local guy tried to pull the whole camel and the tent thing with my sleeper seat that I paid dearly for (he inched into my seat bit by bit), and for the first time in my life, my bony elbows were such useful weapons. Effective too, as he swapped places with his more civilized friend who slept peacefully in the aisle and didn't try to cuddle with me.

The border crossing for this trip was the Namphao (Laos)/ Lak Sao (Vietnam) crossing. It was cold and misty at 6 in the morning, but absolutely gorgeous! Mountainous with a river running by the side, plus a lady selling awesome fried bananas on the Lao side. This was a much cheaper (much less bribe needed) and easier crossing than the one I did one week ago, which was the Dansavanh/Lao Bao crossing, which was also set among extremely beautiful surroundings, some of the most gorgeous settings I've seen. So now you know where to go if you want to see some pretty mountains. I knew I had arrived in Laos when the people at the Lao immigration smiled at me. After an entire week, someone actually had the decency to say thank you to me after taking my money. Nobody scowled at me for no reason. People are nice. I was almost moved to tears but then decided to be not so ridiculous.

The world feels oddly quiet and peaceful now, such a nice feeling. After so many nights of dormitories and overnight buses, today I felt the need to splurge and got myself a nice room with hot water and cable tv (omg tv!). A little pricey, but tomorrow I plan to move to the infamous but cheap Sabaidy GH Dorm, so it is necessary. 

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