4 Aug 2011
*Update: Video Uploaded for Day 4-5: Laos-Hanoi(Continued from previous post)
This is the craziest day of my Land Trip to Europe so far. And I'm still in Asia of course.
I booked a sleeper bus ticket after I arrived in Laos yesterday. Paid USD38 through an agency. This is slightly more expensive compared to buying it direct from the Bus Terminal (which should not be confused with the Bus Station). The Bus Terminal is a good 9km from where I stayed and paying that little extra to get the ticket was more than worth it. They provided dinner and pick-up from the hotel too.
The driver was supposed to pick me up at my hotel at 5pm, but at 5:30pm, there was still no sign of anyone. I gave them a call from the reception and they said the driver couldn't find the hotel. No way! I gave them the Hotel's information yesterday and they still couldn't find it?
Got into a pick-up truck and met 3 Korean ladies. Not sure why I have this affinity with Koreans girls/ladies. I came to Laos with Koreans and left Laos with Koreans.
Reached the Bus Terminal. The place where things started to get a bit crazy.
First, the people at the Bus Terminal were loud and rude. Especially the ones on my bus. There were 2 drivers and 1 attendant (I think. There were probably more because I kept seeing them coming on and off the bus from nowhere). They were pushing us (the passengers) with their fingers (not with their whole hands, otherwise that would be even more aggressive and offensive) when they were giving us instructions. The thing is that they can't speak English. There was this Irish lad who was not happy about it and he told the attendant jokingly, "Hey, why do you keep pushing me? I'm not a cow!" Not sure if the attendant knew what he was saying. I was just laughing inside.
(Vientiane Bus Terminal)
I knew beforehand from the agency that the bus journey takes about 23 hours (including all waiting time, crossing the Lao-Vietnam border and all that). So I was mentally prepared. The bus was supposed to leave at 7pm. Time now was 6pm and I wanted to board the bus to rest inside. And when I went up the bus, I heard the attendant shout, "No! No! No!" I turned around and he motioned me to get off the bus. I don't understand. The bus was just stationary there and I can't go in? I saw passengers sitting on around the bus, on the road, waiting for time to pass. I decided to go to the waiting area under the shelter of the Terminal to have my dinner (which was a packet of fried-rice bought by the agency). It was simple but nice. Not too salty.
(Fried-Rice Dinner at the Bus Terminal)
Time now: 7pm. Everybody boarded the bus and driver/attendant checked our tickets twice. My bed/seat was on the upper deck once again. My bed/seat was in the middle row. Beside me, on my left and right, there was an aisle and then another row of beds/seats. The bed was small and restricted my movement quite a bit. I was fine with it and was contended just to have a place to rest.
(Inside the sleeper bus)
There was an Irish lady, who didn't want to sleep on the upper deck, wanted to change places with her boyfriend on the lower deck. While she was moving her things, the same attendant, who shouted at me earlier, shouted at her, "No! No! No!" She was like, "Why not?" And the attendant just waved his hand and shouted, "No! No! No!" And he was loud.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited. It was now 9pm and the bus was still at the same spot! The bus did not even move an inch. The passengers on the bus were beginning to get restless. Most of us were at the Terminal since 6pm and were there for 3 hours already. The bus only started to move at about 9:15pm and some passengers clapped their hands immediately!
5 Aug 2011
Journey was bumpy. But I could deal with that. Still felt comfortable and was able to sleep. That was until the bus stopped at 3am. And the air-con was turned off. Suddenly, the whole bus is hot and stuffy. Most of the passengers woke up at this point, wondering what happened. We were actually at the Laos Immigration Checkpoint waiting for the Office to be opened at 7am. 4 hours to go.
One local went onto my to open the ventilation cover on the ceiling of the bus, which was just above me. Cool air flowed through the bus and I was glad that I was near the ventilation. Wanted to sleep but there was this guy, who was sleeping beside me (not really beside me as there was an aisle separating us), started to SNORE!!! Loud!!! We were in an enclosed place and the snoring was amplified in the bus. I got up and looked around and I saw many passengers were affected by the snoring and one gentlemen was putting on ear plugs when I looked at him. I did my best to ignore the snoring and went to lie down again. But I can't. The snoring was too powerful to ignore. So I took out my best weapon against it--my iPod. Played some nice music and fell asleep soon after. This was the first time I took it out to listen to mp3 ok?
The same attendant shouted at us at 6am, waking all of us up. We thought we could all get our passport stamped and we went out of the bus, only to find that the office was still closed. This is the Lao-Vietnam border and is somewhere along the mountain ranges. The air was fresh and cooling. Most of us went to the toilet outside to freshen up and to brush our teeth. There was 1 guy who wanted to use the WC in the bus, and guessed what happened? The SAME attendant shouted at him, "No! No! No!" In my mind, I was wondering why they have a toilet in the bus and we can't use it.
Now, they were charging 2000 kip (Lao Currency, about SGD$0.30) to use the toilet and if you can remember, I did not change any kip. And the person there refused to accept Thai Baht or USD. He kept saying, "Money, Money, Money." I asked, "Thai Baht?" He said, "No! No! No!" I really needed to pee and I asked this Korean lady (yes, another Korean) if she could pass me 2000 kip for me to use the toilet. She passed me the money and I offered to give her another currency in exchange but she declined. I thanked her and went to relieve myself.
Waited till 7am. Many tourists were getting annoyed. Including me.
(At the Laos Checkpoint. See the people waiting behind me?)
The office finally opened and everyone went to queue to get their passport stamped. The immigration officers do not speak English and were pointing to us to queue at counter 1, and we went to counter 1 and the officer at counter 1 told us to go to counter 2. And then to counter 3. That went on for awhile until we got to the right counter and they stamped our passport. I officially left Laos.
Usually what happens now after you cross the checkpoint is to wait for your bus right? So that was what we did. We waited. And waited. And waited. Many buses went through the Laos checkpoint but no sight of ours. Other people from other buses boarded their bus and proceeded to the Vietnam Checkpoint. We just waited. One passenger from my bus asked the attendant where to take our bus, and he just said, "Bus? Go! Go! Go!" while pointing straight ahead (which was where the Vietnam Checkpoint is). That would imply that we have to walk there ourselves. right? The passenger was quite shocked because all the other buses took their passengers with them to the Vietnam Checkpoint and we have to walk? He tried to clarify with the attendant but I don't think he understood what was said.
So we walked. Bear in mind that this was a mountainous area and we just left the Laos Checkpoint and had our passport stamped. In other words, now we were in NO MAN'S LAND!!! We were not in Laos nor in Vietnam. We were not in any country! We walked for about 10 mins in no man's land and reached the Vietnam Checkpoint. Had to pay USD1 for stamp duty and got out passport stamped. I officially entered Vietnam. After that, guess what? Waited for our bus again. Waited for 1 hour sitting on the curb but still no sight of the bus. We thought something might have happened and they won't allow our bus to pass through the Laos Checkpoint. At 8:45am, we saw our bus. And the bus stopped just before the Vietnam Checkpoint. Waited again. Then the bus came to where we are and we unloaded our bags for scanning. Them we waited again for the bus to clear the customs. By now, it was already 9:15am.
Can you imagine? We spent more than 6 hours at the Laos-Vietnam border. That was the longest border-crossing in my life! And we still were still there. Other buses had left the place a long time ago.
Some of the passengers were really getting frustrated. Me? I became a Super Angry Bird.
Finaaaaaaalllllllllllyyyyyyyyyy, the bus cleared the customs and we loaded our bags back and went up the bus. The thing that frustrates us the most was that we didn't know what was happening and the people couldn't tell us what was happening either.
Continued the bus ride and it became bumpier. The bus stopped so many times at different places (to drop/pickup passengers) that I lost count. Was still stuck at my tiny bed/seat on the upper deck.
The sky turned dark and I worried that I wasn't going to make it on time to Hanoi Train Station. I was supposed to buy a ticket to Beijing from the train station and I read on the internet that it closes at 7:30pm. The bus was scheduled to arrive in Hanoi at 6pm. I looked at my watch and it was 7:25pm. I knew I wouldn't make it in time. But deep down, I was praying that the Train Station's ticket counter will still be open, that the information I read online was probably outdated.
8:15pm. Reached Hanoi Bus Station. All in all, the whole journey since I was at the Laos Bus Terminal took more than 26 hours! I went to look for a taxi but all the drivers couldn't speak English. Argh.... Took out my iPod and showed him where I wanted to go on the map. I'm not even sure if he knew where I wanted to go after showing him the map.
(In the taxi)
After 15mins, we reached Hanoi Railway Station. Rushed to the information counter and asked if I could buy tickets now and she said yes. Then rushed to the ticket counter to buy the ticket to Beijing. Was happy that the ticket counter was still open. But my happiness was short-lived. When I wanted to pay for the ticket, the counter staff asked me to pay 7,820,000 Dong (Vietnam Currency). I read online that it was slightly more than 5million Dong. The information I read online was really outdated. And I didn't have enough Dong or USD to pay for that. She told me to come again.
Now, with my HUGE haversack, I had to find my hotel. Didn't want to spend any money to take a cab anymore. I knew the hotel was near the station but I had to make a big U-Turn because the hotel is on the other side of the station. It took me 8-10mins to walk. As I was walking, I was irritated by the constant honking of the vehicles here. It was crazy. Roads were filled with Motorcyclists and they would come so near to me as they zoomed past.
Checked-in to my hotel, dropped my HUGE haversack there and changed my money to Vietnamese Dong. Rushed back to the Train Station to buy my ticket. Was queuing up behind a man at the counter and when it was my turn, the counter staff said they were closed! I couldn't believe it! There was no one behind me and I was the last customer and she refused to sell me the ticket! And I was perspiring with all the rushing here and there.
I wanted to settle this ASAP as I'll be away on a cruise for 3 days. Was afraid that when I come back to Hanoi, the tickets will be sold out. I guess I'll have to go back to the Station tomorrow morning before they pick me up for the cruise. Need to rush again.
On the way back to the hotel, I bought a Sandwich Kebab for dinner (it was already 9:30pm). I just realized that I didn't eat anything the whole day on the bus. Except for the 4 rice crackers that the Korean kindly passed to me while she was eating. I was hungry.
(My second pit-stop. With a slightly smaller bed.)
A real crazy day. It wasn't so much of the bumpyness or the small place I was sleeping on that made it crazy. It was how we (the passengers) were treated on and off the bus, the waiting, and the rushing here and there for me made it so. Don't worry, I can accept it. It is all part of travelling and I wouldn't want it any other way. Yes, it was a crazy. But this makes the traveling experience so much more valuable, isn't it?
Ok. Time to sleep. Need to prepare for my cruise. Oh, some of you might be thinking, "Why is there a cruise? Isn't this a Land Trip to Europe?" Yes it is. Note that this cruise is NOT a mode of transportation to any destination that will further my progress. It is merely a sight-seeing tour at a popular tourist attraction. And anyway, I will be sent back to Hanoi after the cruise to carry on with my journey. So let me enjoy the cruise while I am here, will you?
Need to sleep now.
After spending 26 hours on the bus from Laos to Hanoi, MY LIFE, WILL NEVER, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE......................EEEE.....................EEVER, BE THE SAME, AGAIN!!!