And so began, the worst bus ride I could have ever expected. As I explained in my second post, Thai Airways made us purchase flights from Luang Prabang in Laos to Hanoi. We preferred the idea of getting the bus, it seemed more ‘legit’, so we cancelled our flight before we even got to Luang Prabang. Bad move. It was a 25 hour journey, oh well, it was our only option now. We boarded the bus at 6pm on the 28th November 2012.
Why was it so bad? At about 3am, we stopped on the side of the road. I figured we were at the border crossing and waiting for it to open. At first light (about 6am) I could see the line of trucks and buses ahead of us, I assumed they were also waiting for the border to open. Wrong. Someone on the bus had gone for a walk, and found that we were stopped because two trucks were bogged up ahead, blocking the road in both directions. Sure enough, one truck had got bogged, then another tried to go around, and also got bogged. Only cars and motorbikes could fit through the narrow gap. The locals seemed very accustomed to this, they just set up cooking fires and little stools to pass the time.
A group of backpackers coming from the other direction informed us they had already been blocked for 20 hours! They decided to walk on through where they hoped to flag down a truck. I went back to the bus for some snacks, water and brushed my teeth, but not knowing how long we would be stuck I rationed it – we were literally in the middle of nowhere. At 11am, a bulldozer finally arrived and moved the bogged trucks and flattened out the road. After some of the traffic cleared we were back on the move!
We had been only halfway to the border when we got stranded. The road to the crossing was long and winding, the driver was on the horn constantly. Finally, we got to the border crossing (Nam Can/Khan) which is 3,500m above sea level. The air was wet.
Once through the border we started to descend the mountain range, and aside from getting stranded on the Laos road, we hadn’t stopped since 12pm, it was now 5pm. We stopped at a tiny town halfway down the mountain, which did not cater to tourists AT ALL. No English, no ATM, and of course we only had Lao kip currency. After finding a shop that would exchange our kip to Vietnamese Dong at a fairly poor rate, we found a restaurant, but they spoke no English at all, and had no menu. I knew of one meal in Vietnamese, pho ga (rice noodle soup with chicken), so four of us from the bus ordered a bowl each. What we got, can only be described as rice noodle soup with chunks of pork fat, it was disgusting. We got back on the bus, hoping to be in Hanoi by midnight.
Wishful thinking, at 11pm the driver informed us that we wouldn’t be in Hanoi until 5am. When 5.30am rolled around, we finally arrived, and jumped in a taxi for Hanoi Backpackers with Brent and Daan from Holland. New to Vietnam, we got in a dodgy cab with a fast meter without realising, and got ripped off nicely, but I didn’t care, that journey was finally over!
Here is a photo of Jack and I, taken at 9.30pm on the second night, 27.5 hours in, 8 hours to go.