Let me begin by saying that this bus journey from Vang Vieng to Hanoi was maybe the worst 30 hours of my life. Oh, ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it really wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, that’s for sure.
It didn’t start off too badly though, with a four hour journey on a regular coach to Vientiane (yes back the way we had come just a few days earlier) and then a short transfer in a tuk tuk to another bus station, while the sun set beautifully behind us. This was where the fun really began…
Even as we first got on the sleeper bus it was mayhem. We’d all been given tickets with seat numbers but the bus staff just seemed to be putting all of us westerners (there were a lot of other English, American and Irish travellers that we got talking to during the journey) in any seat they liked, starting from the back, with all the locals sitting in the nicer, more spacious seats up front. Rosa, Maritza and I were thrown into a three bed space right at the back of the bus, next to the toilet and in the smallest space known to man…I mean, we weren’t even able to sit up! That was something I really couldn’t handle (small spaces just aren’t my thing) and so insisted on being moved to one of the (unused) upper bunks further forward in the bus…the staff protested at first, without any explanation as to why I couldn’t sit in the empty seat but, being my father’s daughter, I persisted and eventually they gave in. Phew…one battle down, only about a hundred more to go (and in about as many hours!).
Once everyone was seated and somewhat comfortable, the bus pulled out of Vientiane station at about 7pm and it was plain sailing for the next few hours…some people slept, or listened to music, or watched movies (me!) or just chatted to those around them. We stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ at about 9pm where we were served what we all thought was free food (or at least included in our ticket), as it was just plonked down in front of us, without any conversation an what it was or how much it cost. It was only after we’d eaten that the woman came round all the tables demanding to be paid…pretty sneaky if you ask me!
Then it was back on the bus for the next three hours, along some very windy and nauseating mountain roads, until we reached the border crossing between Laos and Vietnam at roughly 12am. I think I was probably one of the only people awake at this point (apart from the bus staff), so when the driver put the brakes on, stopped the engine, turned the lights out and got into the seat/bed in front of me, I was pretty confused as to what the hell was going on, but had no one to ask, so just rolled over and went to sleep. For 6 hours.
For 6 hours we all lay sleeping on that hot and sweaty bus, not going anywhere, just apparently waiting for the border to open at around 6am the next morning. Why we had to leave Vang Vieng so early the previous afternoon if we were just going to sit there for six hours I don’t know…to be honest everyone was pretty annoyed. It just didn’t make sense to us, but hey, I suppose there’s a reason it’s called being on Laos time…there’s just no hurry to do anything!
So now for the border crossing. Going through immigration and trying to get stamped out of Laos was hard work, as no one (not even the ‘lovely’ guys who worked on the bus) seemed to want to help us all, or explain what we were supposed to do or where we were supposed to go. Eventually though, with a lot of scrambling, shoving and pushing, and a bit of money changing hands, we got those precious stamps and were officially free to leave Laos and to oh, guess what? Yep, we had to then WALK across the border into Vietnam. And it wasn’t even a particularly short walk either…across a bridge, up a hill, down a hill and round a corner, all in the freezing cold, foggy mist of the early morning. Eventually though, we reached the Vietnamese side, and had to get our visas checked and get stamped IN to the country (oh and pay more money for the privilege), before having to haul all our bags off the bus, put them through a luggage scanner and then back on to the bus. Hassle and a half. We did have a good time all brushing our teeth by the side of the road while we waited for our bus though.
Finally back on the bus we drove for another four hours or so before stopping somewhere for food (although none of us travellers had any Vietnamese Dong so couldn’t actually buy anything) and a loo break…with all the windy roads it was near impossible to use the toilet on the bus! This was when things started to quickly go downhill for me. I don’t know if it was the lack of food, lack of sleep, the swaying of the bus on the mountain roads or a combination of all three, but I suddenly found myself feeling really sick. So sick in fact that I did actually throw up (luckily outside the bus, not inside)…which really surprised me as I never really get travel sick, or at least not since I was a little kid. And the feeling didn’t pass for the entire rest of the journey – I couldn’t bring myself to get back into my upper, nauseating bunk, so just sat on the floor for the remaining 6 or so hours, only moving to let people get past me at various intervals. Fortunately I wasn’t actually sick again, but it really wasn’t much fun, especially with the driver making so many unnecessary stops along the way, when all I wanted to do was just get there! Also, on one of these stops, I really learnt how much the bus staff don’t care for foreigners, when one of them kicked me in the leg for getting back on the bus with dirty feet (in my sickly state I had forgotten to put my shoes on when I got off and so had been walking around barefoot)…I mean, literally, physically kicked me. I was stunned. If I hadn’t felt so ill I would have been furious, but I really just didn’t have the energy. Let’s just say I won’t be recommending the Hoàng Giang bus company to anyone anytime soon.
Eventually, after what had felt like about a year of my life, we actually arrived in Hanoi at around 7pm, 7 hours later than promised. At one point on that journey I honestly felt like we were never going to get there. But arrive we did, and finally stepping off that bus for the last time was the most glorious feeling in the whole world. So, a 30 hour bus journey…would I do it again? Hell, no…I’d rather walk!