When living in Asia, or travelling in Asia, you will always have some adventurous journeys instead of luxury ones. So is the tourist bus between Vientiane and Hanoi. A ticket for the daily tourist bus might look cheap and a good alternative for flying. The price being charged should be between $20 and $40.
When you reach the departure spot don’t get surprised to see a bus which looks more like a local bus than a tourist bus. Sitting close to each other and not enough leg space, although, nowadays there are more types of buses. There are even so called sleeper busses, but that can be somewhat of horror. We left around 7.30 pm from Vientiane, the capital of Laos for a 22 hour journey. This gave the impression that it would be a night bus. In the bus were around twelve tourists and the rest Vietnamese or Laotian passengers.
Nighttime at parking
The bus stopped after three hours of driving. Everyone got instructed to get out. I thought it would be a final break to eat something and go to the toilet before the long night journey would take off. The driver ate something, some of the tourists too. Others were roaming around talking with each other. The driver finished his meal and ordered everyone to get in the so called tourist bus, so we did. We got ourselves ready for the journey, but suddenly the driver stepped out again and locked the doors from outside. We looked at each other full of disbelief. He walked to the veranda and lay down to sleep. This was absurd.
We were discussing another ten minutes while the Vietnamese passengers were as quick as the driver with sleeping. They were lying with their heads on the shoulders of the person next to them, snoring. This was ridiculous. We were fed up and discovered that the windows could be opened just enough to get ourselves through. I threw the head of the Vietnamese from my shoulder and got myself out through the window. We just walked around, sat down, talked. Hours passed. It was early morning when the driver woke up, entered the restaurant, which had just opened again, and took a breakfast with tea. It was five in the morning. We survived the night, despite the huge, hairy spiders walking around. It finally looked like we could leave for the border.
The bus arrived at eight at the border, which turned out to be closed till nine. We were over twelve hours on the way by now and the question which kept going on in my mind was: why does a bus depart on a certain time whereby it stays the whole night at the same place, and still reaches a closed border? It was far beyond my logic. At nine we finally got hour stamps on our visas. We officially left Laos.
Between the office of Laos and the office of Vietnam was a piece of no men’s land of about hundred meters. We could finally go our way to Vietnam. Well, that’s what I thought, but the next problem occurred at the office of the Vietnamese side. One of the passengers from Israel had two different passports. As they pay in some countries more for visa than westerners, he thought to save money by taking his Vietnam visa in his Czech passport, while his Laos visa was in his Israeli passport. This was reason for the Vietnamese officer to refuse him entry into Vietnam. They told him that the Vietnam visa needed to be in the same passport as the exit stamp on the Laos visa. In other words: where you go out and go in had to be in the same passport. Make sure you don’t make that mistake.
He walked back to the Laos side to get a stamp in his Czech passport, but they rejected. They couldn’t give a stamp in a passport where there wasn’t a visa of Laos. That was against all rules. So back to the Vietnamese side, where they were very strict and uncooperative. So they kept sending him back to the Laos side, as if it was their mistake or problem. Contact between the two sides was out of the question. At the end it seemed that the only way out of this was offering money. He offered up to 500 dollar bribe for a stamp, but they didn’t accept. We left them behind in no man’s land.
In the meantime there was a lot of discussion going on between the driver and other people. The result was that the back doors of the truck, parked in front of us, got opened and boxes got carried out of the truck into our bus. Not just a few, no, the bus got completely stuffed with boxes. On seats, in the pathway, everywhere where was a bit space. We complained about where we should sit and that this was supposed to be a tourist bus. It didn’t help. Many of us were sitting on the boxes. The only way to leave the bus was through the windows again. After the driver took another two hour nap, we could finally get on our way into Vietnam.
We entered Vietnam seven hours later without the two Israelis, who came finally to the conclusion that returning to Laos would be their only option. Their Vietnam visas got cancelled. They walked back to the customs office of Laos again, where they got to hear that Laos didn’t sell visas on arrival at that particular border point. In other words: they couldn’t apply for a visa and therefore they couldn’t enter back into Laos.
We were all exhausted by now. The mood went down. We rode on a paved kind of provincial road when the bus suddenly stopped. Someone jumped out to go for a talk with a bus driver coming from opposite direction, and came back. “All tourists in that bus”, pointing at the other bus. “Ho mister, we paid for a tourist bus to Hanoi, we stay in this bus.” “This bus not Hanoi go, that one go.” I immediately realized that this discussion lead to nothing. I got my rucksack from the roof of the bus and walked to the other bus.
Seven hours or so later we finally reached the destination. Well, that’s what we thought. I stepped out and looked around. Everything was dark and quiet. No point that I recognized as I was in Hanoi just 2 weeks before too. We were definitely not at a place where we would find a bed and get some deserved rest. It was nighttime. At least we were out of this tourist bus now. A sort of pick up car came near after some time. We stopped it. The back wasn’t open but a closed kind of cage instead. The driver would bring us for a nice price. We threw our luggage in and jumped in. The doors got closed and it became pit black.
We were totally exhausted and struggling to stay on our feet after over thirty hours without sleep. We fell over each other and the bags when the driver took the first unexpected turn. A dark cage on the back of a racing car made it impossible for us to stay on our feet. It took a rough ride plus puncture to get us to the old quarter in Hanoi. A 32 hour journey had ended. It was a sort of nightmare, but I wouldn’t have wanna miss it.
The moral of the story? Be careful with wanna go cheap and be prepared for what you book and how. Have a great adventure!