17 hours on a bus – leaving Vinh for Laos

30 Jan

…Surprisingly they did honour the $25 rate so after looking round a few more damp hotels, we decided to book another night as the bus to Laos left at 6am so we’d already missed it by the time we got up. We thought getting a good night’s sleep before a 12 hour bus journey was probably a good idea, despite the expense. The bus didn’t go to Vientiane like we’d hoped but it did go to Phonsavan which was in the right direction, and more importantly, 27 degrees according to the net so that was fine as North Vietnam was freezing. Our visa is still valid for Vietnam until March so we might go to the South after Laos, but we already visited Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City on our trip last year.

We went back upstairs to chill out for the day and enjoy the last bit of luxury for a while but whilst I was googling “what to do in Vinh” – surprisingly there was no results – we found that there was a KFC about 20 minutes away. Given that there was nothing else to do as the town is not geared up for tourists at all due to the main visitors being on business, we went to try and find the KFC to treat ourselves.

By the time we got there we were really hungry – this is in pounds.

As with most fast food experiences, somehow it never lives up to your expectations. The “queue” was typical Vietnamese style – this time a sticky group of children clamouring for ice cream – so it took forever to get served and it wasn’t quite what we ordered or particularly nice so we left in a film of grease and disappointment. However, we did find 60,000 dong on the way back so not a total waste of time :)

We then found that our hotel had misunderstood what we had asked earlier and did not have any dollars we could buy for our Laos visas ($35 each). Craig ended up trying pretty much every other hotel in Vinh before he found one who could change some money. He came back with $100 as this was the smallest they had! We then got a fairly early night as we had to be up at 4.30 the next day to get to the bus station in time and say good bye to grim Vinh

We got the taxi to the bus station and found two of the three Westerners we saw in Vinh on the bus. Everyone else was Vietnamese and as usual, the bus was completely packed with about 15 people sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle. It was fairly dirty

as was the habit of several of the men on the bus of hacking up phlegm and then spitting it on the floor where they were sitting :I The Norwegians told us later that the guy next to them was plucking his stubble…and then eating it. Lovely. Under every seat was a case of beer – not in-bus entertainment as I hoped – but due to be delivered to various tiny villages and shops along the way.

We paid the driver 450,000 dong each (I think it was meant to be 470,000 dong each but he didn’t have any change – £14 each is not bad for a 600+km journey) and left on time off into beautiful, if slightly soggy, countryside

We stopped after about 3 hours for some food and to go to the loo. Having looked at the dogs and flies in the kitchen we gave the food a miss but got chatting to the two Norwegians on our bus. They are taking a sabbatical from work before returning to Europe to meet their six children for a two month Croatian cruise on their yacht :) The toilets were as unappealing as the food – the doors had gaps in and there was a guy staring at me so I had to wait for ages for him to get the message and go away.

After about 7 hours, the sun finally broke through as we got nearer Laos and suddenly we were in the mountains going through the most gorgeous scenery

It was so beautiful I didn’t want to sleep. We were on one road through the mountains, carpeted with blue forget-me-nots,

the whole way until we stopped at the border control. The bus driver shepherded us through which was nice of him as we didn’t have a clue what to do and then we waited for the other 50 or so Vietnamese to get their passports stamped.

The blue sky slipped into red as the sunset enveloped the mountains (sadly the bus, being a bus, didn’t stop for me to get any good photographs of this!) and we settled down for the last bit of the journey. Until we stopped in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver got off and kept looking at our side of the bus…one of the wheels directly underneath our seats had gone flat and something had caught fire…so the driver threw a bottle of water on it and started jacking up the bus after ordering everyone off. This gave Craig an excuse to show off his head torch and to help undo the wheel nuts so he made instant friends with the driver :) I just enjoyed looking up at the stars because although you can see the same constellations in England, as there was no light pollution where we stopped, you could see a million more. Everyone else just went for a wee…against the bus, in the middle of the road, at the sides of the road…no one seemed to care!!

Eventually we got going again and finally reached Phonsavan at 9.30pm – nearly 16 hours after we set off from Vinh. The puncture, the border controls  The Norwegians, Bror and Trille, were planning to stay at the same guesthouse as us so we decided to walk together to see if we could find it. We got a bit lost so a boy offered to show us the way. We were pretty close but he showed us which track it was up and then stood there. It dawned on us he wanted a tip but neither of us had any kip as nothing was open and there was nowhere to change money in Vinh. He told us to put it on the room so Bror asked the receptionist to give him 10,000 kip ($1 is 7,000, £1 is 12,500). He stood there some more and then said he wanted 20,000 which, considering our wooden bungalow was costing us 50,000 kip (£4, win) for a whole night, was too much. It was beyond awkward but the receptionist eventually gave him the 10,000 and told him to go away, which he finally did. Hopefully he won’t come back to our bungalows and stab us in the night.

We dumped the bags and went out for a meal and a beer

Tired bus faces!


2 Responses to “17 hours on a bus – leaving Vinh for Laos”

  1. Alexandru Stanica (@AlexStanica) 26 January 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    Hey guys, I was wondering if you could remember the timetable of the bus from Vinh to Phonsavan. It is exactly what we need but we’re afraid it is not daily and this could keep us blocked in Vinh with nothing to see.


    • T/G 26 January 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      I can’t I’m afraid but get to the bus station very early and you should be ok! If not, go to the station and ask but from memory I think it was daily.

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