As suspected, our 24 hour (which turned out to be around 30 hours) journey from Hanoi to Luang Prabang was not fun. It started in true Asia style with us being dumped at the side of a motorway by a Ford dealership not having a clue what was going on. We started at 5pm and to get there we had to get a moped ride (which I am still terrified of) in which he fit all of our bags and both of us on the back. Well I say fit, I could barely sit my arse cheeks fully on the back and it was a definite balancing act not to fall off and die while he drove like a maniac for 15 minutes. I just held to Jess, closed my eyes and prayed I would survive – of course it was really reassuring that my leg kept brushing up against other mopeds and cars!
We eventually boarded our bus around an hour later, praying it would be one of the posh looking sleepers in the station. It wasn’t. We were however, happy to find there was room for a double sleeper seat each. After several stops to pile on a load of random items including bags and boxes of god knows what (which they suspiciously screwed in and hid under the seat, possibly smuggling them across the border), I miraculously managed to get a bit of sleep before I was rudely and loudly woken up by several Asian men getting on the bus at about 2am.
That’s one thing I find extremely irritating about everyone here – they don’t seem to possess any basic manners when it comes to things like this. Although in some areas they are very pleasant and friendly, from my experience South East Asians tend to lack manners a lot of the time that we wouldn’t even think twice about in the UK. Either that, or they just have a blatant disrespect for tourists. I think it’s a bit of both. Of course it’s not always the case everywhere you go, especially in the more touristy areas, but I have experienced it a lot. They were literally screaming and shouting across the bus for about 20 minutes. I was never going back to sleep after that. My anger was enough to keep me awake!
I lay there across both seats with the blanket on my head, pretending to be asleep and praying they wouldn’t move me, or even worse, lie some random stranger next to me. We met a girl who was learning English in Hanoi and she said it was difficult because we were so softly spoken compared to them. It’s so true – to me all they do is shout and when you’re trying to sleep you sometimes get so angry you want to kill someone just for a moments peace! We have been woken up early in the morning in hotels countless times for this reason.
Not surprisingly, I lost my double seat, but luckily they moved me next to Jess. Then, I was pretty distraught at the fact that they pulled out a mattress in the small space between our sleepers and the one next to us, and placed one of the Asian men there. It was so small that he was practically spooning me, resting his arms and legs on mine. I was totally uncomfortable with this, especially when my efforts to kick him off went completely unnoticed. I pretty much lay there, staring into space, waiting for the morning to come. I have to love overnight buses! The ones in Vietnam before now had actually been pretty nice but this was a local one and I wasn’t completely confident it wouldn’t break down or fall apart at any minute. We were happy that there were 4 or 5 other travellers on there, and we all seemed to band together, but the majority were locals.
We were happy to find that the Vietnam/Laos border crossing ran smoothly and we didn’t even need to scan our bags. We were pretty amazed that one girl had turned up with no money on her when it clearly says all over the internet you need to bring dollars to pay for your visa! She had also left her passport tucked away in her main luggage (who does that when you know you’re crossing a border?). Luckily the man in charge of the bus loaned her the money and soon we were in Laos and on our way to Luang Prabang.
We had the option of stopping in Vang Vieng on the way. I went last year, just for one day, and did think I might like to go back (it’s where you sit in a tube on the river and do a pub crawl and it is a lot of fun). However, we were on limited time and decided that we would rather spend time doing cultural things and not being exhausted from and all day piss up – and by passed it to go straight to Luang Prabang.
For what felt like an entire day later, we lay there, bored out of our minds, in pain (it’s extremely difficult to get comfortable on a cheap sleeper bus for a few hours – let alone 30) and cursing ourselves for not bringing more food. We had only had a bit of dong left before we got on the bus and so had just bought a few crackers to munch on – it was a bad decision! We were starving until we stopped at a random cafe at the side of the road for lunch who predictably charged us around 10 times the amount it should have cost ($5 for a can of fanta – it didn’t even cost that much in Australia for gods sake!). We were way too hungry to care too much and were just eager to eat and move on.
The funny thing was that the bus had become so loaded with pots, pans, bags, extra passengers and god knows what else, that when you wanted to get off you practically had to swing from seat to seat like a monkey to get to the front (they would shout at you if you stepped on anything).
They also thought a valid toilet stop was at the side of a cliff edge, with absolutely zero privacy, while every man on the bus got off to have a wee and the girls just sat on the bus in pain. When we did finally stop, hours later, we had to basically find the darkest patch at the side of the road to do it, which was still no means private. They didn’t seem to be bothered by things like women’s basic bodily functions!
We finally arrived at Luang Prabang at around 10pm and at our guest house by about 11. By the time we got there I was so weak, dehydrated, hungry (we hadn’t eaten anything since lunch at 12pm) and exhausted I could barely string a sentence together. I could have been anywhere with a bed at that point and I would have been ecstatic! fortunately, that would be our longest journey of my trip, and god was I glad it was over!