Friday, 19 June 2015

When I got to the border...


It goes on forever.

Finally got down the mountain by getting up at 5.30 and taking the bus back to Lào Cai. No-one was ill this time and gravity speeded up the journey, as it only took six and a half hours. Had a five hour wait, so sat in a café, had lunch and played a few songs for the guy at the bus ticket office and some curious locals. Finally, it was time to go, so I asked the driver how long the trip was to Dien Bien Phu. He signaled with five fingers. A mere bagatelle. I decided to stay there in the evening and make my way to Laos the next day; a necessity, as I'd discovered on my way back that I'd made a mistake with my visa. It finished the next day.

It seemed a bit much for five hours when I got on a sleeper bus. Still blissfully unaware, I started chatting to a group of English gap year guys. In fact the guy meant that we arrived at five in the morning. Tried to get comfortable in the sleeper couch, but found that it was too small even for my 1m72 (5'7") frame. Added to that, the bus began to really fill up with both people and stuff for delivery along the route. By the time we'd made the last pickup, some of the local travelers, who had probably paid much less for their tickets, had been relegated from the bunks to steerage, ie the floor. Fair enough, except that there was now no longer any space to stow hand luggage. Some of the six foot English guys had no option but to assume a foetal position for eleven and a half hours.

Added to this the locals all played with their phones without headsets while hideous local pop music blared out out tinnily over the sound system. Sleeper bus is just the name.

I'd slept about twenty minutes when we arrived at Dien Bien at six in the morning. By this time I'd been awake for 24 hours.

Had some packet noodles at the bus station, not as good as we get at our local supermarket and bought another ticket to Luang Pabang. No one seemed to be able to say how long the journey took.

Dawn was breaking and I looked up to see thousands of storks flying past. The display took a good ten minutes and somehow restored my flagging spirits a little.

This time, it was a mini bus holding about 18 passengers. At six we set off, stopping from time to time, picking up more passengers, stuff for delivery, or just a chat. It was now like a mobile Black Hole of Calcutta in the heat. We stopped from time to time for snacks and toilet breaks and finally arrived at the Lào border. Here we paid 35$ for the visa and various 'extras,' which were quite clearly bribes. We had to pay in Lào Kip not Vietnamese Dong, at an exchange rate which was daylight robbery. When I came to change my money, I realised, like several other people, that I didn't have enough. I'd already left Vietnam,with an exit stamp and was in no man's land.

The bus driver came to the rescue, refunding the bus fare until we got to the nearest ATM. He probably does it every time.

Back on the bus chatted to a French couple. They'd heard me trying to speak French to the customs people when English didn't work. I explained that I lived in France.



Just as I was about to say where that was: 'C'est pas vrai. Nous, on est de Nîmes, Route de Sauve.'

Small World.

Delivered from the roof.

There were several unscheduled pauses,the longest being when there had been a landslide, due to the massive road building project through the mountains, funded and constructed by the Chinese. A traffic jam formed while we waited. The mountains are beautiful, seemingly going on for ever, or at least that's how it felt. Problem was, that after going up and down hour after hour, the effect wore off somewhat. I tried to amuse myself by taking photos out of the window, which is why most of them in this post are a bit wobbly, as, I dare say, is this text.

Landslide break.

Village after village, with kids, dogs, ducklings, chickens, pigs and buffalo everywhere.

Mountain dwelling.

At about five, we came to a bus station in a large town. There was a half-hearted cheer from the passengers. We'd made it. 'OK, change bus.'

I was starving, but the only thing available was a bag of local boiled fruit sweets. I munched my way through the strawberry and banana sweetmeats and discovered several Durian fruit. Compared to the real thing, which isn't too bad, these were really, really horrible. I finished the large bag, mainly to dispel the awful lingering taste.

I definitely would give these to my worst enemy.

The luggage, which had been stowed on the roof was handed down, then back up again onto an even older bus. We drove for another three hours again, packed in as before and came to another town. At last.

This time it was a meal break. I had some barbecued fish and strange sausages, which I chose from a stand in front of the restaurant. A Buddhist monk got off a bus and came over. He chose huge quantities of food, all of which consisted of meat, mainly sausages.

Back on the bus, we asked how much longer. 'Just another two, or maybe three hours!'

We got there at 11 in the evening. I'd now been awake 42 hours and on a bus for 36. Actually, didn't feel too bad. Got a Tuktuk, (they don't have then in Vietnam), checked in and had a beer, finally going to bed at midnight.

Got up at 11.30 and decided to take it easy today. Luang Pranang is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The only thing I've seen so far is a local restaurant, where I had a massive bowl of rice noodle soup, with a side salad, which was delicious.

Tomorrow, should be 'Tubing' day.








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