to 'The Traveling
|The outside of our pink Hyundai 'VIP' bus.
October 10, 2007
The sad thing about this is that the poor girl never asked for this introduction. I kind of placed it upon her.
My problem is that I have certain principles – and one of them is not paying $380 to fly round-trip to a neighboring country
while in South-East Asia. It would have been one thing if the flight to Laos would have been cut-and-dry and would have taken
an hour or so. But since that wasn’t the case (a taxi to Danang and checking in early, an evening flight from Danang, overnight
in Hanoi, checking into an airport early and then flying into Laos – over 17 hours to finally get there), I thought it would make
sense to take a bus for this journey (which would put us in only 5 hours later than the flight would). For the trip from Laos to
Hanoi, we would take a flight. Elisa didn’t even put up much of a fuss when we were making these arrangements at the agency.
I thought at the time that she must have not been paying attention when they said the duration of the bus time. Of course this
wasn’t the case. She heard that it would take the better part of a full day. But she wasn’t opposed to this. Or at least she wasn’t
appearing to be. My selling point for this was the cost: it would be $50 for the two of us to get there by bus vs. the $550+ for
the two of us to fly (when you factor in taxis, a hotel and departure taxes).
We bought the bus tickets and committed to the long haul.
My main fear was that Elisa was going to hate me at some point during the course of this trip. I was hoping that once we finally
arrived in Laos I could then make Elisa aware of what an experience she just got. Hey, unpleasant experiences are still
And the first experience would occur at one hour into the trip when we got a flat tire. This turned out to be close to a one-hour
delay. Have I ever talked about the joys of bus travel?
Our first bus transfer occurred in Hue. This was good because this was one city that Elisa wanted to see before arriving in
Vietnam though I told her we wouldn’t have enough time to do it. But because of this bus ride…voila!...she was now able to see
it. Did it really matter that it was through the windows of the bus just after the sun went down? The other highpoint to the
drive through Hue was that we passed the restaurant where I had my Thanksgiving dinner last year. Ahhh….makes me want
to quote Babs and say ‘Memories… Like the corners of my mind…’ Okay. I need to stop now.
A couple hours later took us to our dinner stop in the DMZ. We knew this because our ‘restaurant’ (a term I will use very
loosely) had pictures of different land mine areas nearby. I was all ready to do my ‘We’re already ¼ of the way there!’ cheer
for Elisa when she informed me that there would be no mini-celebrations until we were at the halfway point. But she was in
great spirits about it – she just wasn’t ready to rejoice yet. I could handle this as I was just hoping that she didn’t yet hate me.
Then we got back on the full bus where the ‘A/C’ that was advertised at all of the travel agencies was clearly not working as we
were sweating our butts off. Believe it or not, I was actually semi-happy when we got dropped in the middle of nowhere at 1am
to catch yet another bus that would take us into Vientiane, Laos.
It was probably good that it was pitch-black when we got on the bus as it was clearly a downgrade from what we were just on
(this was made much more apparent this morning during daylight). The good news? It wasn’t a full bus so we could make
ourselves comfy by utilizing both seats in the row. These are the moments of sheer bliss on long bus rides. By this point, I
couldn’t even look at Elisa (of course, part of this was because she was sitting two rows behind me) because I was a bit nervous
to. We still had a while to go.
Oh. I also forgot to mention the point last night when she decided to pull out her Lonely Planet book to see what it had to say
about crossing into the Laos border. This was the moment when I thought ‘Crap. I never even thought to think about this
when encouraging Elisa to take the bus instead of flight.’ A bit too late to worry about this now. We also weren’t quite sure
which border we were going to be crossing through. The first one Elisa looked at had a big ‘N’ next to Laos in regards to being
issued a visa upon arrival. I don’t care if you speak English, Spanish, Italian, French, etc. – that ‘N’ means the same thing
everywhere. I then looked at a map and saw a different border we might be crossing through. This one had a ‘maybe’ next to
Laos. While there were no guarantees, at least this wasn’t an ‘N’!
We arrived at the border at 3am. But this didn’t matter as the border doesn’t open until 6:30am or so. This would be our home
for the next few hours. At least they left the bus door open to provide us easy access to the open-air bathroom facilities (read:
the ground). I needed to use these around 5:45am. I had the viewing enjoyment during my squat of watching the border
workers doing their exercises to the commands of the head guy. A bit later the sun came up…and what do you know? There
were actually squatter toilets located just a few meters away from the plot of land I stood on 30-minutes prior.
I felt a bit relieved when a Finish guy on our bus asked me if we had visas and he told me he did not have one either. It’s
always nice to have company in those challenging times. I was pretty confident, though, until I talked to the two English guys
on the bus. I assumed they didn’t have visas either. But I was wrong. They obtained them in Hanoi. And then they proceeded
to tell me: a) that sometimes this border just doesn’t even open on some days (but the gleaming hope for me was watching the
men do their exercises this morning) and b) there are only a certain number of visas that are given on arrival and there are
some people that have to wait at this border for about 20 hours.
I didn’t tell Elisa anything about this conversation I just had.
We got stamped out of Vietnam for the low cost of $1 US. We also met an adorable Vietnamese man who asked where we were
from. When we said ‘San Francisco’, he got really excited. He told us he lives in California – then he whipped out his CA driver’
s license. Sure enough, there was ‘San Jose’ written on it. Elisa told him she was from Cupertino (which makes her parents
practically neighbors with him) and I told him I grew up near San Mateo (which earned me an enthusiastic mini-punch on the
We walked a few hundred meters to reach the Laos border. The building itself couldn’t give anybody anything other than a
great first impression of the country. It was beautiful. Upon entering, the first window was for ‘visas on arrival’. Hallelujah! I
had my picture and dollars with me, filled out the form, went to the cashier to pay, gave the man my receipt and was given my
passport back complete with a new and shiny (okay, so it was just a stamp but I was so happy that everything worked out that
it seemed shiny to me) Laos visa. Elisa did the same. Then we filled out the entry card and the girl gave us our arrival stamp.
And did I mention how absolutely sweet all of these people were. Everyone had smiles. Everyone.
I already knew it. I was going to love Laos.
While we waited at the Laos border for the rest of the bus to get their visas (we were #1 and #2 in line), I relayed the stories
that were told to me this morning to Elisa. Now they were funny since we were in the country. I also remembered to give Elisa
the cheer for being halfway through our trip when we were at our last bus change at 1am this morning. It was now time to
enlighten her with the fact that we were 2/3 of the way to Vientiane. Home stretch, baby!
While our bus chugged along up the winding roads, we were able to witness what Laos is really about. The scenery was
breathtaking. The tops of the massive rock formations were so jagged that they looked like a sawtooth axe. Even though we
still had eight hours left, at least we were now able to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at what we were passing. It felt like we were in a different
world that just yesterday when we were in Vietnam.
By 3:30pm, we arrived in Vientiane. But I had an insane headache (that Elisa had to inform me was actually a migraine
considering it was causing me to be nauseated and throwing up). But a nice nap in our poshness for the night (at least it’s
poshness after being in a bus for 26 hours) erased signs of my headache and now I feel like a new person.
We will take a couple hours in the morning to check out Vientiane and then it’s time to hop on yet another bus to Vang Vieng.
Ohhhh, the traveling life.
Oh! And the good news is that Elisa is already able to laugh about the experience. She told me that when she saw the two
English guys on our bus, she said to herself ‘If they can do this, so can I.’
|The insid e of the last bus where we spent 15 hours.