When travelling around South East Asia, many opt for a route that takes them down through Laos and into Cambodia, before crossing over into Vietnam and exploring the country from north to south. I however, for unknown reasons, decided I wanted to do it as more of a loop – going from Laos to Vietnam and travelling down. It seemed that there were two ways to do this: a £100 flight or a £30 bus. From my research online I’d found that the bus took a whopping 26 hours and the general consensus was that it was fucking awful. Undeterred, and convinced it would be an ‘experience’, me and my friend Gigi booked it.
$40 USD. It might be a bargain compared to a flight, but at what price do you value your sanity?
What to bring on the bus from Vientiane to Hanoi
- More snacks
- A good book
- A sense of humour
The journey itself
We were picked up from our hostel at 5pm and taken to the bus station to board our bus. The bus had two rows of bunk beds on each side and a row of 5 beds at the very back. We got on and were directed to the 5 beds at the very back of the bus that appeared to be especially reserved for the ‘foreigners’. The rest of the bus was filled with locals who were staring and grinning at us, finding our very presence extremely amusing.
We joined 3 fellow foreigners at the back, making it very cosy but not unbearable. Then, another Chinese guy arrived, he too was ushered to the back row. Horrified, we all tried to tell the bus guy that there was no more room, 5 beds! I exclaimed. He laughed, as did all the other Vietnamese/Laotians on the bus, and gestured once again for the Chinese guy to join us at the back. Instead of squeezing in and having us 6 strangers all spooning each other, the Chinese guy decided it was a great idea to get in the luggage hold directly behind us. We tried to make it as comfortable as possible for the poor guy, helping him rearrange the bags and giving him my pillow. Then we set off.
I had brought the most ridiculous amount of snacks with me for this journey, knowing I would be bored out of my mind. So what I did for the first few hours was just eat and eat and eat. Then, we stopped off for dinner, which was included. It was a plate of various unidentifiable things in sauces and rice. None of it looked very vegetarian so I settled for the classic combo of rice and soy sauce.
Next, it was time to pop a couple of Valiums and pass the fuck out. I awoke at around 4am to find we were stopped. I needed a wee, like I always do in the middle of the night. So I climbed over all the people sleeping in the aisle and found a toilet, realising we were already at the border and waiting for it to open. I went back to sleep and was rudely awoken at around 7am and told with the other foreigners that we had to get off and go to the border. We made our way into the building and were greeted with absolute carnage. There was no system in place, no queues, it was shove your way to the front or never get to Vietnam. We did just that and paid our exit fees. I exchanged money and got the worst exchange deal, maybe in the history of exchange deals.
Once we’d finished with that debacle, we had another one on our plate: find the Vietnamese border. We’d thought that maybe we’d get back on the bus and be driven there but were informed by a chuckling guard at the Laos border that we’d have to walk a kilometre there. It was so foggy we could barely see any buildings so we just blindly made our way along what seemed to be the path. We thought we’d found it until we got closer to the building and realised it was completely abandoned, so we carried on in a random direction and eventually found people who directed us there.
After getting our Vietnamese visas, then came the worst part: the wait. We had decided to travel during Vietnamese New Year, or TET, and there were hoards of Vietnamese people doing the same. Every bus had to be unloaded and checked by immigration. We had to wait for hours, freezing and tired, until our bus came around. We then had to get on the bus, take all of our bags off and wait some more. Finally, when I could no longer feel my extremities, we were allowed back on. I put as many clothes as I could on and fell asleep again.
The bus began to empty out and the other foreigners spread out around the empty beds in the rest of the bus, giving us more room. At an unknown location in Vietnam, our driver came to the back and cleared our bags out of the luggage hold to reveal a secret door. I’d heard that the buses often smuggled various things between the two countries. So what illicit items had we snuck in? Drugs? People? Firearms? Oh, it was a stash of counterfeit Ben 10 sandals for children. Right.
We finally arrived in Hanoi at 8pm. A whopping 28 hours after we set off.
Overall this was certainly an experience, one I’m not keen to repeat but overall it wasn’t the worst.