Monday, February 23, 2009

From Hell to Hanoi

Day 346
Our alarm went off early and we almost overslept. Only our desire to get to Hanoi got us out of bed.

There wasn't time for breakfast and we picked up some oranges and butter cookies for the road. The pickup truck bus thing left just after we had climbed aboard. The women on the bus spit over the sides constantly. It was so gross. One old woman stroked the fabric of my pants.
I guess she'd never seen synthetic quick dry fabric before

We were dropped off right at the border crossing. Getting out of Lao was easy. After a ten minute walk we came to Vietnam. This took a bit longer because there were more steps, but there wasn't a line. After two days of trying we were in Vietnam.

Here the real fun started. Our original idea was to cross the border further north. However, our guidebooks said that transportation only ran every few days. Also, if we did that we would have headed straight to Sapa for trekking, I wanted to give my foot a few more days of rest. We picked the Nam Neo border because it looked like the best one on the map. We never bothered to read about it until it was to late. This is the most remote border crossing of all. There is basically no transportation on the Vietnamese side and tourist are often forced to pay about 10 times the actual rate of getting to Hanoi.

I think that there is the easy way, the right way, the hard way, and then the way that Nicole and I insist on doing things.

As soon as we got into town we saw a mini bus for Hanoi. They wanted to charge us $35 each to get here. Most people in Vietnam don't make that in a month. Luckily Nicole had dollars on her (don't have any) so that wasn't a problem. We just didn't want to be that ripped off. We offered them $25 each and told them that was all that we had. They were really nasty in demanding more. This gave us added reasons to not give in. The driver might have also been smoking up. I kept telling them that we couldn't pull money out of our ears, but they didn't really speak English and didn't understand.

Eventually they left without us. We couldn't believe that they would give up $50 and decided to call their bluff. Nicole managed to cry a bit and I pulled out a book. About 30 minutes later they came back and accepted the $50 offer.

The seats on the bus were broken, but we each had our own row. There were about 6 half naked men on the bus who were passing around a potent smelling alcohol and were all very drunk. I suspect that the driver was now both high and drunk. Getting in that mini bus went against everything I know, but it was the only way out. The driver took blind curves at break neck speed. Nicole and I said our goodbyes. There was a sharp drop to the road and no guardrails. This was my scariest ride to date.

We buried ourselves in our ipods to try and ignore the fear. One of the drunk men tried to sit next to me but I made him leave. I didn't pay that much money so that I could sit next to a smelly dirty drunk guy. After a few hours the drunks got off and the road got smoother. At one point we stopped for a break and the nasty woman who took our money and the bus driver motioned for us to eat. We showed them our empty wallets and pointed to them.

Now, I might have felt bad about this knowing how poor this country is, but these people were just so terrible I couldn't. They were also well dressed and clearly not lacking. We stared at them while they ate and did our best to make them feel bad. The thing was, we didn't have any dong and we weren't about to pull out the dollars we had to pay with. There wasn't any place where I could exchange the Euros or English pounds that I have either.

Around 7:30 pm we were transfered to a much better bus and arrived in Hanoi about 3 hours later. By the time we found a cab driver who understood that we needed to stop at an ATM (a cab driver who ripped us off) and found a hotel it was about midnight. We both then showered and went straight out for food. All we had had all day were some manky oranges and bad tasting butter cookies. Luckily we didn't have to wander to far to find a place that was opened. Afterwards we went straight back to the hotel and fell asleep.

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