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Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
Trip End Jun 23, 2009

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, January 31, 2009

Take the boat 5 hours north to the border town or take the road all the way around through Oudomxai?

This decision would have been a lot harder to make had I not run out of cash in Moung Ngoi. I tossed around the idea of borrowing money from another traveler, but at that point, who knew where the next ATM would be. I can now say that a 6-hour bus ride is not a long one. However, 12 hours on a heavy, rocky, tortoise vehicle packed tight with locals and their "merchandise", driving through small rivers, mountains and switchbacks with 200 tons of rice to the border town of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam IS a long bus ride. I think the bus actually went above 15km/hour at one point, which was an accomplishment by itself. The border crossing process also would have been much quicker if the border police weren't so interested in buying the goods from the locals on the bus for about 3 hours. When we finally arrived in Vietnam, we stopped a few miles outside of DBP to unload the rest of the rice at some random house. I ended up doing most of the unloading to speed up the process.

Dien Bien Phu was an interesting introduction to Vietnam because they were little to no tourists and I really felt like I was in a foreign country. I crashed at the first guesthouse I saw, got some street food at the market, had a couple beers with the Swedish guy from the bus and called it an early night. The next day, I walked around to explore the town and find a decent place to eat, which was harder than it sounds. There really is nothing to do in the town and not very many places to eat. I did manage to find a sandwich stand down one of the side streets and ordered about 3 sandwiches because they were so small. This was a good way learn the dollar to dong conversion and make sure I got back the correct change. However, after going back to the same sandwich lady for dinner with another traveler from Finland, she still tried to rip us off by shorting us the change. One might think that if you buy 9 sandwiches, maybe you'll get one free or discounted....not in Vietnam, more like buy 9, get ripped off for free. From then on, I was on my toes, bartering for everything from bananas to laundry detergent and still paying more than a local. Making money whenever possible is the way of life in Vietnam and as a travelers, you have to accept that and expect to barter. Bartering in Vietnan is also a double-edged sword. Obviously, you don't want to get ripped off by paying 10 times the appropriate price. However, you can only haggle so much without realizing that the locals probably need the money more than you. The fact that most vendors are VERY pushy doesn't make you feel bad about haggling, but it really is just a game, which you get used to it after a while.

Moving on from boring Dien Bien Phu was not hard and I was excited to go to Sapa, but not excited for another 12 hour bus ride. This time the roads were blocked by huge boulders from blasting of the adjacent cliffs, so every 20 minutes, the bus would stop and wait for bull dozers to clear the road of huge boulders. The bus was overcrowded, which I  have accepted as normal in Vietnam, but the old lady who kept on putting her hand on my thigh for balance did not seem normal. I kept on brushing her away gently, but instead got a mean glare and the hand went back. After a beautiful drive through the mountains, we made it to Sapa and it was suddenly very cold and rainy.

Next Stop: Sapa and Bac Ha Market
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