Voyage to Vietnam

Trip Start Sep 24, 2006
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Well since my last blog I have travelled by overnight train from Bangkok with Maria, whom i met up with again in the BKK train station, to Nong Khai, then tuk tuk to the Thai border for exit, then tuk tuk to Lao border for entry and then tuk tuk to Vientianne city where we overnighted and I visited Vietnam and Thailand Embassies as I am short of time for Vietnam visa and will need a longer Thai one than 30 days available at the border, for next return entry into Thailand.  Did all that, found out info on visa extensions and didn't  do much else in Vietianne.  Wished I had carried on to Vietnam due to time shortage but booked for next day.. Vietianne is still hot and dry and dusty! Mekong river is almost dry, waiting for rainy season to fill it up.  Booked my overnight bus ticked from Vietianne to Hue, Vietnam and departed 6:30 p.m. Thurs. Mar.15th for 22 hour trip ($18 US) due in at 4:30 p.m next day.  I went to 3 diff. travel agencies to ask whether the bus was air/con or not and 3 agencies said 'yes' but no toilet on bus (just ask the driver to stop at the side of the road.. Yah right, that was the drill on the other Lao busses as well, and travellers almost revolted to get driver to stop.  Was assured that bus probably won't be full so would get a seat to myself. Was led to believe it was a tourist bus. Was picked up my minbus at guesthouse and taken to Southern bus station, along with other travellers, from Switzerland, US and Ireland, who were off to either Saigon or Vinh.   Got on bright pink and white bus similar to converted school bus, along with all Lao/Vietnamese people.  No one spoke English, I was only foreigner, no problem. One of the passengers was bound and determined I should claim the 5 raised seats at the back so I could stretch out and sleep (using hand gestures, got her point across). My question to her which I didn't get across to her, was if seats were so good, why were they not taken already - all other passengers had claimed their seats by putting bags across them. I asked other tourists that I had chatted to earlier about this, they weren't sure but thought those seats were over engine so may be noisy. Also seemed hotter raised like that. I opted to take a double seat below, which was vacant. Although plastic stickt seats, and my seat didn't have control of window opening, air con seemed to work, had seat to myself. So far so good. Bus drove out on time, at 6:30 and spent a pleasant 30 minutes driving out of city. All houses along the way had doors open into the living room. May not be a stick of furniture, maybe a mattress on the floor, but they all have TVs, sometimes in big wall units, sometimes just on a table.  TVs always on, people watching (always on in Lao in the shops as well). No houses dark (ie not like in Canada, where people go to meetings, events, socializing outside of their home in the evenings, in Lao everyone is home at night, probably because the days are so hot, they just want to relax at home in the cooler evenings.    Bus stopped, picked up 2 other people, woman sat with me although lots of other seats available with local people.  Had huge duffel bag and box which for some reason she didn't store with other luggage at back. COuldn't quite sit in her part of the double seats so propped herself up against me.  Driver turned off air con and started driving at top speeds, like a maniac similar to driver from Luang Prabang to Vientianne, where many got sick.  It was hot sitting so close to someone, I couldn't figure out why no aircon and tried to ask other passengers but seemed they didn't know either. Guy in front of me with control of window wanted it closed... Driver played Laos/Vietnamese music at high volume all the way. Hot hot trip for a few hours, then stopped at a rustic side place to 'eat' . I was too hot to eat, bathrooms were typical squat type in terrible conditions, everyone else eating, I stayed outside trying to get a breeze. Got back on the bus, no music for awhile then at 3 am (i couldn't sleep, woman next to me leaning on me, I was so hot) driver put music on again and I thought 'what on earth?" We were scheduled to be at border at 5 a.m and I knew we had to wait at border for 3 hrs for border to open. Why they don't start later I don't know. Anyway at about 3:30 a.m.(music was to wake those up who were sleeping, I presume) we stop at a roadside place with 2 double beds enroute to toilet  and other rooms I guess. Woman gestures for me to lie down with her in a room where 2 men are already lying on a bed, fully and sleeping very quickly. i thought all were taking a short nap so I smiled and said no thanks and proceeded to go to the bathroom. Came out and all I saw were these 2 guys and 2 women in the other bed and no one around, except for a baby awake in a play pen, a woman who asked me if I wanted to buy Dong (VIentnam currency) and another guy who walked around and kept spitting everywhere. I thought where am I, where is everybody? Bus still there, I could see someone sleeping in it, I tried to get back on the bus, it was locked. I walked around thinking what should I do, then saw the currency seller lying on a wooden bench so I took the next one. Put a newspaper over my head to block the ceiling light. Spitter comes over and says for 1$ I can have a bed. I look at him and wonder if he is serious, see he is, go and see bed upstairs. Someone is in that room, he says no more beds. I go back downstairs and lay on wooden bench. Mother of child climbs into playpen with baby (I think we all have their beds) and puts Vietnamese music videos on TV, loud!.  I have ear plugs and manage to actually fall asleep! Spitter jabs me at 6 a.m. and says 'passport.' He has everyone's passports and takes them to Laos border control. I'm up, everyone still sleeping. I eventually succumb to just one of the 10 women who are there now trying to buy Thai baht or Lao kip and convert to Dong, and get ripped off royally before I even know what is going on. Gave me half of what I should have received. I was dumb and put it down to no sleep, confusion about what the drill is, and wonder about what is happening next.
At 7:30 we get back on bus and I could feel they were talking about me as they kept looking at me and talking. A man asks me why I didn't get exchange rate first from seller, so I guess he witnessed my rip off (he spoke a little English, turns out) and I said I asked but she grabbed the money out of my hand and gave me dong and didn't answer.  (My mistake to have money out first). Then a woman said 'how old are you?"  I said "How old am I"?" and she and the others all wanted to know, nodding their heads. I said "I am old enough to know better, and young enough to do it again" and of course they were expecting a number they could decifer and didn't know what I said but I thought it was an apt reply and one I cannot slip into conversation every day!  Don't know why it popped into my head. At Laos border, a short drive away, I  have to 'to and fro' asking people what do I do next, with hand gestures, and people trying to tell me what to do. Very agressive people, jabbing me in arm, 'where you from'. I am only foreigner and there are lots of buses.  Driver keeps saying to me "Vietnam border over there', all he knows in English and keep nodding and saying that's nice, I took pics already. He meant we were to walk to VN border - so everyone straggled there, only 2 km and the opposite is happening from those who bussed from VN to Laos so there we all are, tens of people all crossing the border some going and some coming. It was quite a scene. Then myself and an old man didn't know where to get picked up by our pink bus so we walked further down the road but didn't see any other passengers from our bus. I started walking back and he followed and stopped to see if I found the others. I did, and beckoned for him to come. The meeting place was apparently a cement boulevard by the customs office.  Could see the pink bus still on the other side, in Laos. Sit down on my newspaper on the cement with the others, start reading my book. It is 8 a.m.  Hear a voice say to me, do you speak English? It is a Vietnamese young woman called Jang, who was born in Germany and going to VN for first time. Finds it hard as her VN language is not sufficient to converse with the locals who expect her to be able to talk to them. Was only 'foreigner' on her bus and just wanted to chat. Going to Hue as well but in diff bus, we say maybe we'll see each other there.  Bus pulls up, all luggage gets taken off, police and dog enters bus and checks for drugs. Everything fine, we all get in again, it is 8 a.m. we drive for a 2 hours, driver puts on air con (yay!), stop for another toilet break, get back on and at 11 a.m. driver stops and announces 'Hue' and looks at me.  I recognized that as the place I was going, and i thought everyone else was to, but only 2 couples and me got off at a gas station! Didn't know where I was, much confusion between and among motorcycle taxis there who were determined I was going with them, the taxi driver and the passengers. They then gestured for me to get into their taxi and even made room for me to sit in the front with driver who drove to their guesthouse (i learned from the signs we must be in Hue!, and this ia at 11 a.m., bus due in at 4:30 pm, driver was maniac...). Guesthouse is confused about who this person is in taxi not getting out. Male passenger tells driver to take me where I am going from there (fortunately I prebooked and had printout of address and their alphabet same as ours, unlike Thailand), turns out it was literally around corner!. Driver announces he wants $2.  Man shakes head and he gestures to me that he has taken care of driver and it should cost me nothing. I can't quite believe this, so I get out of car and get my money out and man shakes head and says 'souvenir' meaning the taxi ride was his souvenir to me!  His wife was beaming and smiling and I thought wow. I asked if he was from Laos and he said Vietnam - and I had been warned that all VN will rip me off.  So there you go.  Driver says to me 1$; I shake my head and say no, man said he paid you.  So we drive around corner and there is my place! so glad to get here. Nice double room, air con and fan, sat. tv, $12 US with breakfast. ON main street but i have an internal room so quite quiet (and with aircon on, cannot hear traffic, which is something else!) Very few cars, make up with scooters, bicycles, and cyclos - bicycle rickshaws. Drivers very aggressive, hassle right from front door of guesthouse. Madame where you going?> Take you to market, very cheap (it is $1 US for an hour!) but they are not very safe as pedalling in all this traffic. Met 70 year oldwoman last night on the street from Germany, she and I walked to the CHo 'market', risking lives to cross street.. but nothing like Hanoi apparently! Turns out she and her friend also staying in my guesthouse, we found out when we walked back together! Had an early night as no sleep night before. Booked a day long tour on Perfume River starting at 8 a.m. Motorcycle taxi picked me up at Guesthouse at 8. About 45 passengers on a big pontoon boat and spent a nice breezy day, watching life on the river, sampans going by on which people live,fish etc., boats dredging by hand and women operating the wheels used to lower and raise the buckets, on the water travelling to Thien Mu pagoda, Hon Chen Temple, Tu Due tomb, Minh Mang tomb and Khai Dinh tomb but some we need to rent rides on motorcyles oand/or pay entry feees and I did none of that. Saw other pontoon tourist boats going by and seeing clothes hanging at the back of the boat, realize the staff on the boat live on it as well and on way back, see where they are lined up and people doing their thing. Sellers very aggressive at every stop wanting to sell drinks, trinkets and fresh fruit. Spent time talking to couple from Quebec sitting in from of me, and couple from Scotland, she Scottish, he Italian. Got back at 4:30 and was enroute for a shower and found the guesthouse has free internet so here goes. ALso had lots to report. Tomorrow I get picked up at 8 a.m. for 4 hour bus ride to Hoi An, an ancient port. Both Hue and Hoi An are UNESCO world Heritage Sites and Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam.  
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