The Road to Hell!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, April 18, 2004

This is only a short entry, in fact just 3 days, but oh so needed an entry all on its own as it was an experience all on its own! One I'd rather forget!

Thursday 15th April
We got up early and had banana pancakes with honey for breakfast. We also had chicken salad and tuna salad baguettes made up for the journey. We made our way to the bus station and got tickets for the bus to Vientiane. We got chatting to a guy from Cambodia at the bus station who was giving us local advice on where to go in Cambodia. We swapped emails and he is going to send us some places to visit off the beaten path. The bus to Vientiane took just less than 4 hours and the road was considerably better with few bends and no scary heights. The amount of water thrown enroute didn't show any signs of lessening on the third and final day of New Year. Vientiane is a fairly nice city, quite small with some quaint colonial buildings in the old centre but it is also showing signs of growing with some bland buildings being built on the outskirts. We are back on the banks of the Mekong River and Thailand is once again a stones throw away.

We made our way from the bus station to the centre of town trying to use back alleys and lanes to avoid the water fights that lined the main streets. We found a guest house listed in our guide and managed to get in only half soaked! We payed 40,000 kip and settled in our room and then headed out to see Vientiane and get soaked by all the water the locals could throw at us for one last afternoon! Vientianes sights are pretty much all viewable in one afternoon and we quickly made the decision that we would leave for Vietnam tomorrow. One of Vienianes streets is based on the Champs Elysee with its own Arc de Triumphe at the top.

We found a cheap internet place and checked our emails. Vientiane has been the only place worth logging on as it is a lot cheaper and faster than elsewhere in Laos. We stayed on for an hour and then headed to get some noodles for dinner and then a walk round the now deserted streets of Vientiane as everyone has to go back to work tomorrow!

Friday 16th April
Hurrah no more water threats as you enter the street! We booked our bus at the guest house which was $18 US and leaves at 6pm tonight taking 18 hours. We checked out but left our bags at the guest house and went to wander around Vientiane. We took a walk up to the Victory Gate Monument (the one that is based on the Arc de Triumphe) it looks much better the further you are away! Upon close inspection it is made of cement! We got some lunch and headed to the internet cafe for a few hours as we had seen plenty of Vientiane - its more of a stop off place than a holiday destination.

I left Simon on the Internet and went for a walk around a Wat and got chatting to some monks who were studying at monk college. They told me about how becoming a monk at a young age ensures a good education. One monk was turning 20 next week and would soon finish his studies and then have to decide whether he should stay a monk or get a job. He wanted to teach English to the hill tribe children and was hoping to get a job soon. I left the monks and went back to collect Simon from the Internet place and we made our way to the guest house to catch our bus. Our bus from hell!

We were due to leave at 6pm and take 18 hours to Hanoi passing through Pakxane in Laos and over the Hoh Chi Minh Trail. The bus soon filled up and we eventually left our departure point at 7.30 on a rickety old bus that needed help getting started. We set off and after about a quarter of a mile down the road we stopped to pick up about 20 crates of fruit and coconuts which gave us a 40min wait while they tried to fit them on the roof. We then got going and stopped 2 mins later to pick up some Laos and their produce which in this case was Durians which are football sized spikey fruit which not only taste like crap but have a disgusting pungent smell, as there was no room left on the roof these got piled in the isle at the back half of the bus where we were sitting! This continued a few more times until eventually we set off and at 9.45 we passed Vientianes bus station where we had been 3.45 hours ago! We hit the open road....for 45 mins when we stopped so the drivers could get dinner! Another half hour passed. We eventually set off again at 11pm where we tried to get some sleep.

Saturday 17th April
At 3am we got to a bridge which had just been classified too weak for vehicles and a floating platform had been put in place in the river below that could take 2 vehicles at one time - this was closed till 6am. So we parked up in a queue of other trucks and buses and slept and waited. The platform eventually started operating at 6.30am (Laos country time!)and we started to drive off the road and down the steep bank down to the river bed. It took 3 hours for all the trucks in the queue in front to get across the river and at 9.30am it soon became our time! The people running the floaing platform "service" were shoving rocks and bits of wood under the wheels of the bus to try and give it traction and also to try and raise the bus as the incline of the bank against the flat of the platform caused the front of the bus to scrape on the platform when it tried to get on with the front wheels and the back of the bus was grinding on the bank when the front wheels made it onto the platform! 30 mins later we were on the platform and on a pulley to the other side about 50 feet across.

We got to the other side and had the same problem as before but as the bank here was steeper the bus eventually grounded! The back of the bus was wedged firmly and the back wheels were just spinning uselessly. There was an old army truck that obviously hadn't been started in years but was our only hope of getting pulled out so we all watched as 12 or so Laos men "played" with the truck with nothing but a slight clicking noise coming from the monster truck! Then the side of the bus was opened and they disconnected our battery and took it to the truck to which responded and started first time! Some minutes later the bus was winched to the flat land as the back of the bus scraped along the ground. The battery was replaced and by midday we were once again on our way.

We crossed the Ho Chi Minh Trail without much idea that that was what we were crossing. Because of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and The Laos people allowing North Vietnamese troops on its land to transport supplies and people to South Vietnam the Americans eventually lost the Vietnam War (or American war as it is known here). It came at a huge price to the Laos people though, as a result 3 million tonnes of explosives were dropped in a never ending series of raids making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history. Basically one bomb was dropped every eight minutes every day for nine years. 30% of which never exploed and are still there today. Needless to say we weren't stopping to take a walk.

We continued on and made our way to the Laos - Vietnam border arriving at 2pm. We passed through Laos departure at a cost of $1 US each as it was Saturday and they wanted overtime money. We travelled the short distance to Vietnam immigration and were told to sit and wait while they finished lunch. The Vietnamese immigration were literally sitting drinking beer watching us sitting and waiting and watching them finish their beer. This went on for an hour before they started working and charged us another $1 each for their overtime. It took them another two hours as they had to search the whole bus including all the coconuts! They all helped themselves to bowls of fruit and then let us on our way. By 5 pm we were back on the road and had a fairly uneventful trip to Hanoi arriving at 3 am next morning.

Sunday 18th April
We were dropped off literally in the middle of nowhere but fortunately a commercially astute young woman with a minibus and a guest house was there to meet us and take us to Hanoi. She wanted $6 a day which is a little pricey for these parts but absolutely noone was going to argue at this time of the morning. We got to her place and got a room which was really nice with a TV with Sky Movies and we had free unlimited internet downstairs and free fruit every morning. As we are now in a Communist country we had to hand over our passports so they can be registered with the local police so they always know our whereabouts! We headed straight to bed exhausted!

Well not exactly a great end to Laos or a great start to Vietnam but we have been lucky to get 9 months in without a journey from hell! Lets hope we can do the last 3 months without another!
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