Vietnam to Laos the hard way

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Nam Ou Guesthouse

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, November 21, 2010

We had heard that the two day journey from Sapa, Vietnam to Muang Khua in Laos was arduous so mentally prepared ourselves for a tough ride. The first stage of the journey took us by minibus to Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. We had bought our tickets the day before but were the last pick-up in Sapa so the minibus was already full when we clambered on board. It was a squeeze but we managed to find just enough space, even when the driver kept stopping enroute to pick up even more people waiting by the side of the road. Most of the people onboard were Vietnamese but we were lucky that there were two other couples of travellers crammed into the back with us, a Peruvian and Czech Republic couple who lived and worked in Australia, and a French-Belgian couple, Maxime and Laureline. Having other travellers to chat to and share the experience made the whole journey much more bearable and the time passed quickly.  The distance to Dien Bien Phu is not that great but road works on the narrow mountain roads meant that it took nine hours. At first we crawled along very slowly through thick fog but later on were rewarded with great views of the mountainous terrain. This area is one of the remotest in Vietnam and still has thick forests.

If you're interested in the change coming to this area of Vietnam please read the following article...

We arrived in Dien Bien Phu in the early evening and checked into a cheap hotel. Walking through the market after dinner we were greeted by the unfortunate sight of a dead dog lying on its back with its legs in the air and cut all the way down its stomach. It was about to be roasted and turned into kebabs!

We awoke early the next day and walked over to the bus station at 5am to begin the second leg of the journey which would take us all the way across the Laos border to Muang Khua. When our vehicle, which was half way between a bus and a minibus, pulled in to the bus station, we saw that all the seats were packed with huge sacks full of clothes. What happened next was unbelievable. We had to clamber over the sacks of clothes to the back of the bus and somehow arrange ourselves on top. But the really crazy thing is the amount of people trying to get on board. The conductor kept trying to cram more and more people on and us travellers at the back, kept shouting 'NO MORE'! A shouting match ensued with us and the conductor getting more and more irate. In the end, the conductor won and we were packed in like sardines with people's legs and arms in other people's faces. Unbelievably the bus still stopped along the road and managed to cram a few more people in. In over 6 months of travelling we have never seen anything like this. There were even people perched on the seat head rests!

Our group of travellers was now joined by Bob from Los Angeles. Apart from Bob, who had had a mostly positive experience in Vietnam, we all agreed that we were looking forward to moving on. Although Tom and I have met lots of nice Vietnamese individuals, on the whole we can't say that we have warmed to the Vietnamese particularly. We have heard that they are nicer in the south of the country! Maybe our expectations have been raised too high by the warmth of the Burmese.

After a few very uncomfortable hours, we arrived at the Vietnamese border where we piled out and had our passports stamped. Then it was back in the bus for 6 km across no man's land to the Laotian border post where we piled out again and went through the process of getting our visas. Our decision to pay for the visas with Vietnamese dong did not work in our favour and what should have cost $70, ended up being over $90.

It had started raining and we worried about the safety of the next part of the journey as the single track road was unpaved and muddy and had a large drop on one side. Fortunately the driver took it slowly and we inched our way along with amazing vistas of rainforest clad mountains. This whole section of road is in the process of being built and at one point we rounded a bend to find a digger clearing a huge pile of rocks and rubble that was blocking our way. We thought we might be stuck for a while but it actually only took the digger about ten minutes.  After a further four hours of leg cramping and bum-numbing misery, we arrived on the banks of the Nam Ou river with the small town of Muang Khua just across the other side. We had made it! We crossed the river in a small boat and settled into the Nam Ou Guesthouse, enjoying a couple of cold Beer Lao's on the balcony. Usually I don't like beer but this one tasted particularly good!

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