A Disappointing and Frustrating Day

Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Houaphan,
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

12:34 What a rubbish day. No really, it was awful. The whole point of travelling for 10 hours on a bus, all the way to nearly Vietnam, was to go to Vieng Xai and see the caves that people hid in during the bombardments. With that in mind, reading the following should hopefully explain why I ended up writing in large capital letters across my lonely planet section for sam neua (excuse the swearing but i was just so mad) "JUST DON'T FUCKING BOTHER!!!"

It all started with the hotel. Nice room, nice American lady, but unfriendly, rude staff and owners who never smile, ever, despite me cracking a wide grin at them every time in an effort to provoke some sort of response that didn't appear like we were a massive imposition on their day.

We went out that morning at 9am, having been told that buses to Vieng Xai ran every hour. We sought a tuktuk who immediately tried to rip us off saying it would be 30,000 just to the bus station, the man in the hotel said it should be 5000 for both of us. By the way, there are 2 bus stations at sam Neua, neither of which are anywhere convenient, like, ohh let's say, IN the town. So, we went to the tourist office, infuriated already after the frosty reception at breakfast by the hotel owners. We explained our frustration to the man there and he also said that it should be 5000 for both of us and offered to call us a tuktuk for the right price to take to the station and he said the last bus back from Vieng Xai would be 4pm so we still had time to go on the caves tour at 1pm.
We thanked him, thinking our day was looking up and went to the station, arriving at 10am. We got out and I handed the driver 5000. He looked at us flabbergasted and said 25,000. Angela snapped, she started yelling and swearing in Italian (which sounds really nice, it's funny!) and pacing around kicking at things, all in front of a bunch of other tuktuk drivers and all the passengers at the bus station. This was causing a real scene and I just wanted the ground to swallow me up despite being angry myself. Another driver came over and also started saying it was 25,000. This was ridiculous when we had been told otherwise, and anyway, the bus to Vieng Xai 20km away was only going to cost 10 or 15000, so it made no sense, we just saw them as taking us for a ride (no pun intended!). After continuing to shout at them saying that 2 people including the guy that booked it said 5000 we were no way paying 25000. This shouting and stand off continued whilst i slunk away to a seat and let Angela continue fighting our corner. The driver called 'the tourist office' where we spoke to a man who kept saying he said twenty five thousand not five thousand. After talking with him a few minutes I decided it wasn't the same man at all but probably the drivers mate somewhere. Angela then spoke to him and decided the same thing. After fuming for quite some time the driver came back and said ok and i handed him 5000, he pointed at me and then Angela saying some word that must have been rude and walked off back to his other tuktuk friends who were all laughing and clearly being idle under a hut near the main station.
Me and Angela sat in front of the station with everyone looking at us. No one was behind the booking counter and so all we could do was sit and wait, humiliated and the drivers clearly all hating us. Randomly, a man arrived wearing camo gear, with a baby strapped to his back and a large machine gun also slung over his back. Random.
We sat there for 2 hours! 2 bloody hours waiting for the 'hourly' bus to take us away from our humiliation and evil looks. At last at 12.15 we left the bus station and prayed we'd arrive in time for the 1pm tour, knowing that it was a 50min journey away.

We arrived at 1 and speed walked the final 1km to the caves office to try and get on the 1pm tour. We got there at 1.10. It was there that the man behind the counter told us first that we were late, but i said we'd been sitting at the bus station in sam neua for 2 hours so had only just arrived, and then that the last bus back was at 2.30 and we should be at the bus stop at 2 to be ready. Plus if we wanted a tour we would only fit in 1 cave, 2 at best and it would cost 60000 regardless of how many caves we saw. We thought we could see some alone then, but he said we can't go to the caves alone, it has to be part of the tour, for which there was only one price - 60,000 each. After all this discussion of exploring the possibilities and disputing the bus return time having been told 4pm by the other tourist office, it was already 1.30 so we only had half an hour left before having to go back to the bus stop. This was where I lost the plot, walking out of the caves office swearing and kicking the wall before plonking myself down on the steps and getting out my biro and applying the previous graffiti to my lonely planet, leaving Angela to explain to the guy at the counter what a crap day we'd already had and that the whole point of coming all this way was to see these damn caves. I heard him apologise over and over but I just remained on the step cursing "this whole journey has been a complete fucking waste of time, energy and money."

She came out of the office and we spent the half hour we had left walking around the small village set in amongst the towering karsks. When we got to the bus station, ok, Market, where the bus or in actual fact tuktuk made from a truck with a cover and benches in it was, it started to pour with rain. We got in the vehicle, me with my rain poncho on - this vehicle is pretty exposed, and we travelled back to sam Neua with water spraying in.

On arriving at the sam Neua station we knew that asking any of the drivers for a lift back would be bad, so we elected to walk, it was 4.5km away, but we'd rather walk than face the angry drivers who were still there from an hour previously. I did ask the Sawngthaew driver if he was going that way but he said no. We'd had no lunch either, and it was raining so this was going to be fun.

We walked down the slope and saw a shop where the only thing recognisable and remotely sustaining was a packet of biscuits which we bought and then started to walk on. The Sawngthaew driver pulled up and we ran up and got in. He dropped us nearer town and wanted another 10000 off us each (we'd just paid 15,000 to go 20km!) I couldn't be bothered arguing with anyone else today and handed it to him.

We were just in time to return to the tourist office to tell the guy we met this morning that the driver he got us was a cheat, and he shouldn't use him again.
When we arrived the once happy, friendly guy was not happy or friendly any longer. I told him that we had a problem this morning, and he said he knew. I explained what happened and he said that he had told us 25 and not 5, but he'd been saying the 20 bit quickly so we must have misheard him. This was absolute rubbish, I can distinctly tell the difference between him saying 25,000 very quickly, and 5000, and in any case, after ranting at him that we thought we were being ripped off this morning he made it clear that we shouldn't be paying that much. He then told us that he'd had to pay the other 20,000 out of his own pocket. I don't think I believed him, but I left feeling a little sheepish and thoroughly let down by the whole day.

We returned to the hotel where I indulged in egg, chips and coke and lying in the nice room doing nothing at all.

Best: eating chips
Worst: most of the day actually, but not getting the opportunity to see the caves after all the effort of getting here
Beautiful: Vieng Xai village
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amy on

you should be used to miserable hotel staff you put up with me for ages! lol x

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