Ah, the glorious sleeper bus, what a way to travel! Bouncing your way through time and space, on almost fully, but not quite, reclining leather chairs, that can almost, but not quite, fit a western man. Although we didn’t have much problems, being barely over 170cm tall. We had to take off shoes when we came in, and put them in a plastic bag, because people would sleep on the floor as well, on special mats.
We also ran into the oft reported phenomena of “westerners ride at the back”, taking seats almost up front but being banished a few seats back later. The four Aussies and Brits didn’t fare as well, being told to sit right at the back. Then a black man came on board the bus, the lads at the back thought he might have been American. He sat right at the places we were told to vacate, and was left alone for a while, but then, too, banished to the back of the bus. I wanted to crack a Rosa Parks joke as he walked past, but, um, didn’t. We were left unharassed for the rest of the trip.
The dreaded Vietnamese karaoke / singing contest shows came on for a while but were quickly turned off. After that it was uneasy sleep until about 6:30 am, when we arrived at the Laos border crossing. It was pretty cold and misty, the landscape churned into mud by trucks and construction works at the edges of the road. A few uneven huts leaned on each other, and the border control barracks was barely visible behind the line of cars and buses waiting to cross. I put on borrowed flip flops (you can borrow flip flops on the bus, it’s a wonder!) and tramped off behind the other westerners to battle at the customs hatch. To my surprise, despite the chaotic queuing habits of the locals, it all went smoothly, and 30 minutes later we had our Vietnam departure stamps. But that wasn’t all, we had to walk one kilometer across the no-mans land to the Laos border control facility, where we paid 36$ for the privilege of entering Laos and received a colorful, full page visa. Much nicer than shitty Thai and Vietnamese stamps.
After that our trip went on, we were about half way to Vientiane. There were a few stops, and I was able to buy some omelet and rice with some of my remaining Vietnamese dongs. That fed girly into a satisfied stupor, so I was able to continue reading my “boring submarine book” (amazing work, can’t believe I haven’t read it before, especially back in my U-Boat enthusiast days) without being pestered. And suddenly, just like that, we were in Vientiane, only 22 hours after departing Hanoi, with no major breakages, no accidents, no plunges into the bottomless chasms, no border incidents (except for the black guy being denied entry) and no pillage and rapine.
We were met by a “people truck” driver at the station, and the Aussie/UK gang convinced us to join them for a drive to town, haggling the guy down to 2$ each. And a good thing we did, too, because we didn’t arrive in the center of town as we thought we would, but 15 km to the north east. We were just about to confidently walk out of the bus station courtyard, dripping wet backpacks on our backs (the bus cargo hold had some holes in its bottom, so every mucky puddle the bus drove over splashed onto our backpacks)… Brr. The driver dropped us off at the Syri 1 Guest House, a cheap (80000 kip a night, about 8€) place with hot water and semi-working wifi. Bliss!