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    Our Longest Bus Ride to Date

    February 2nd, 2008 by mary

    From Hanoi we were thrown into a tired bus with the locals at 7pm. The rear four aisles were jammed floor to ceiling with cargo, overflow from the roof. It was amazing that it wasn’t caving in with half of Vietnam strapped to the top. Our bags get tossed in the back and the bus guys try to shove us into seats with baggage at our feet. This is a 21 hour bus ride so there was no way we were going to compromise with legroom. The pushy punk finally takes the box out from under the seat ahead of us so we sit down. Some others weren’t so lucky. There were bags and boxes under all the seats. A few of the locals have the double seats to themselves but over the course of the night we would pick up others to fill those spots. The seats weren’t bad. There was a noticeable lumbar support and the cushion was still intact. Each seat even had a blanket. Later we found out that that was because the aircon would blast all night. The locals were prepared with their knit hats, gloves, and winter jackets. We huddle together under our two blankets draped over us. At least once every hour and a half we made a stop for petrol, food, smoking, bathroom, more passengers, and once at a mechanic for reason unknown. Of course there was onboard entertainment. Now I know what a Vietnamese award show looks like. Ugh! That was when the earplugs and eyeshades came out. Steve seem to conk out pretty early on. I read and struggled until after midnight. Even then I kept waking every twenty minutes readjusting within my confinement before finally dosing off for a longer spell. The brief moments that I open my eyes the bus was crawling in fog so thick you can barely see the back of the bus ten feet ahead of us. I knew it would be cold but I didn’t expect pea soup. One time when I opened my eyes I noticed that we weren’t moving but there was another bus next to us. The mist is so heavy that I have no idea what’s around us or where we are. I just figured it was too hard to see so we stopped.

    At about 6:30am I peep out from under my shades to see Steve awake. It seems we’ve been waiting at the Vietnam border waiting for the office to open so we can exit. We must’ve been there for at least an hour, maybe two. The bus punk collects the passports without explanation and I watch him put them in a plastic bag. Next he grunts at us to leave behind the others. It is freezing outside. The thick mist is still burying us in and we follow the cajoling guards into the sparse building. We join the mob and I squeeze to the front of the counter so I can see what the guards are doing. There are stacks of passports on the inside of the glass. Doubtless from all the other buses and trucks waiting next to ours. Luckily the guards grabs our plastic bag pile first and starts to slowly check each one through. He’s being particular with which ones he fishes out first. Ten foreigner passports go through before he grabs mine. It gets stamped and he calls my name out. Before he hands it to me he demands $1. It was too early in the morning to question him about the fee so I tell Steve who is two people behind me to hand over the cash. Even he doesn’t want to deal with it either so we pay the bribe and get our passports back. Then we had to walk across the checkpoint to officially leave Vietnam. We walk into the fog not knowing where or how far to go. The mist is clinging onto every surface. I feel my backpack and it’s soaked. Finally we see another gate through the haze and the door is open. We rush through knowing there would be a mob behind us. The border guards here on the Laos side actually speak english and they’re as helpful as can be given the conditions. We pay for our visa on arrival in addition to an extra $1 that everyone has to pay. At least we get a slip of paper to make it feel like a real fee. We’ve been doing this type of free-for-all queueing so I work my way to the front of the counter and shove my hand through the opening in the glass as soon as the guard glances up. You can’t too early or it’s taken as an affront. You have to be assertive but not aggressive. It’s a fine line and the difference is getting what you want or the cold shoulder. Yay! We’re through. As soon as we see the bus at the gate we hop on and hide under our blankets. My earplugs and eye shades go back on and I sleep until Steve wakes me after 10am. The sun was out and the sky blue. What a difference a few hours make. I felt like I was coming out of the blinding cold cloud that was Vietnam and stepping onto the clear, sunny warmth of Laos.

    That night Steve fell asleep pretty early. I stayed up and did some yoga. 21hrs on a bus really makes my back and butt sore. It could’ve been must worst though, we know. We’re actually quite content with this record breaking bus ride. Our previous longest bus ride title holder was when we left Bukittingi in Sumatra. That was 19hrs and this one was smoke free.

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