Well hello there.
This blog is usually written in Swedish, mainly because of habit/I’m from Sweden? But since I’ve had quite the adventure, and out of all the people who would like to hear the full story there is a clear majority of non-swedes, English it is. And oh, this will be a long post. I really want to remember it all, so I’m trying to be as thorough as possible.
Background story: I applied for an electronic visa before arriving to Vietnam. It was cheap, it was easy. And above all, it was fast. This is important because I don’t plan my travels, I just do. Of course, this is all very charming and a part of my “free spirit-ness” – but gosh darn it how it makes me fuck up a lot. My visa ended on the 30th of July. My initial plan was to leave Vietnam on the 30th of July. This is the story of how I fucked up, peed on my foot, got tricked and fooled, and how I sneaked away in the night without paying. Among other things. Enjoy.
I woke up quite sick Friday morning. Coughing and a runny nose. It was the 28th of July and I planned to leave the beautiful town of Sapa that night. It was, as always, a sleeper bus that would take me to Dien Bien Phu. Which is the closest city to Tay Trang – the border point that was supposed to be the best one. The border point that immigration service recommended to me. My plan was to chill one day in Dien Bien Phu, and then cross the border on my last day. But I changed my mind the last second, so I ran down to the bus place and bought a ticket between Dien Bien Phu and Luang Prabang (Laos). And thank the lord for this!
So, I left Friday evening and was supposed to reach Luang Prabang Saturday night at 6pm. The sleeper bus was a nightmare. It wasn’t a tourist bus, it was a local bus. The difference is strangely the price (local costs a fortune), no toilet, not cleaned (ever), and it’s full of people/boxes/stuff. Like stuffed, way beyond its capacity. So, a billion Vietnamese men snoring/spitting/listening to music/etc all the way. And a lady that threw up all night. Not sure where it all ended up. Don’t want to know. When we stopped for food and bathroom break I went for the only ladies room there was. It wasn’t a room. It was half o room, and not even a hole in the ground. Not even a door. But I had to pee. So down I squatted. And all came on my foot somehow. With nowhere to clean myself, I went out into the kitchen and dipped my feet in the dishes. I was there with a few other tourists, we were in equal amount of chock. The filth, the looks from the men, the throwing up. Yeah, it was an epic night.
We woke up in Dien Bien Phu around 6am, and the next bus were to leave at 7.30am. We walked around to find coffee, which we did. Sort of. And then we all went to the place where the bus was supposed to leave from. Which meant that we almost missed said bus, because it was waiting for us five minutes from where it was supposed to leave from. Of course. There were not enough seats in the bus for all of us, which meant the locals sat on top of our bags. Very popular. Not. The bus stopped approximately one billion times in the hour it took us to go to the border. And they filled the bus with all from vodka bottles (a box went down my head, and I still have a bump to prove it), chickens, bags of rice, etc. Twelve hours in that bus seemed like an amazing way to spend a 35 degrees’ Celsius day.
Well, that didn’t happen. I was stopped and got stuck at the border. They refused to let me leave the country. My only option was to find another border point. A border point that would accept my electronic visa, a border point that was at least 12 hours away from where I was. So, the border point that the Vietnamese immigration people recommended for me to go to, did not accept me. Thanks for nothing, you fucking fuckers. My anger aside, not all border points accept electronic visas, something I could have known, if I’d only done my research properly. But I asked the people working when I entered Vietnam and I took their word for it. You should never be that sloppy, and I will never be that sloppy again. In total, we were three people that were stopped, so at least I wasn’t alone. After losing my shit, I regained my posture and started working on plan B. This was after I tried everything, talked to the border people for what felt like forever and tried to bribe them with all the dollar I had on me. First and foremost, I started working on a refund on my bus ticket, unfortunately I only got two thirds back, but at least it’s better than nothing. While waiting for a bus back to Dien Bien Phu, my mind was racing. I had 36 hours to leave the country, so I had to work fast. 36 hours seems like a long time, but in Vietnam it’s not. Everything takes forever. My first option was to go to the bus station and see if I could go to the other border point (Nam Can), if that seemed to risky or wasn’t possible, I would go to Hanoi and get the first plane out of there. On our way back to Dien Bien Phu our bus hit a dog, a dog that probably didn’t die right away. But screamed with pain and terror.
Back in Dien Bien Phu I rushed to the bus station. And to my great surprise, there was a night bus going to Nam Can! Imagine that! 14 hours on a sleeper bus, and I would wake up right by the border. When I crossed into Laos there would be several options of transportation that I could choose from. To good to be true?! Said and done, I put my last Vietnamese Dong into the bus ticket. The hours until the bus left I spent drinking shitty coffee and trying to clean myself up a little bit. I spent the afternoon with the others that got stuck at the border. And a Dutch guy that spend his afternoon laughing at me and proving me mistaken regarding everything I said and did that afternoon. Yeah, a lovely afternoon. And then I left Dien Bien Phu (alone, the others went to Hanoi) on a surprisingly nice bus. Slept like a baby and all was well.
I woke up in the wrong side of the country. No, no joke. The bastards tricked me and I was at least 10 hours from the border when I woke up at 6am. 18 hours left of my visa, and the stress was no joke. The confusion and the anger was hard to handle. In Vietnam, there is few things that is respected less than a tantrum, so if you want help – you smile and take a chill pill. I had no chill pills around me, and I was close to tears. A very, very nice man that spoke somewhat good English helped me to translate to the bus driver and try to make sense in what happened. They all agreed with me – I’ve been tricked. I tried to make them take some responsibility, which didn’t happen. But the nice Vietnamese man gave me 500.000 dong, so I had enough money to get to the border. That made me cry, just little bit, because he was so kind and helped me in a situation when I’ve been tricked a lot. I’ll never forget that man.
At the bus station, I ran around like a confused headless chicken in search for a way forward. Nobody spoke English and I was getting desperate. A young Vietnamese guy heard my despair and could (thank the lord) speak English. I explained my situation to him, and he understood the importance of me leaving the country and he explained my situation to the man working at the bus station. My only option was a “five hour” bus to Murong Xen, and then take a motor bike to Nam Can. Since I had no option, that’s what I did. At this point I hadn’t had anything to eat in 12 hours. And I had no time to buy anything, and I didn’t want to use my money on food. The “five hour” bus took almost eight hours. My fever was going haywire, I felt dizzy and I just wanted to die. The bus was a minivan, no air condition and little to no space because of the billions of boxes, people, scooters (!), chickens and snoring Vietnamese men. I had some water, but that’s it. When we finally arrived in Murong Xen the bus people helped me, because they could clearly see that I was somewhat sick and in a vulnerable state. Generously they paid a motorcycle guy that took me and my backpack the 22 km to the border point.
At the border point, everything went well. With seven hour to spare I managed to leave Vietnam. I was disgusting, smelly and so fucking happy. I took forever, but the serious looking men let me through and it was with victory I walked the 400 meter between Vietnam and Laos. And the Visa on arrival went well also. They didn’t even overcharge me! How lucky can a girl be? Not that lucky, as it turns out. You remember all the transportation options that would await me on the Laos side of the border? That was a lie. There is absolutely nothing there. Nothing. I walked for a bit, then I sat down in despair. The sun was going down and I was short on good ideas. The border people told me a bus would show up eventually, and when it did I threw myself at it. It was a big red sleeper bus going to Luang Prabang! I was welcome aboard, for the not so humble price of 250.000 kip. Since I didn’t have enough to pay the man straight away, he accepted that I would pay when we get there. Now it’s Sunday night and I left Sapa Friday afternoon. I was to take the third night bus in a row, no showers, no proper food, sick as a dog and without a choice in the matter. The bus was filled with locals, locals that stared at me like I was a circus attraction. The bus driver wanted me to stay in the back, with boxes and smelly men. That I would not accept, and I made him give me a proper sleeper seat. He had to move people around, but I just didn’t care. My ticket cost about ten times more than theirs, and I was giving zero fucks at that moment. I took a few pills for the fever and then I fell dead asleep.
When I woke up one hour later the bus stood still, and all the men had removed the engine and tried putting it back together. Yup, the fucking bus broke down. Hungry as a fucking horse I waited patiently the two hours it took for the 30-something men to fix the bus. Since nobody spoke English, nobody told me shit. My coughing reached ridiculous levels and everybody in that bus hated me. We finally continued and reached Phonsavan around 22pm that night. I could finally, finally eat! When you take busses in South East Asia the bus always makes food stops at predetermined food places. They are usually prepared and you just sit down and eat as fast as you can, pay and return to the bus as fast as you can. The first thing that happened when I sat down by the table, was that the waitress dropped a bowl of steaming hot rice on top of my head. Amazing. But after the mess was cleaned up and my burned skin didn’t hurt as much, she gave us new rice to eat. Since I hadn’t eaten much the last 24 hours I had an impressive amount of rice and tofu. I finished my food in minutes, then ran around town finding supplies and an ATM. The fear that the bus will leave without you is real! But then nothing happened. It turns out that the bus wouldn’t continue that night. They found a guy that spoke some English, and he had to deal with me. Apparently, I was suppose to sleep in a room in someone’s house and I were not allowed to take my bag from the bus. I refused this and went to collect my stuff anyways. At this moment in time I noticed that some of my stuff was missing from the bus. I made the poor English talking dude collect the bus driver and walk around and ask everybody about my stuff (chargers, mainly). They told me that I would have it tomorrow morning, but I refused and forced the fucker to help me. They just wanted me to go to the room. Warning bells sounded in all my body and I were done. I’ve had it, and I gave up. Being treated like garbage, being tricked, being tired, being sick, being sick of it all. So I calmed down and asked them nicely for my stuff. And they opened the bus and gave me my bag, but quite hesitantly. Now, they got antsy and a little bit aggressive towards me.
The bus driver wanted me to pay for the bus ticket straight away, but I lied and told him I couldn’t do that, told him that the ATM didn’t work. That was a total lie, but I had no intention of proceeding my travels with him and that bus. I told him that I would pay him in when the bus made a stop in another town. He got angry at me, but if I don’t have the money, I can’t pay, right? He walked away to talk to someone and that was when I sneaked away. It was around 22.30pm and I made a run for it. Found a café that an English speaking lady owned, explained my situation and asked for help. She immediately did just that, walked me to a hotel at the same time as she damned the fuckers that obviously had bad intentions towards me. At the hotel a very kind man gave me a single room for a really good price and helped me arrange for a bus ticket in the morning. With their kind words, and the knowledge that I was safe, I burst in to tears. The room cost me 80.000 kip, and the bus ticket 120.000 kip. Compare this to the 250.000 kip the asshole wanted from me and y’all can clearly see how he tried to trick me. I went up to the room, had the loveliest shower of my life (it took a while to get rid of all that rice in my hair) and fell dead asleep. The first night in a single room since mid-April.
The morning after I felt like a new and improved person! I packed up, went down to the café and had breakfast (and a proper cup of coffee!). The red bus was still there when I dared to walk outside. I felt a little paranoid, so I did my very best to hide from it. I’m not kidding, it was like a stupid movie or something. When I saw the bus driving towards me I ran behind a sign, hiding from it as it was passing. You see I hadn’t payed and the people were shady and I trusted them as far as I could throw them.
The final bus to Luang Prabang was an air-conditioned minivan that would take six hours. I got collected by a guy that took me to the bus station, were the bus waited for me. There I met a wonderful older Australian couple that I talked to during the two first hours. We talked about environmental threats, the Vietnam war and how I finally would arrive in Luang Prabang after so many days and hours of bad luck!
Then the bus broke down. I fucking shit you not. The god damned bus broke down. They looked at me with horror in their faces and I started to laugh until I had tears coming down my cheeks. So we had to wait in the beaming sunshine for two hours, while we waited for the new bus to pick us up. While waiting I burned my face and got stung by a bee. My finger swelled up like balloon. Because why not? Despite that the bus broke down and the day delayed itself with endless amount of hours (or three, give or take). I arrived in Luang Prabang, to my hostel, Monday night at 6.30pm. 48 hours late, and tired beyond words.
Again, excuse the lengthy blog post. But I want to remember this down to the most insignificant detail. And that for several reasons. 1, It’s a funny story! 2, I had sporadic contact with friends and family that wanted to know what was going on. 3, I want to remember what a badass I am. That I got thrown into a really shitty situation, but handled it. I am beyond proud of myself, and that is something I want to remember forever. I can handle absolutely everything!