Thursday, March 7, 2013

Death Bus Ride from Hell

Ethan here. This is a timeline of the worst transportation I have ever been involved with. Some of the times are approximate and might have occurred out of the order they are listed here. I was a bit delirious from the trip and waited a week to write this. I'm going to try my best to explain the trapped feeling we had on this death bus ride from hell.

5:30 pm - Arrive mini bus station outskirts of Luang Prabang by small tuk-tuk. It struggled to fit and handle the three of us and our luggage.
Crammed in the tuk-tuk.
5:45 pm - Waiting in line to check in while Skye and Emily watch our bags.

6:00 pm - Scheduled departure time. Instead, we just start boarding. This is also when we realize that some people have sleeping compartments with two people to the compartment and not actual separate seats. Other people aren't as lucky as they get put under these seats pretty much on the floor with no window, sleeping side by side. Hope you're not claustrophobic. We are the lucky ones with seats. However, Emily has a 50 year old Irishmen to snuggle with for what we think will be 24 hours. It's okay though because at least they'll get their own blankets, right? Oh wait, nope, they have to share that too. Sorry bout ya. Again, we're the lucky ones with real seats and windows.

6:30 pm - Bus departs from Luang Prabang only 30 minutes late. Oh well, 24 more hours to go to Hanoi, Vietnam.

10:00 pm - Stop for our first meal and toilet break. Pretty sure it's at their friends' place with below average food and inflated prices. It's also FREEZING outside. Skye and Em play it safe with fried rice. I eat a few bites of Skyes. Bathroom was interesting.

10:45 pm - Depart the food scam trap.

3:00 am - We all sleep fairly decent or at least I think we all did. I was lights out with some help. However, the next day some girls on the bus tell us we stopped in a village for about an hour at 3 am while they unloaded all of our stuff, put some "other stuff" on and then loaded our stuff back on. Excuse me? You were awake for this? And didn't think it was necessary to inform us that they unloaded our stuff? Hmm. Hope everyone's bag is there when we get to Hanoi.

8:00 am - I wake up suddenly and realize our bus is stopped. Fall back asleep.

8:30 am - Wake up again and bus hasn't moved. Some people are talking about the border so I figure our bus is stopped in a line for the border.

9:00 am - Still no movement so I get out of the bus to investigate. A semi truck or a laurie as our European mates refer to it as is broken going around a tight curve and is blocking the entire road. Traffic is stopped in both directions.

10:00 am - No progress is made and everyone is just standing around looking at it. We've also discovered were only 3 kms short of the border. Since no progress is made, everyone starts talking about possibly walking to the border and finding another bus. Nobody acts on it though. A bunch of military official looking dudes show up and stand there looking at the situation with no action.
Everybody standing around doing nothing to solve the problem.
10:15 am - Locals start showing up from nowhere and creating a bridge out of trees tied together with vines and bamboo so minivans can cross over the drainage ditches on the sides of the road. They test it by jumping up and down on it. Probably a good comparison. It withstood a 150 pound SE Asian so a minivan full of people should be able to make it.
The bridge for the minivans. It held Emily... barely.
10:45 am - A minivan actually starts to attempt it, but alas, there's finally a decent plan thought of. Tow the truck out with one of the other 10+ semis there. So they attach it with one chain. I'm convinced the chain is going to snap so I make Emily move behind another semi in case it does. Meanwhile, Skye's still sleeping as she did through most of this process.

11:00 am - Cheers all around as the chain holds up and the truck is moved to the side of the road further up the hill. 3 hours of no progress. We heard in Hanoi that this isn't uncommon to have happen at this exact spot.

11:30 am - Finally get to the border. Yes, 3 km and about 30 minutes. That's how bad the mountain and roads are. The border crossing is supposed to be closed for lunch, but they must have stayed open because they knew what happened. We lucked out with that. We depart Laos and walk across no mans land to the Vietnam side. We hand a dude our passports with our $70 Vietnam visas already inside. Sit around for about 30 minutes before they call our names. I was really expecting to be scammed into paying more, but everyone got through with no problems.
Departed Laos and Vietnam on the other side of the bridge.
12:30 pm - The whole border thing took around an hour, which isn't too bad. Everyone boards the bus and we depart.
Fellow captives of the death bus ride from hell at the border crossing.
2:00 pm - **We stop and the drivers get off for a smoke break. Some people have to pee so they try and get off the bus. They're yelled at by the drivers and aren't allowed off.**

4:00 pm - So remember the food trap that we were forced to eat at? 10 pm the night before? Well who needs breakfast or lunch? We don't stop until 4 pm for lunch. Cool! We have 45 minutes here so I immediately start walking around this middle of nowhere village looking for somewhere to exchange money. Find a bank and they say no exchange. Another woman on the bus (from Chicago) goes to give it a try so I go in again. This time it works? Okay? Get back to the bus stop, which is another friend/family members place with inflated prices and poor food. An older guy had bought Em and Skye a plate of food while I was gone. Thanks bud. We get some snacks, a coke and red bulls because who knows when we'll stop again.

4:45 pm - Depart food scam stop. Thanks for stopping at a place that's a solid 1-2 kms from the nearest bank when it's our first stop in a new country. Got my exercise in at least.

5:00 pm - We're informed that 9 pm is our likely arrival time. Ha. Ha.

6:00 pm - *Drop package off to random person at the side of the road. 24 hour point. Everything is becoming a blur. I don't even know who I am or what I'm doing on this bus...*

8:00 pm - **Another smoke stop for the drivers. Again, we're not allowed off even though people try.**

10:00 pm - Another food scam stop. This is the worst food yet with the highest prices. We get some random mix of food that tastes like grass.

10:45 pm - Depart and were informed we only have 30 minutes left. Then why'd we stop!!!!!!? Oh, because 30 minutes is a gigantic lie.

11:30 pm - Pull down a side road. Then another. We think we're in Hanoi and going to the bus station. Then pull down another dark and deserted road. Stop. Lights off. No bus station. Dafuq? A truck pulls up with its lights off. Drivers get off and start unloading our bags. Uhh? They then get blocks of wood buried within the bus and start throwing them into the truck. Pretty sure it is packed with "other stuff" if you're picking up what I'm putting down.

12:00 am - Leave the back alley.

1:00 am - Bus stops for a toilet break. Sorry ladies, this toilet break is at the side of the road.
We're forcing a smile, but feeling like the lady behind us.
2:00 am - Bus stops and picks up a dude that says, "Welcome to Hanoi." He informs us how shady taxis are at this time of night and we should use his minibus to get from the bus station to the Old Quarter. We all decide we should stay together and it's only $1.50 a head so we listen to him. Hop off the bus, get assaulted by taxi drivers and all cram on the minibus. Of course he takes us to his hotel and nowhere else where we can stay for $5 per person for the night. Most people leave, but we stay behind after I haggle him down to $12 for the three of us.

Next morning: We change hotels to finally leave this 32 hour scam behind us.

Hanoi City Hostel, where we meet our friends Alexis and Shannon, is a welcome relief.

* Throughout the entire journey, the bus would stop at random places with a person waiting there and drop a package of "other stuff" off to them.

**The random smoke break stops where we weren't allowed off the bus happened a number of times throughout the death bus ride from hell.

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