Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Three The Hard Way, Take One

Mukdahan, Thailand

We's in Thailand. But it wasn't easy.

We started our little adventure in Hanoi, on the night of September 3rd. We had just celebrated Vietnam's independence the day before, and had spent all Saturday updating the website and organizing for our departure from the country.
We boarded the overnight train for Hue, and settled into our four-person cabin with a quiet Vietnamese man. The plan was to arrive in Hue early in the morning, and then immediately arrange the first bus we could find to Savanakhet, Laos, near the border of Thailand. From there, it would be a short ferry ride across the Mekong, and then a 10-hour train to Bangkok. Easy.
We made our first mistake ten minutes after we arrived in Hue. A short-sleeved man approached us as we were getting into our taxi and convinced us that he could arrange a nice sleeper bus ride to Savanakhet leaving from Hue that night at 6 p.m.. It seemed like a reasonable offer, the price was about right, and he had printed materials and nice pictures. So, we figured it was legit.
We spent the day in Hue walking around and seeing some of the tourists sites. The Flag Tower was impressive, and the ancient Citadel was cool, though not really that ancient. All in all, it was a fairly long day, and fucking hot. By the time we were done, I was sweaty, and tired, and eager for that sleeper bus to take us away, so I could get some well-deserved rest, and wake up across the river from Thailand. We met at the meeting place, ate a small meal, and were hustled away onto our minibus.
I thought the mini-bus would be taking us to the bus station, where we would board that nice-looking sleeper bus we saw in the brochure. Instead, our driver stopped at a truck stop/gas station, and told us that we would be waiting for the bus here. We should have realized then that we were getting hustled, but I didn't think much of it at the time. I was too tired to argue. After piddling around for about ten minutes, our bus rolled by, and we jumped on with our bags and were whisked away northwards, heading towards the Lao border.
But it wasn't a sleeper bus. It was a normal bus. Instead of making the overnight trip sleeping comfortably in a horizontal bed, we would have to sit in airplane-sized seats for the twelve hours it would take to get out of Vietnam and across to the other side of Laos. Not a big deal, I guess, but definitely not what we paid for. At this point, I felt like we had been cheated, but not enough to raise a big stink about it. Little did I know it was about to get worse.
The bus we were in stopped at about 8 p.m. at a little town called Dong Ha, a common jumping off point for buses crossing at the Lao Bao border. We were herded off the bus, and into a crappy little guest room, with our new hosts telling us that we couldn't cross into Laos tonight, as the border was closed. We would have to get up at five o'clock the next morning and get on a different mini-bus to cross the border. All three of us knew we were being scammed, but there was nothing we could do about it. We had already paid the money, and we were in the middle of nowhere, Vietnam, so we didn't have a lot of options. After a long discussion, we agreed to just roll with it and spend the night in Dong Ha. If worse came to worse, we could always just not go with them the next morning, and get some other transportation the rest of the way to Savanakhet.
That night, Jarah and I took a nighttime tour of the DMZ with a guide who used to be a member of the South Vietnamese Army during the end of the Vietnam war. We walked across the old Ben Hai bridge and took a frequently light-less tour of the Vinh Moc tunnels while they were ostensibly closed to the public. I thought I had missed my chance to visit the DMZ, so it was a nice surprise to be able to do so, even though it was in the process of being ripped off.
In the morning, we jumped into our jalopy of a mini-bus, and headed west towards the Lao border. It was a long trip; about twice as long as it should have been. Apparently, the mini-bus we were on was a sort of public transport, as we would stop every once in a while to pick up a passenger or drop another one off. Anyone who had the energy to flag the bus down was a potential customer. And so we made our way up the mountains that marked the border between Vietnam and Laos, eventually making it to the Lao Bao border crossing.

I thought we had gotten through the roughest of it, but our tests of strength had only just begun.


Post a Comment

<< Home