24 hours + on one of the most notoriously bad bus routes in the world in between Laos and Vietnam does not sound like a lot of fun. But it certainly is an experience. Thousands of backpackers take on the journey during their Asian adventures, as it is a cost effective alternative to flying. Is it that bad?
I set off to Hanoi after 10days in Vang Vieng, with my previous bus journey experience limited to school trips and the occasional Megabus trip between Manchester and London. The first four hours were comical but bearable. The bus between Vang Vieng and Vientiane was full so they placed me in the aisle on a plastic garden chair! There were also numerous vomit stops for those who had had too many drinks on the night before but apart from that the journey was fine. However, the next 26hours were not so smooth.
In Vientiane we were ushered onto a new bus…this time I was not on a garden chair! Continuing to the Laos/Vietnam border was relatively painless. The bus has beds all the way from Vientiane to Hanoi, and despite not being even close to western size there was at least room to stretch out and almost lie down. The first real issue was at the border.
We got there pretty early, 2am local time…However it did not open until 6am?! Why the bus did not just set off four hours later is beyond me. So after four hours waiting for the border to open…we finally headed across to immigration. All of the locals were permitted to stay on the bus while all of the westerners were made to walk a km or so across no-mans land and towards Vietnam. This was made worse by the torrential rain sweeping across us. So by the time we got back on the bus we were soaked.
This route is famed for smuggling and the bus was stopped by police on at least four occasions as it slalomed its was through Vietnam and towards Hanoi.
Tedium set in after more than 10 hours through Vietnam with the only respite being the random venues where the bus chose to pull up for food/toilet stops. These were slightly overpriced but provided a welcome change of scenery and my first taste of Vietnamese food.
This was billed to be a 24 hour journey, but as any seasoned traveller should know don’t expect anything in Asia to run to time. Also….book with a reputable bus company. The cheapest option is not always the best…so if you want to make sure you have a safe, (reasonably) comfortable journey, then bear this in mind.
As experiences go…this will be one I will not forget. The horror stories were exaggerated and misleading but do not expect a relaxing journey. When travelling by any form of transport, backpackers should remain streetwise and keep important documents and valuables with them. Upon arrival at the bus station in Hanoi we faced a mob of people desperate to take us back into the city. Do your research to see what an acceptable price for a taxi is before you travel.
This is one hell of a journey…but passing between two incredible countries and landscapes is certainly not a journey from hell. Flying is obviously far quicker but the bus is cheap and saves you a nights accommodation. Certainly not a journey to forget.