AsiaVietnamSapa

The "Family"-Bonding through thick and thin

Sapa Travel Blog

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Uncomfortable does not begin to describe it...

What you are about to read is an epic journey from Sapa to Luang Probang. It's not pretty, but the result is thirteen strangers becoming family in a matter of days.

Knees hugged up against my chest and crammed between two Vietnamese, a Dutch guy, Parisian girl, and an Aussie, I can't help but smile in amusement as the lady to my left rearranges her bag of baby chicks while several more Vietnamese do some sort of contortionist trick and fit themselves on an already full bus. We've somehow managed to "seat" over forty people on a bus barely made for twenty-eight, and if they ever did actually stop to let us have a break on what was supposed to be an eight hour journey but turned into a thirteen hour one, we could have posed as one of those VW Beetles who let out an obscene number of clowns from the teeny-tiny car.

Kasper and I making the best of it, being goofballs

The day had started out pleasantly enough; a nice shower and trip to the market for some bread after changing my Euros to Dong. I passed Harry who was on his way to his 8:30 bus to the Loas border, glad at the time I had an extra half hour to get to mine. The bus station was farther away than I'd been told and I ended up overpaying to take a moto the rest of the way there. When I finally did get there, I asked an offical looking guy sitting on a chair about the bus to Dien Bien, and was told insistently that there was no bus leaving until tomorrow.

What?? Almost in tears I insisted that there had to be. I wasn't staying one more day in Sapa in the rain when it just hit me that I have a mere 54 days to see Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Hong Kong, which is about a quarter of the time I'd need to do it all comfortably.

Rural Laos is stunning

Lucky for me, a nice Vietnamese lady from Saigan came to my rescue and used her phone to call the tour agency that had sold me the bus ticket, who eventually sent someone to pick me up on his moto. I was getting a bit worried again as we ascended into the fog shrouded mountains, thinking that this was no place for a proper bus stop, but then again, this part of the world doesn't really do proper. Finally on the bus, I looked to the back and saw, whdayaknow, Harry-guess we were supposed to be on the same bus after all. The second theing I noticed was the the seats, including the wooden bench shoved into the aisle, were all full, leaving me to sit on the floor. While this was a bit bumpy and uncomfortable, it was nothing compared to the jaw-renching second mini-bus we took for the remaining nine hours, complete with a car sick Vietnamese spewing all over the center of the bus and my small seatmate occasionally taking the liberty to use me as an arm-rest.

Random village the driver stopped to eat at. HE ate. WE did not

I must though admit that the views were absolutely stunning, with soaring peaks rising all around us and covered with deep green trees. It was a good thing that I hadn't had anything to drink, as the bus didn't stop for a toilet or food break once. By the seventh hour we all agreed that a big plate of anything at all sounded good, and I gave the Kiwi guy, Steven, a good punch in the arm when he wouldn't stop describing mouth-watering burritos. In attempt to not focus on the pain my ass was recieving from the bus launching us lucky ones in the back a full half a foot every ten minutes (bruises were sure to come) I attempted to read my Lonely PLanet guide. Not so easy given the conditions. So we talked about anything and everything. A lot of grumbling, but we all knew we would rather be there, together, than at home comfy on our sofas-this is what traveling is all about, isn't it?

 We finally got to Dien Bien, the city just before the Laos border where we all insisted that we deserved and needed beers, but ended up just getting sodas and some filling food instead, as the bus hadn't had a proper stop for the entire thirteen hours.

The bus getting stuck and the boys deciding what to do
Despite an incredibly hard bed, I slept pretty well and was up at the crack of dawn, getting one of the last few spots on the bus to the next town that was just over the Laos border. The unlucky ones were stuck bartering with a random guy crossing the border in his truck, but might have been better off than us as we ended up having to each pay nearly $30 dollars when we got to the next town so we didn't have to stay another night-we were determined to get to Luang Probang, especially me since my time is running out.

Another several bumpy hours the next morning brought us to the "friendship" border, which is not very friendly at all. We sat there in the heat and waited nearly three hours, paying several random fees. There was even a fee for taking photos if you wished! More time back in the bus brought us to another small town where we were dropped off.

The random Lao dude who sat in the window all 13 hours of the ride
..definitely not Luang Probang like I was expecting. After about an hour of attempted bartering and buying the small town out of water (don't know why we didn't get beer) we each ended up paying a steep $30 for an overnight ride in an A/C van to get to Luang Probang overnight. Rushing around town to find a bank or exchange place proved difficult with no banks open and a bad exchange rate, but we all scraped up the money and were on our way, finally ending up in Luang Probang ten hours later in the middle of the night-the driver dropping us off at the border and insisting we take his friend's boyfriend's tuk-tuk the rest of the way into town...heck no! On top of that, we had lost the second half of our party in the other minivan and refused to leave him until they were found. Nearly an hour of arguing finally resulted in us finding our friends and being driven into town.

Moral of the story? If you want to get to Laos, go through Hanoi NOT from Sapa!

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Uncomfortable does not begin to de…
Uncomfortable does not begin to d…
Kasper and I making the best of it…
Kasper and I making the best of i…
Rural Laos is stunning
Rural Laos is stunning
Random village the driver stopped …
Random village the driver stopped…
The bus getting stuck and the boys…
The bus getting stuck and the boy…
The random Lao dude who sat in the…
The random Lao dude who sat in th…
Sapa
photo by: Paulovic