Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scammed again! Will I ever learn....

Yes, scammed again and I though I was becoming a street smart Asian traveler. Clearly I was mistaken... So we bought our bus tickets from Hanoi to Vientiane from a reputable travel agent, paying $15 dollars for a better, air conditioned, VIP bus that went all the way to Laos. Off Lindsay and I set, determined to be optimistic with me quoting my little book of wisdom by the Dali Lama (I have used it to fix the air conditioner at 3am and adopted it as my Buddhist philosophy for any situation in Asia, as when in Rome...), knowing that it is a long (24-30 hour estimated) and bumpy bus journey. Well, the first bus left much to be desired and was fully of Vietnamese travelers. After being pushed into my seat by a lady who had taken it upon herself to organize the bus, I swiftly got out my pack of antibacterial wipes to clean the window next to me and the arm rests etc.... And then we set off.... For the next 6 hours, we were jerked about in our seats as the bus driver (on a mixture of speed and red bull) alternatively drove in first gear or decided to overtake five trucks on blind corners and spent 80% of the journey driving on the wrong side of the road. As this was a VIP bus, it had a toilet the size of a shoe box on board so not only were we accosted by diesel fumes but of naphthalene and urine as well. By this stage I had been wedged into my seat by the person fully reclined in front of me (naturally my seat didn't recline) and my life flashing before my eyes every 30 seconds, every time the lights of oncoming trucks blinded us and the blast of horns kept us awake.

At 1:30pm we were dumped at the most revolting cafe on the side of the road and told that another bus would pick us up in an hour and would take us to Laos. This was OK, as hopefully the next bus would be better and we could rest, use the loo and get something to drink.... that was until I saw the toilets. After wading through waste water from the kitchen into what was the "WC" and seeing the stacks of morning glory (water spinage) resting on the floor near a puddle of urine which were about to be cooked, and other things too unmentionable I run out and Lindsay and I sat in miniature plastic chairs on the side of the road for the next 2 hours. At 3:30am a Laotian bus arrived and stopped when they saw us. Thank God we had been stranded with an English couple who have been working in Vientiane for the last 2 years and they were able to chat to the bus driver to find out when our bus was expected. We soon found out that our bus was non existent and we had been scammed. But within seconds of finding out that we had been scammed the Laotian bus offered us a ride to the border and onto Vientiane. It was full and every conceivable bit of spare space was crammed with boxes, bags of litchis and suitcases, but they made space in the isle and there we perched for the next 8 hours hunched over our backpacks. Though the bus was full, the attitude of the Laotians towards us was amazingly friendly and they were so kind to us. I can't say that the remainder of the bus journey was pleasant of luxurious and you had to jump from arm rest to arm rest and hold onto the ceiling when you wanted to get out of your seat and out of the bus. There are photos of our escapade but they are on Lindsay's camera and I will post them soon.

Otherwise being in Laos is fantastic, it is so quiet, there is no traffic, no-one is trying to scam you to your face and it is so laid back. After a fantastic back massage, a delicious $1 meal and a good nights sleep we were almost as good as new! Yesterday, while drinking coffee and chatting (it's been raining quiet a bit) I met my first fellow South African traveler, Matt originally from Natal who now lives in Oxford. Soon we were all swapping travel guides, tips and recommendations and later met up for dinner etc. Today Lindsay and I decided to be slightly more active and we rented bikes and rode around the town in the rain, viewing Wats and temples (and often stopping to play with the kittens in the temples, taking shelter from the rain) and shopping of course in the morning market. Thank Buddha! As I left my camera in the market and it was still there when I got back and was being looked after by the sweet Laotians who ran the store. The signs and local advice they give you are halarious and I will have to devote an entire entry to them. Off to Luang Probang on a "proper VIP" bus tomorrow morning so fingers crossed and hopefully the Dali Lama and Buddha will look after us again.

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