23.05.2008 27 °C
The bus journey....oh my oh my! Firstly, the bus was not the VIP buses we had become accustomed to in Thailand, Laos is a very poor country so we boarded a very old rickety bus and hoped it would stay on it's wheels for the entire journey. We were placed on the back seats with the other Westerners and heard how the journeywould unfold (by a guy called Nate who has done the same journey 2 days earlier but had been turned away from the Vietnamese border for not having his visa on arrival). His story prompted 4 girls (who were wearing Ugg boots...says it all) to depart from the bus before it set off never to be seen again (well actually Nate says he saw them here in Hanoi the next night!). The journey was not for the faint hearted...the first part was in Laos which took us from 7pm to 3am, we parked up at a guesthouse which was closed, the bus driver got out of the bus and was let into the guesthouse whilst we were left to sleep on the bus with 50 other people. There isn't much room on these buses and being wedged between tiny Clare and her ability to curl up (taking up most of my seat) and Nate who is 6 foot 6 was not entirely idea for sleeping purposes so I decided to disembark and read my book outside the guesthouse, making sure I walked into all the people who had stretched out across the aisle. By 4am there was another attack of the bugs that are like ants with wings who have a tendancy to dive-bomb people so I took to playing flying ant tennis, using my book as a racquet...at 5am the locals got off the bus and looked at me like I was entirely insane.
The border opened at 7am so we headed off in our bus again for on of the most formidable border crossing we have encountered so far. The Vietnamese seem to have an aversion to smiling at Westerners (they apparently think we're all American) and they have very scary German Shepherds and they don't seem to want to help you to cross their border easily (let's just say it took us a while to get over!).
Back on the bus for our final leg of the journey...which was the most insane. they swapped drivers for this part, most likely for his amazing ability to continously honk his horn and avoid all traffic at the same time, this is the way of the roads here in Vietnam, they don't have many rules and any drive is incredibly scary. However, there was some amusement as we were stuck in a trafic jam outside Hanoi, Nate had been travelling with some friends and they had left him at the Vietnamese border... his friends are staying in the most helpful guesthouse in the world (where we're now staying also, the Kangaroo Guesthouse) and the staff set off on mopeds to catch every bus on the highway that had come from Laos to ask if Nate was on the bus... she found Nate, obviously to his amazement, and got all of us a taxi at the bus terminal and took us to their guesthouse. The staff here are brilliant, they pretty much do anything for you and they can actually smile!
Upon arrival Nate's friends took us all (ok I should explain, along with Nate on the bus there was an Irish girl and a Dutch girl) out in Hanoi for some food and coffee and beers (to the Loo pub which has toilet bowls with cushions on!) and back to the guesthouse where we also booked ourselves onto the boat tour of Ha Long Bay the next morning.
The boat cruise was just brilliant! We ended up on a boat with some Aussies and the fun never stopped! The first day was spent visiting the huge caves (the name of which I forget) and kayaking around the many islands and drinking copious amounts of alcohol on the boat, singing some terrible karaoke and diving off the boat into the sea before realising they had emptied the boats toilets! Luckily, we were on the 'deluxe' tour though so the cabins were very comfortable!
In the morning (far too early!) we had breakfast and headed off to Cat Ba Island, (via a 'beach' - it was a rock with a small amount of sand on it - for some swimming) which is the only inhabited island in the Ha Long Bay area so we could stay ina hotel for the night. Cat Ba is not the most exciting of places however we did make the most of it! We had dinner (why oh why do they only give vegetarians tofu??!) and headed to the bar across the road where the Aussies literally took over as the entertainment for the evening... they were absolutely crazy but I must admit we were all joining in on the fun and games! After the bar we went to the Discotheque (that's what it was called!) next door to experience the Vietnam clubbing experience. Basically, all the men dance and the women (if there were any) watch. and they have doorman/'fun police' who make sure no one has too good a time (I personally don't see the problem with placing a 4 foot 11 Irish girl on the 6 foot 6 guys shoulders myself....). We had a great time in the end, we laughed until we cried, danced until the flip flops came off and drank until they kicked us out at closing time.
The next morning.....oh dear! Everyone was feeling hungover and the thought of getting back on the boat at 8am was not appealing! We did it though, we all survived the trip back to the mainland for our lunch in a restaurant (tofu AGAIN!) and then back to Hanoi.
The Aussies and Nate and his friends have left already to get the bus to Ho Chi Mihn City which is a hop on hop off so they can stop at any of the cities on the way down for the night, whihc is what we plan to do tomorrow. We want to see Hanoi properly before setting off down south and to be honest, after the cruise, I need a good nights sleep!