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The Sleeper Bus Experience

VIETNAM | Thursday, 13 January 2011 | Views [3803] | Comments [2]

After endless research using the common resources of forums, guide books and word of mouth, it would be an understatement to say that we were not apprehensive about the sleeper bus from Hanoi (Vietnam) to Vientiane (capital of Laos). With a smooth 22 hours of somewhat unpredictable conditions we decided that, like most travelers, the budget is the priority and we could tough it out, It was a $300 saving as the alternative is to fly. 

With our bags heavily overweight and a few yummy snacks stuffed in for good measure we approached the minibus that was to take us to the sleeper bus with a growing concern that we were simply not going to fit. With one spare seat, two of us and two 60 Litre backpacks the realisation was that we were going to be unable to actually protest or communicate with anyone for the next day, so it was time to suck it up princess and squeeze ourselves in.

The growing concerns of 'where is my bag, where are we going, which bus do we board (especially as some seedy men tried to pull me away and convince me that their bus was my destination and not the actual bus I needed), how is that a toilet and the number one panic inducer, how the hell are we going to travel 22 hours in that space?'all developed at a rapid rate once we arrived at the station. 

Our seats were at the back of the bus, next to the urine pot with a door and squeezed into what had been graffiti ed as 'The Cave'. With a seat that reclined at approximately a 160degree angle and with the next level of people sitting only about 15cm above our faces we were not that impressed to learn that at no stage during the ride could we actually sit up. The more pressing matter was that in order to get to the urine pot (and only in times when there was simply NO other option), you had to shimy your way down like a snake, stick your feet blindly into the faces of the two Swedish guys sleeping in front of you and hope that you could climb over the locals who were lying asleep in the aisles in order to get there. The graffiti was entertaining though and we were desperate to look for a bright side to the whole event (remember though... $300 is enough of a silver lining), so we happily read out the amusing observations, anecdotes and pleas for Valium that had been scribbled onto nearly every inch of the underside of the level above us. 

After downing a few drowsy anti-nausea tablets we slept, it was interesting as I was sandwiched between Lawrence and a nice enough Israeli guy who probably dribbled less than I did in my sleep. The absolutely overwhelming desire for some personal space was abandoned the instant I saw the cave and realised what the future held for me, so it was ok. Expect little and allow yourself to be mildly impressed at the little things has kind of become our transport motto- it worked for us in our darkest hours of 'The Cave'.

At 5am ish, you have to get off the bus. This is after a Vietnamese man will attempt to take your passport and $2 US, with of course, no explanation. Many did this for fear of aggravating the little nugget further, we however, did not. So we all piled off the bus and thought, finally, a toilet stop. Obviously it was the border crossing, but with a thick mist, no sunrise, a few intolerant Vietnamese men and no signs, it was easy to spend a good 15 minutes just trying to work out where the bus had gone, where you were supposed to be and where the hell everyone else had got these 'forms' from. (We never discovered the truth to many of these things.)

After an agonising hour of confusion and chaos we all triumphantly emerged from the mist of the border and found our bus. We had no idea what had happened, who we had paid money to and why we had to, but it seems that the Aussies have to pay much less than other countries for a visa so we again, felt somewhat proud of ourselves. The $2 US had worked out to be a scam, aimed at fast tracking the exit stamp process and making the nugget a little extra on the side. Funnily enough, we ignored him and were the first to be processed- go Australia-yesssss!

Breakfast time and like little squirrels we munched down our baguettes with 'Laughing Cow' cheese (you get a real taste for this whilst in Asia) and tried to avoid drinking any water as the toilet was just too much of a pain in the arse to deal with. Eventually we arrived after numerous, unexplained stops and bumps. At one stage the bus, side door opened and luggage fell out which made everyone a bit excited but apart from that we felt slightly unimpressed with how little we had to report. Boarding our 'tourist priced' tuk tuk we drove into the main stretch of Vientiane with our new bus comrads, only to learn that two of them that had boarded the bus at the border had actually had the trip from hell. After paying more than what we all had done, they were dumped by their bus driver the day before. He threw them off with their bags (for no reason, just stated that they had not paid to go any further) and ditched them just shy of the Laos border in the middle of the night. They made their own way to the border, shivered in the downpour of rain and waited... and waited... eventually our bus arrived the following day and they clambered on board. To be honest, I thought they looked a bit dodgy and steered clear of them- nice judgement call once again on my behalf, but we all felt so sorry for them by the time they had finished their tale. So, there we have it... many got scammed, we slept like sardines next to a urine pot for 22 hours straight and two people got ditched at the border and left in the rain. Funny thing is, this is better than what we read on the forums and if we had to do it again, we would... $300 is a lot of money!!!



That's the spirit guys, remeber generally there's plenty of time not cash - what's 22 hours when you save 300 bucks? Good on you! Your tale is reminiscent of our bus trip from Beijing to Shanghai, semi lying down right next the the bog. Nice.I'll never forget that journey....or that smell.

Look forward to reading more tales, travel safe XX

  Tal Jan 13, 2011 5:48 PM


Vietnam visa was from the internet, vietnam-visa.com
We found that it was pretty reliable.

  hannah82 Jan 23, 2011 12:12 PM

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