The Magic Bus

Good Morning Vietnam!

Ok, so for some reason I can’t view my blog from Vietnam, but through some wierd unknown backdoor happenings I can post, go figure. But I can’t post photos apparently.

Random thought: 3am is the perfect time to start blasting Thai music on a bus ride, preferably accompanied by either a music video or karaoke video.

Random thought: There are 12,000 traffic fatalities a year in Vietnam, high, very high, but then consider that at its height, there were 90,000 a year in China, thats more than the population of Halifax.

Random thought: In Vietnam the car or bike horn is used for various things; left, right, straight, stop, go, out of my way, passing, there’s a pedestrian on the side walk and he might be wanting to cross in my way, listen to my cool sounding horn, and a slew of other types of communication. If you can count to 3 and not hear a horn, then you’re probably not in Vietnam.

I left Laos on perhaps the most horrendous bus journey I have ever taken. Friday morning I had come up from the 4000 islands to Pakse to get on the afternoon bus to Dong Ha Vietnam. A German couple and myself boarded the bus at the station about 30 minutes early to reserve our seats. As is custom in many Asian countries, we placed an item of ours on some seats to indicate they were taken and got of the bus to retreat to the shade. Turns out that wasn’t the custom here, no one cared, and we re boarded the bus at departure time to find larger items placed on top of ours. The German couple managed to re secure their seats without much hassle. I on the other hand ended up arguing with some Vietnamese lady in our respective languages over what we both thought was the last seat. Thankfully it turned out the back row of the bus was empty, people had simply put their bags there for storage. All was well and we got underway…

No more than 20 seconds out of the bus station did the dashboard catch fire, start to smoke and smell like burning rubber and plastic. We evacuated the bus, I could still see the bus station from where I stood, in fact, I probably could have spit and hit it. Following a 20 minute handyman fix and perhaps a prayer we were underway, again.

Two minutes later we stop again. What followed was a series of seemingly normal events that was so perplexing that it hurts to contemplate. Prior to our departure the bus had been waiting in the station for likely 2 hours. However, following its departure and short trip around the corner, we spent the next hour and a half waiting for our bus to be loaded. Several trucks with plastic crates and cardboard boxes had pulled up. Boxes were stacked on the reinforced roof, under the vehicle, under the seats, on the seats, where our legs go, and in the aisles. Upon re boarding I noticed there wasn’t a chance in hell I could get my seat back, seeing how there was half a bus full of boxes in the way. In addition, while the boxes were being loaded, a Tuk Tuk full of people pulled up to add more to our already crammed bus. So I sat in the aisle on top of a box, that was until a large number of Vietnamese started telling me and motioning me to sit in the seat I had argued with the lady over earlier. Despite sensing this was a bad idea I went ahead with it anyway.

It was a bad idea not only was she pissed and yelling at me again, but the spot in the aisle that I had staked out would have been much more comfortable. As it was, my knees was nearly at my chest, and the space between them was filled with my day pack.

No if only that was where the ridiculousness ended but it wasn’t. Being at the back of the bus, the German couple and I were often the last to get off at a pit stop, after a mission of climbing over boxes and sometimes people to get to the front. After one stop I nearly missed getting back on the bus and was climbing to the back with it already in transit when the girlfriend asked me “where’s felix?” with a panicked look on her face. Her boyfriend had been left behind at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We yelled for the bus to stop and it proceeded to back up for the next few minutes looking for him. As he got on, all aboard burst out laughing as we set off, again.

We pulled into the Laos boarder town around 4am, the boarder didn’t open un till 7am. Over the next few hours we fended off demands for our passports despite their claim crossing the boarder would go smoother. Around 7am one of the two busses at the stop left for the boarded crammed with nearly everyone from both busses. We didn’t notice and had no idea we were suppose to be on it. The boarder was only 2km away but our bus driver stated he’d take us. He drove 500m and stopped, instructing us to walk the rest of the way. He was definitly going to the boarder eventually, all our stuff was onboard somewhere, but apparently not yet.

What followed at the boarder was a chaotic pushing and shoving to be first to the counter, no nice neat line. There were a few people trying to rip us off by getting our passports back from the boarder guards we had handed them to. But in the confusion some managed to make off with their passports without paying at all.

On the Vietnam side it seemed everyone in a uniform had to see our passport and get a form signed. The bus was searched and finally let through the boarder.

It was 10am by the time we left, or rather the bus left us to go up a hill and unload, expecting us to follow on foot, letting us hop on board before going there would have been too easy. Around 10:30 we actually left. It was only suppose to be 50km to Dong Ha from where we were but it took nearly 3 hours as the drivers got off frequently and randomly to have a smoke and sit in the shade. Occasionally things were unloaded from the bus or people got off, but not often. There was also the slow going up the hills as the bus could barely make it with everything else passing us by.

Upon arriving I found our ride was similar to many others, often they had no breakdowns, but their cargo was more exotic, things like live chickens or baby powder.

None the less, I am in Vietnam, I have less than a month left till I head to Australia. I am looking forward to the lack of communication barrier and drinking out of a faucet and eating vegetables without fear of getting sick.

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