current location

vancouver, canada

(updated: april 2018)


crossing from laos to vietnam & dien bien phu

     When I first got on the bus in Muang Khua, I thought it might even be a semi-comfortable ride - I don't know what I was thinking. By about a half hour into the trip, the bus was filled at almost double its capacity and I was lodged between a bagful of textbooks, it seems, and a teenage Vietnamese boy who offered up his second earbud when the bus driver's radio got to be a little too much (which was 90% of the time). The window seat in the picture? Three of us were cramped in there. No, no leg room. Despite the prominent "no smoking" sign at the front of the bus, everyone smoked because the driver did too. And would you expect any less in South East Asia? I felt like I was sitting in a hot box. The Vietnamese schoolboy's friends kept trying to start conversations with me even though, quite obviously, they couldn't speak any English and I couldn't speak Vietnamese. So, of course, it makes total sense to ask for my number. Maybe although we can't communicate in person we'll miraculously be able to over the phone. 
     The bus was painfully hot, smoky, and generally uncomfortable (take the limit of negative comfort as it tends to infinity - brownie points if you got that one), but everyone seemed to enjoy looking after the only falang on the bus and I felt safe. At the rest stop, some ladies pointed me to where I could buy a little bag of rice to eat with my leftover kip, and at the Laos border, the Vietnamese boys helped me get across without any problems (when we were to present our passports, they wanted to take mine along with theirs - at first I felt skeptical, but one of them shot me such a Jokes aside, we're trying to help you and it only serves you to present your passport with ours glance that my intuition let me oblige). Even at the Vietnamese border, I was scared shitless when the officer singled me out and called me into his office, after my passport had taken the longest to process - but it was just to make sure I knew where I was going, to give me tips on staying safe, and to wish me happy travels. I was warmed by his concern, but I also worried about my bus leaving without me! 

     I got into Dien Bien Phu in the late afternoon, and I had a bit of readjusting to do. After spending two weeks in laidback Cambodia and Laos (and the even quieter past 2 days I'd spent in Muang Khua and Oudomxay), I'd forgotten how busy Vietnam was. As soon as I got off I was attacked by storms of people pushing me this way and that, and do I need guesthouse? Where am I going? Do I need taxi? Or motorbike? Tuktuk for me here, and over there, and I buy dinner over there, if you just follow me, lady, follow me! Everything was a little too much. 

Where to stay in Dien Bien Phu: When I was looking for a guesthouse, everyone seemed so hasty, so unkind, and so greedy. Finally, after asking around at many of the guesthouses near the bus station (most of which just hmph!ed at my price range and refused to talk to me any longer), I found a room for 120 000 VND at Viet Hoang Hotel. The shower wasn't working but a new hotel was being built right next door, the receptionist at which let me use their washrooms and wifi.
     By the time I'd settled in to my dusty little room, the museum had closed and it was getting dark, so I decided to get a bite to eat nearby (it was here that I realized how little the Vietnamese eat, in comparison to the portion sizes in Laos and Cambodia!) and rest up for the next 12 hour busride to Sapa at 5AM the following morning.

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