How to spend 23 hours on a bus.
The 23-hour bus between Hanoi, Vietnam and Vientiane, Laos.
What the guy at the ticket counter said would happen: a driver would pick us up in a taxi and take us to the bus station. He would take our receipts, bring them in, exchange them for tickets, and then get us on our bus.
What actually happened: a guy came. We walked behind him for a few blocks until he disappeared on his motorbike. We stood around on a corner until he reappeared and said “this way.” We followed him again and then waited as a woman kept trying to sell us bananas. A shuttle bus came and picked us up. And then it made several more stops until the aisle was full of standing passengers and luggage. Then we were dropped off in the middle of a street. Literally, the middle of a street. Cars and buses and motorbikes went by honking at us to get out of their way. Finally, a bus came and we were ushered on. At no point did anyone check for a ticket.
We got some beers and snacks when we pulled over to load the bus up with purses and wallets to deliver across the border and then spent the next 23 hours on a bus trying to sleep over the disco lights, full-throttle air conditioning, and full-volume Vietnamese karaoke music videos.
The Laos border stop went quicker and smoother than I’d imagined. No bribes needed, not much of a line. Except, of course, that the bus driver decided he was sick of waiting and left some of my friends behind at the Vietnam border for they had to walk into Laos.
After hardly sleeping and hardly eating, we finally made it to Vientiane, gaining one friend, probably pissing off a whole bunch of local riders.
I had originally planned to fly, spending the extra cash for comfort as I’d heard horror stories of the journey. But, I suppose, I have more time than money, so when some friends I had made were leaving around the time I had planned to, I joined in. And while it may not have been the greatest day of my life, I survived. I always seem to manage.