Bus From Hell? I Think Not.

The route from Hanoi to Laos by bus is often referred to as the bus from Hell... I completely disagree. Driving around the countryside of Vietnam then Laos is nothing short of spectacular (especially in a Valium induced euphoria) – there are rice terraces, lakes, mountain ranges, mist creeping over hills, thunderstorms, and locals farming and children playing. It is nothing short of delightful... as long as you don’t mind spending the better (or full) part of a day on a bus.

I have done the journey from Hanoi to Vientiane (Laos) before – it was 25 hours on a seated bus crammed with locals, my friend’s bag was stolen, and I sat next to a highly irritating girl... Well this time I was still sitting next to a highly irritating girl (just kidding Katie!) but at least I had a bed.

On my first trip by bus (3 years ago) we stopped just across the Laos border and I had no local currency with me so I couldn’t buy breakfast. Luckily the driver was kind enough to give me two free shots of rice wine, then he drank the rest of the strong liquor...

How would this trip from Hanoi to Phonsavan compare? As I said earlier, driving through rural areas, by bike especially, but also by bus, really gives you a good insight into everyday life. I would really encourage people to travel this way if you have the time – flying is like using a computer game cheat code to move onto the next level quicker. You don’t get the full experience.

Here is the breakdown of our journey from Hanoi, Vietnam to Phonsavan, Laos:

Cost - $34 (£22)
5pm – Expected hotel minivan pickup time.
5.30pm – Actual hotel minivan pickup time.
6.30pm – Arrived at Hanoi bus station.
7pm – Left Hanoi bus station.
9.30pm – Stopped for 30 minutes in a crud-hole for dinner and the toilet. This was the negative aspect of the bus – the toilet on the bus was disgusting and the ones at “service stations” were even worse!
2.30am – The driver stopped somewhere strange (possibly Vinh) and turned on all the lights, waking everyone up, and proceeded to fill every inch of the bus with cargo. I used this opportunity for a roadside piss. Left 30 minutes later.
7am – Arrived at Nam Cam border. Tried to exit Vietnam but the guards were being incredibly slow.
8am – Finally stamped out of Vietnam.
We cross into Laos-land
9.45am – Everyone eventually obtained a Laos visa, despite people not bringing dollars (idiots!) and after nearly three hours, we left the border. The views were stunning at this point.
12.45am – The bus arrived in Phonsavan and we said our goodbyes. Passengers foolishly remained for another 6-10 hours until they reached Luang Prabang, rather than stopping to see the beautiful city of Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars.

Sleeper Bus Tips – How to ensure a decent journey
1.   Fully charged MP3 player for all night listening.
2.   Eye Mask
3.   Inflatable Pillow
4.   Hoody for blanket or additional pillow
5.   Sleeping pills
6.   Breakfast, lunch and dinner – the “restaurants” where we stopped in Vietnam were filthy. Always bring plenty of meals, snacks and water.
7.   Toothbrush and paste.
8.   A positive attitude is essential to surviving long distance bus travel.Also try and break up the journey like we did by stopping after the border.
9.   Hide your valuables and keep your bag by the window.
10.  Pray your driver is having a good day.
11. Everything you need for visas – money, photos, etc.

The best shot I could get out of a bus window.