Bus ride from hell and KFC: an intro to Vietnam

Our bus ride to Vietnam was regrettable. It picked us up from the bus stop in Tha Kaek not long after 8pm, I immediately decided I was not going to sleep on this bus. First of all, my fellow passengers were loud and suspicious looking (giving smirks at every opportunity) and second, there was no possible way I would be able to get comfortable enough to sleep. Rather than the local buses or VIP buses we had come to expect in Lao transport, we were dealt a cramped cargo bus, filled with what we later found out to be huge bags of coal. These bags were placed under seats that were high enough that the bags of coal served as foot rests for the local people. Without the bags, the seats were too high for us westerners to reach the floor, with the bags, we were basically squished up against the seat in front of us.

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Even if I wanted to sleep I couldn’t. Even on the smoothest of roads, the trip was bumpy and uncomfortable. The driver was speeding through the countryside so fast that falling asleep meant that I would never wake up. ‘Lucky’ if you can even call it that, we were to stop at 1.30am at the Vietnamese border to sleep till morning when the border reopened. Where were we to sleep? Funny you ask that. On the bus. Before we realised what was happening, hammocks were being put up, people were laying on bags of coal, and people were snuggling up on their perfectly Asian sized seats. Chase, the gentleman he is, gave up his seat so I could have the whole seat to myself, while he found himself a nice spot in the aisle of the bus. I lay half hanging off the seat, feet hovering above Chase somewhere below.

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Our accommodation for the night

The border crossing was fairly uneventful. Pushing and shoving is the norm when going through immigration at the Vietnamese border. The friendly bus driver decided breakfast was not required, and cancelled our order of coffee and soup just as we were about to sit down for the first time on Vietnamese turf. Too tired to complain, we hopped back on the bus and drove through Khe Sahn before stopping off at a petrol station to unload our coal bags. Finally at 1.30pm we were allowed to eat. I was sceptical about our first meal in Vietnam, but it actually was ok. We had no choice in what we ordered: no menus were offered. After ordering “2” of whatever they served, we received bitter Vietnamese tea (little did I know, all tea in Vietnam would be served to me like this), and a plate each with boiled spinach and pork chop over rice. As basic as it was, I was quite happy as the pork chop was really tender and just fell off the bone. Satisfied.

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Unloading the coal meant that we would only ever see it again in our nostrils

After arriving in Da Nang at 2.30pm, we found a hotel and had a look around town. Da Nang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam, and it was immediately obvious that Vietnam would be quite different to what we were used to in Laos. The motorcycle traffic, the high rise buildings, the advertising were a sure sign we were out of the low poverty level. Even more of a sign was the huge red KFC that emerged from a 2 storey building. Having been isolated from all kinds of fast food chains that are common in Thailand, and more importantly back home, for 20 days (weak I know) we indulged in a Zinger burger meal for dinner and it was finger lickin’ good. Doubly satisfied.

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The Bus.

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