19.05.2008 - 21.05.2008
Yes, yes, we're FINALLY in Hoi An, after THREE days of travelling. It was true-blue, 100% pure adrenaline that got us (or at least me) here, and it's great to be finally staying somewhere for more than 12 hours.
We left Luang Prabang and the beautiful, hotel-like Levady Guesthouse for Phonsavanh at 7:30am, ready (actually, not really) for a supposed 10-hour bus ride. Arriving as expected, we got ourselves a room, as we knew that the bus to Vinh, Vietnam, only leaves on Tuesdays and Thursdays. What we didn't know was that the bus leaves at 6:30am, so despite the tiring journey, there was not much rest to be had.
Phonsavanh was something of a cross between the main town in Sittwe, Myanmar (Ngapali) and Mae Sot, Thailand. It was pretty cold, thanks to the altitude, as well as the rain. We weren't able to find a place to eat actually, but thankfully, we met a nice tuk-tuk driver, who not only drove us to a hotel which had great food at really reasonable prices, but also offered to pick us up after dinner! Without that guy, we would pretty much have ended up buying corn from the roadside. Not funny when you haven't eaten all day. I think the food we had was beauuuuuuuuuuitful.
So the next morning, we got on the bus to Vietnam. My, my. The road was SO windy, even the locals were puking. The gang of chain smokers sitting nearby didn't make things any more comfortable; even though they weren't supposed to smoke in the bus, the ciggies came out anyway, whenever the bus had ANY reason to stop. It was, to put it nicely, a very testing time for both of us.
The border crossing was no fun. Firstly, there was no such thing as queuing; it's just not in their culture. So there we were, two Singaporeans standing there "in line", while the locals simply cut in. Finally we figured, you dump your passport at the counter, and then you wait for them to call you. The same thing happened at the Vietnamese side, although the guards recognized us as foreigners, and got us to do some procedural stuff. Nonetheless, it was still dump-and-wait, so we got our passports back last. We almost couldn't cross over though, because they had never seen an e-ticket from budget airlines, and so almost didn't believe we had an onward ticket out of the country. As a result, we were the last back on the bus.
Being stranded at the border wouldn't have been funny one bit; the nearest town was a 30-minute bus ride away, down a windy mountain road with trucks and other vehicles driving up and down. With a big backpack, it would have been suicide - you either get smashed against the mountain, or you fall off the edge of the road.
FINALLY, we reached Vinh in the evening, only to discover that there were no more tickets for the next train to Danang (from which we could easily get to Hoi An). The next available one was (sigh...) at 4am. Desperate to reach our destination, we took it anyways, and booked ourselves into a really nice hotel right opposite the train station for USD 20, way over our budget. But at that time, who cares??? The room had a bathroom, nice beds, TV, and AIR-CON, and we were dirty, uncomfortable and tired.
We woke up late of course (according to our own timing), and made a mad dash to repack, check out, and get across the road. But apparently, you don't need to reach at anytime ahead of the train; as long as you're at the gate when the train reaches, you're safe. So we ended up with quite a bit of minutes watching a Vietnamese show. We were pretty lost actually, but the guy who had helped us earlier with our tickets was still there, and he made sure that we got on the train. Giving him the guitar I bought in Laos was a good idea after all.
The train ride was heaven, compared to the bus rides we had taken. To lie down in an air-con cabin with a pillow, blanket and bedsheet, while knowing that you're still travelling cheaply was the greatest feeling ever. Even the food from the pushcart was delicious! Hehe... The got the cutlery from Vietnam Airlines, by the way.
We finally arrived in Danang at 1 plus in the afternoon, and all that was left was a short 30km ride to Hoi An itself. Forget the bus, we decided to take a taxi, which charged us pretty decently at 300,000đ even though his meter showed 2,000,000 plus dong. So we're now in Hoi An, safe and sound. We went to My Son today, but I'll talk about it later.