Getting to Hanoi…
Hanoi was a bit dull for us.
To be fair, it was probably our fault—after enduring a grueling 21 hour bus ride (laying down, no less) and us both catching colds, we were not too excited about exploring. (Side note: isn’t it interesting how completely your experience in a place depends on your mood and emotional context? It’s all relative.)
But the bus ride to get there was quite an experience…
As we sleepily stumbled on to the bus, our bags were instantly enveloped by the amoebic arms of the crowd in the aisle, to be digested in the unknowable depths of the bus. Meanwhile, two Vietnamese men slid out of our (reserved) seats and handed us our helpfully unpackaged and pre-warmed blankets.
Eventually we settled in and forced ourselves into an uneasy slumber even though something was apparently hilarious in the aisle all night. At least there wasn’t any karaoke (more on this later…). Just as it was dawn was breaking, the bus pulled over at the Laos-Vietnam border crossing. We all had to get our passports stamped out of Laos, walk to the Vietnamese side, and get stamped in, although none of this was clear at the time since no one was attending the crossing. So a bus load full of people was loitering around the border office in the cold, foggy Vietnamese morning, envious of those who were passing on the motorbikes that were small enough to fit around the barricade. During this time we also had a chance to discover that there were several roosters in baskets riding with us on the bus who were happily using this break to stretch their legs and vocal chords (do roosters have vocal chords? Anyway, they were loud.).
Finally the immigration officers arrived and everyone flocked to the counter. Apparently all of these men were math experts because they managed to simultaneously solve a complex problem minimizing the distance between themselves, the immigration officer, and each other. We were secretly excited and eager to show that our time in India had prepared us for things like this—Jason was holding up quite well. But another officer appeared and someone discovered they were there only to process foreigners’ passports and so we were politely encouraged by the other foreigners on the bus to use our special line.
Finally, we had walked to the other side and received our passports back and were all stuck waiting for the bus to cross. I would like to note that although there are NO food stalls (WHAT?!), but there ARE sim cards for sale at the border (so you can call people and tell them how hungry you are). The bus came and we piled on again, chickens and all.
It came to be 5 o’clock, the time our bus was scheduled to arrive in Hanoi (so if you calculate, it was scheduled to be a 15 hour journey), and we were nowhere near close to Hanoi. When we stopped for dinner, Jason and I zig zagged through the street side shops, trying to find a sim card with no local currency and no Vietnamese vocabulary, so we could call our guesthouse owner and tell him we were going to be laaaaaaaate. We managed to exchange some USD for Vietnamese Dong (hah) with some guy in a wife-beater in the front door of his house. I think he even gave us a fair rate. Buy sim, shovel pho, back on the bus.
At this point, we were all weary and bored. It was dark again so it wasn’t even interesting to look out the window. Well, lucky for us, the bus came equipped with Southeast Asian entertainment gold — a karaoke machine. On other bus trips we took around Southeast Asia, there were plenty of karaoke videos. But there was no mic. No one sang. This bus sang. A few bored Vietnamese men came up front and took turns singing to cheesy Vietnamese ballads. An endless parade of melancholy looking boys farming their rice paddies, glimpsing a sad girl farmer on the adjacent field, becoming friends, then being torn apart because their parents didn’t agree. Or something. How can there be so many songs about that??
We got to the bus station around 11pm. Apparently it was a ridiculous bus station and our guesthouse owner was in disbelief that anyone should ever use that bus station ever. We were bombarded with taxi drivers (of course) but we managed to get a fair price because the guesthouse host yelled extensively at the driver basically all the way to his house. Thanks Chezlinhlinh House!
So, 21 hours later, there we were, the historic city of Hanoi.