I wish I had someone with me. Sana may kasama ako. These were fleeting thoughts about the business of traveling alone, heading to what I perceived would be the unknown. My pick-up came 30 minutes early so by 5 PM, my 8 kg backpack comfortably straddled my back. I found myself standing in front of another hotel, 4 blocks from Tung Trang Hotel. The Viet who fetched me – let’s call him the fetcher - was doing hand signals which I thought meant “Wait here in the corner. Your bus (they have an uncanny way of calling a coaster or a van as a “bus”) will be here shortly.” When the van came, our baggage was deposited at the non-existent space at the back of the vehicle. A tall black guy with a Jamaican accent was cursing, “That bag costs a thousand dollars, man! If you lose it, you will pay for it, man!” I thought, Yeah, man! He wanted to take his belongings inside the van. The fetcher violently shook his head. I jumped at the seat behind the driver and moved towards the window. There were 3 other travelers who left Tung Trang with me – details of whom I shall write down in a special page to highlight their significance. In 15 minutes, there were a dozen Brits filling the van! Gosh! Would we all fit? After trying to squeeze in everyone, the van started to move. There were queries on my mind. God! I hope this isn’t the “bus” we would be riding for the next 2 to 3 days!
DISASTER IN THE VAN
We were weaving along congested streets as rush hour was starting to peak. The 3 british girls beside me kept apologizing for the cramped space I was in. My left shoulder was pushed against the side, but I could be worse. The girls were pasted against each other. Good thing they were in their skimpiest tops and shorts. Better ventilation. LOL. Then Miss Polite Brit started to gag! She covered her mouth and I could hear her digestive tract charging into a blood-curdling spurt! OH MY GOD!!! She can’t throw up in here! I don’t care whether she’s polite or not! I don’t care whether her top barely covers her belly button either! She has no business throwing up beside me! The black guy, seated behind me, helped me open the sliding window to let air in! Fortunately, Ms. Polite felt better. Disaster averted! We passed by a huge mall called Vina Towers (I told you, these people are so fond of using Vina to name anything). So, this is where your Cineplex is. I haven’t seen a commercial structure here similar to Manila malls (To be honest about it, I didn’t expect them to have one. I prefer it that way. Besides, Manila has 3 of the 10 biggest malls in the world, with SM Mall of Asia placing 3rd. No point of comparison). But I took note for future reference. Pero may kalayuan sa sentro. (It’s rather far from the tourist belt.)
NO TICKETS, PLEASE
At about 6:15, the van stopped just outside a bus garage. Carrying each of our luggage, we were led to an empty bus. I followed the fetcher closely as we all didn’t have a bus ticket, which was odd. This means, at anytime they decide to kick you out of the bus, they can since you have no ticket to show anyway. Moreover, going to the toilet can become a tricky affair. What if they don’t remember you on your way back to your seat? These are valid concerns. Ka-praningan (paranoia), but nevertheless valid. No one can vouch for my presence since I am traveling alone.
I DID NOT want my luggage on top of the bus! I want it with me! My thick Asia-on-a-Shoestring Lonely Planet was inside, but it was too late. They swiftly hoisted it above. That’s that! I remembered taking the bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh then to Siem Reap where my baggage was with me the whole time (read: “An Amorous Khmer” for a funny anecdote). It was damn uncomfortable but my baggage provided a security blanket of sort. All of us, my van-mates, were instructed to occupy the latter half of the bus. Hmm. Bakit kaya? Stink of a rotten fish started to filter through. This seems like a good bus though. The windows are permanently shut (meaning, these aren’t the sliding windows, so it will be a comfortable airconditioned ride then).
No one sat beside me. Good. Not gonna complain about my elbow room. It’s their loss. An amorous khmer lady once found me to be an endearing seat mate. Tough! LOL
Time passed by and it was getting uncomfortably hot inside. No air. I wished we would leave soon. Most of the passengers got off the bus; bought street food for dinner, went to the loo. I did too. I tied the sleeves of my sweatshirt in front of my seat, and ventured into the WC. My urine actually protested during the process of voiding. What a nasty latrine! And I had to pay 1,000 dong for THAT? As for food, I stayed put. I’m sure I can hold off until the bus stops over to let us eat along the way. I have my bottled water anyway. By 7PM, the bus pulled away from the garage. The air conditioning hummed into life. And I was awash with contentment. I AM ON MY WAY TO LAOS!
Little did I know that I just embarked on a BUS RIDE FROM HELL!
A Vietnamese Hyundai Bus 3601. If you are crossing the Viet-Laos border by bus, for pete’s sake, PLEASE take note of this bus. Even if you have already paid your $14 or $30, run away from it as fast as you can and migrate to Timbuktu! Pole-vault yourself away! This is a public service announcement for a tourist’s life, limb and sanity! Do your fellowman a favor - please! Spread the word!