Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 12: Hanoi - Vientiane (Laos)

0kms
“The Great Escape”

Arrived in Hanoi at 5am and navigated the 10kms to my old hotel in the dark and with an extremely poor map. Two Danish women were sitting on the steps of the Classic Hotel where my bike box was being stored. Unfortunately we had to wait there for an hour until the staff who were asleep on the floor inside could be bothered to get up. At one point a woman selling bread rolls came past and I indicated I wanted one. I then realised I only had large notes, and stupidly opened my wallet to indicate this. She reached into the wallet, grabbed a couple of 100,000VD bills and stuffed them into the sack she was carrying. I went berserk and tore the sack apart, eventually locating the bills she’d taken. The Danish women were very stern: `you naughty woman”, which was a bit of light relief. If they hadn’t been there I would have thrown her sack – and maybe her body – on to the roof. My Vietnamese tolerance by this stage was wearing very thin, and I decided that I had to get out of here as quickly as possible.

Once the hotel staff managed to rise I grabbed my bike box and ordered a cab to the airport. They charged me US$15 – and another US$10 that I apparently owed from my stay last time – and I was soon in the back of a mini-van with a roll of tape trying to secure the bike box while in transit to the airport. From there it proceeded OK, but with a couple of hitches. The good news was they could get me on a 9am flight to Laos for US$160, which I paid for on the card. Bad news was that when I went to check in she told me that I had to be re-ticketed and that she only took cash. So I had to cancel the old ticket, go the ATM and eventually get a new ticket so that I could sit on the same seat, on the same flight and for the same price. The only change was the paperwork, but I was now only 25 minutes from boarding and I still had to clear customs.

Customs took ages and I pushed my way to the front of the queue – to the chagrin of most – and listened nervously as they called my flight for boarding. When I put the bags through the scanner the toolkit I had attracted attention, and the customs official confiscated it. I could have stabbed him with it such was my mood. Ran to the gate and my bike and I were last aboard. Sitting on the plane waiting to take off I realise that I haven’t had a shower for two days, my hands are still covered in grease from the tyre change and I have mud from the knee down. My throat’s killing me, I don’t know where I’m staying and I have no Laos currency. Time to get organised.

Laos, glorious Laos. My experience since arriving is altogether different to Vietnam. Minimum fuss, noise, grief and frustration. Within two hours of arriving in the tuk-tuk (pictured above) I had had a sensational massage, a tuna baguette and found a quick release skewer to replace the one I’d lost in Vietnam. I also secured a bike box for my return to Vientiane, and established that I wouldn’t be able to find one in Luang Prabang. Booked my flight for the morning to Luang Prabang and flight from Vientiane to Saigon in 9 days time. Sitting beside the Mekong with a fruit juice it feels so good to be in Laos.

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