We are going back home soon. We had wanted to visit a cave that Lao people had inhabited for something like ten years during the war. The trip would be 6 more hours in another minibus and an additional uncertain amount of time to the border. Since our time east is diminishing, we opted for a beeline to Vietnam instead.
We had heard tales of Vietnam’s highly developed westernized overtones, so we were somewhat tentative. Well our first impression was quite the opposite.
We left the guesthouse a little after five am to get to the station, a couple kilometers away, by five-thirty as recommended by some random English speaking man the previous day. To our delight, the bus we had assumed was Vietnam bound the prior day was just pulling away as we approached the main road. We flagged it. It obliged and was indeed heading in our direction. We climbed aboard, they confiscated our shoes and found an almost empty bus. We were happy to have avoided a trip to the station as well as the tuk tuk fare. The bus, or “mobile house” as we called it, rather than having seats had three rows, two high, of completely reclined individual podlike beds, with the backs elevated to about 30 degrees. We cracked up with delight, climbed into our pods, and the conductor distributed blankets. We dozed off to a Vietnamese dance soundtrack on a loop. It was heavenly. We had been awfully darn tired getting out of bed and, happily, we were almost immediately back to sleep.
The bus accrued nearly a full load of primarily Vietnamese passengers in town. We pulled over before leaving town and the bus man bought breakfast for the slew of us – baguette sandwiches of cucumbers, carrots, unidentified meat number one, unidentified meat number two, mayonnaise and chili sauce. He handed them out and we were eastbound again! The wet green cloud shrouded mountain views from our pods were splendid, if a little obscured on this rainy morning.
Since shoes aren’t allowed on board they make things easy by providing a bucket of plastic slides for disembarking passengers. Later we would learn that this is quite the norm nationwide. The border crossing was fairly uneventful. I was happy they didn’t confiscate my bomb casing knife.
Several pee stops later we were at a restaurant for lunch. Every bus trip you take makes a lunch stop. We are only recently getting accustomed to this practice. We never exactly know what to do so we casually look around collecting clues about what the protocol du jour may be. Brad found us a table in a crowded lunch room of over a hundred. He was laughably easy to identify on my return from the toilet.
The tables sat six people each, and were already filled with plastic wrapped dishes. A plate of pork, fried spring rolls, tofu, fresh bean sprouts with mint, cooked greens, fish, rice, and a giant bowl of fish soup to douse the rice. We did just a little peering at others, but jumped in without a great deal of hesitation to make it look like we knew what we were doing. The two guys across the table brought out the tiny shot glasses. Pour pour cheers and drink. A local rice liquor that everyone was downing. Eat eat drink drink. It was a fast paced affair.
We stood outside while others smoked waiting for the bus to load. People stared, we stared back. The girl next to us took several secret selfies. We were interesting again!
The bus was rolling before the last person had his second foot in the door. We were rejuvenated!