So a bus ride later, we were in Hanoi! Bye-bye clean efficiency of Chinese long-distance travel, hello colourful chaos of South-East Asia!
Naturally, we began our exploits with some delicious, spicy food. People who know me reasonably well know that I really enjoy spicy food. Like, REALLY spicy food. I cannot even begin to explain the joy it gives me to be in a country where I can ask a waiter for “fresh chilli” and he understands perfectly and brings out the good stuff.
delicious vietnamese food, at Cau Go restaurant
view of the lake from Cau Go
Hanoi was mostly about eating, chilling in cafes, and walking around the Hoan Kiem lake when the midday sun started setting and it was safe to be outdoors again. Because, after 2 years in London, we’d completely forgotten how 35 degree heat and humidity felt!
This dog and her (white? how’d that happen?!) puppies were the centre of some serious attention. The pups were adorable, soft balls of fluff. The kids were like moths to a flame.
Also saw some ridiculously fit locals exercising all around the lake, sometimes with really old-school gym equipment just lying around. The man on the right was in an impressive headstand for a few minutes!
More lake scenes
70 years of independence! This celebratory proclamation is made of small flowers.
And the coolest thing also happened. So we were walking out of our hotel, headed for some lunch. And we were wearing our iconic matching (!) white caps which we’d picked up in Mongolia and wore pretty much everywhere. There was crazy traffic, because, well, Hanoi in the middle of the day. And a taxi whizzes by and someone’s sticking their head out and yelling “hey guys, it’s me!!” The taxi zips by just as I’ve had a second to process what’s going on, and wave back excitedly back because I recognised that voice. I couldn’t quite figure out who’d waved at us, but I knew it was someone we knew. V hadn’t registered this entire event at all, so I was on my own trying desperately to solve this mystery. And then it struck me! It was Sofia – an Argentinian girl we’d shared a train compartment with from Ulaan Bataar to Beijing! She’d told us that she worked in Hanoi and it clicked. Wow. What a small world. And what perfect timing. If we’d stepped out of our hotel lobby even a minute later, we’d have missed her!
Snakes in a jar? Must be Vietnam.
Minions at a busy intersection. One of them escaped his grip and floated gleefully off into the night sky.
We also checked out this cafe called the Hanoi Social Club, whose chefs are graduates from a hospitality school for disadvantaged youth. Pictured here are some tofu chips, which were pretty awesome. The mains (we tried some sandwiches) were also really good, but we wolfed them down before we could instagram them. Which, I guess, is a good thing.
Tried some egg coffee, which was really rich and creamy (and well, eggy).
Artwork inside the Hanoi Social Club; also a guitar (not pictured) which V tinkered around with
After Hanoi, we made our way to Vientiane in Laos. Hanoi is well-connected to the rest of Vietnam by train, but most trains go along the east coast. The only connection from Hanoi directly to Vientiane was by an overnight bus.
So at around 4pm, our ‘transfer’ arrives to our hotel to take us to the bus. And by ‘transfer’, I mean a guy on a motorcycle who grabs my bag and starts riding away with it and when we look absolutely confused, he stops and wiggles his fingers to act out walking. Ah, we were supposed to follow him by foot! After about a 15-min walk, he dumps my bag by a large tree on the roadside. And we wait. Another scruffy looking traveler appears by our tree and joins our wait.
Our noble steed, also advertised as our ‘transfer from hotel lobby’
Around 430pm, a minibus stops at our tree and we stuff ourselves into the very limited remaining space on the minibus. At this point, we were praying that this wasn’t the “sleeper bus”. Thankfully it wasn’t. The minibus deposited us at another dusty location by the side of a road, and a Vietnamese guy magically appeared yelling “Vientiane” and directed us to the bus terminal. Once there, we sat around and waited to collect our tickets from the counter, and around 7pm, we were off!
The minibus, part 2 of the ‘transfer from hotel lobby’
The buses were pretty comfy. We were asked to remove slippers at the door, because even the corridors were padded and could be used as beds, during peak periods presumably. We were pretty lucky and got assigned to seats right as the back that were almost fully reclined and gave us a little more to stretch our feet. There were also blankets, handy when the AC kicked in.
Hanging at the back of the bus; a third guy joined us mid-way through the trip, and kept ‘accidentally’ rolling onto V in the middle of the night
The rest of the seats in the bus
Now the bus journey was a fairly loose and unscheduled process. About an hour or two into the journey, the bus stopped by a basic restaurant for folks to get some dinner. And we arrived at the border at around 4am, but immigration didn’t open until 7am, so we just kept on sleeping in the parked bus. One would think that the bus could just be timed better to arrive closer to 7am! Immigration itself is also a pretty chill process – wait for immigration staff to appear, they collect EVERYONE’S passports, do the immigration sorta in one go, and then call out people’s names to return their passports. On the Laotian side, it’s slightly less of a ‘group’ immigration process as we go one-by-one through. Back on the bus, and a stop for lunch, and we finally pull into Vientiane around 5pm!
All in all, a pretty comfy trip. A tip for anyone doing this trip, carry some Laotian kip with you for the immigration fees and also for food in Laos. The Vietnam dong also works but at a really terrible exchange rate.
Waiting to emigrate from Vietnam
A new Vietnamese immigration building was apparently under construction; pretty snazzy looking.
Walking over to Laos
And after a couple more hours on the bus, we pull into sunny Vientiane!
Cumulative cost of travel so far
GBP: 3,077 plus EUR: 1,308 plus RUB: 43,765 plus USD: 508 plus SGD: 208
Bus, Hanoi to Vientiane – 54 USD (for 2 pax)
Booked via our hotel, two days before travel
Two nights, Hanoi – 58 SGD
Spending: 150 SGD