In this third installment of our own version of 24 (sans Keifer Sutherland), we start out with the clock approaching noon and we still haven’t made it to Laos-Vietnam border after running out of cash and days on our visas in Laos. We’ll pick up the direct transcription of my notes after negotiating a ride to the border in a truck taxi for about double the fair price. Here’s part 3 of 24 Hours & $24 to Hanoi:
I opt for the roof of the overcrowded pick-up instead of hanging onto the rear bumper. View from roof is amazing, I put on suntan lotion, take in views of Karst ranges, small villages and footpaths carving through canyons and over ridges; children play in old bomb shells, stands sell Beer Lao. Ride is great despite driver’s complete lack of skill in shifting gears.
At the border, we are so late that lunch break is almost over, we still wait 30 minutes then cross into Vietnam with little problems, leaving the locals to negotiate their own cross by bribing the guards.
There is a stark difference between the well-worn Laos side of the border and and the brand-new, fully paved Vietnamese side. But it turns out to be a facade – construction workers steer us away down a rocky path, across an ancient bridge to equally aged old immigration / customs buildings, which are inconveniently quite far apart.
Entering Vietnam turns out to be a long, bureacratic process of walking back and forth between the two buildings several times, changing money at a terrible rate to pay fifty cents to tell the health officer that we don’t have SARS. (This seemed like an obvious scam, but we weren’t willing to argue over 50 cents). There were bag searches involving the usual puzzled looks over items like birth control. We asked the customs officers how to properly pronounce greetings in Vietnam and they taught us an insulting greeting only appropriate when addressing children.
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But this was just the beginning of our welcome to Vietnam- we still had to find a ride to the nearest town, a few thousand feet below… TO BE CONTINUED…