Bus Ride From Hell

"Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things - air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky - all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it."
Cesar Pavese

Mission: To cross from the Dien Bien Phu border in northern Vietnam to Mouang Khoua, Laos via 10 hour bus ride .

By now we had already traveled in India and all over Vietnam so we were used to the cramped bus rides and the long train rides. But nothing could have prepared us for the next leg of our trip. It was Amazing Race, Survivor and Fear Factor combined! And worse, it wasn't reality TV. It was real.

We had read the horror stories from other blogs about the long rides without so much as a pit stop. So we prepared the night before the trip. We stocked up on provisions like bread and fruit. We even stayed at a guesthouse across the street from the bus station! The next day, we got up early. We were at the station 30 minutes ahead to get prime seats. We were awake, eager and battle ready!

But no amount of preparation could keep us from being shocked on this journey. When we got there at 5AM, a swarm of people were already ahead of us. The crew were already top loading the bus to the height of a 2 story building! It seemed like they wanted to break the Guinness Book of World Records for most number of people to fit into a bus. Before we left, the vehicle was already so cramped that they could hardly close the door. And they made 2 more stops to pick up passengers along the way!

Bus Ride From Hell

I felt sorry for the girl beside me. She had to squeeze her bum between the gap of 2 seats. My situation was slightly better. I was sitting on top of a huge sack of rice and holding on to my 2 carry on bags. It was so cramped that you couldn't even scratch your nose! Passengers were getting in and out through the windows. It was a 24-seater but from the last headcount, they were able to fit 45 passengers!

Bus Ride From Hell

You're probably thinking: "Oh, that's not so bad!"

No. You know nothing.

My butt cheeks were already numb after the first hour. I tried to sleep but the roads were bumpy and winding. Because they overloaded the vehicle, we were only going at about 40Km/hr. It was the slowest, most excruciating ride of my life! My only consolation was the fantastic hillside view and the fact that I was looking forward to traveling in Laos.

When we got to the immigration office of Vietnam, I was screwed. I realized that my passport wasn't in my carry-on. I had hidden it at the bottom of my backpack the night before.

Major rookie mistake.

Bus Ride From Hell

And where was my backpack? On top of the van along with other backpacks, sacks of rice and boxes! I was ready to kick myself! Suffice to say, I was the last one to get my passport stamped. When we got back in the bus, other people had already grabbed our seats. Guess who sat between the gap this time?

When we got to immigration on the Laos side, things went more smoothly. We filled out forms, paid the 9,000 kip (around 2USD) fee and got on the bus before anyone else did. Then we waited for another hour. We then found out what the cause of delay was: a British guy was complaining about the 9,000 kip fee and refused to pay!

One good thing did come out of that predicament. Our horrendous experience fostered a camaraderie between the group. By the time we got to Laos, we had formed an alliance with 6 other passengers from the same bus. A couple from London, another from Holland and 2 friends traveling together from Germany. I loved meeting strangers on trips! We got along so well that we stayed at the same place for 2 stops after that.

Bus Ride From Hell

Bus Ride From Hell

I don't want you to take the same bus from hell. But if you do have to make the same border crossing, here are some things to arm you on the way:

- Buy tickets in advance. Try to book them online if you can.

- Bring more than enough water and snacks. This is also great for sharing.

- You snooze you lose. You have to be aware (that also means awake) so you can grab prime seats and watch your stuff.

- Have everything ready before the border cross. Make sure you got your passport, photos, local currency and pen ready.

- You'll need a lot of patience and good humor along the way.

Have you ever been on a Bus from Hell? What was your experience like? Read about Sole Sister Chichi's border cross experience here.

Bracing myself for yet another bus ride to Myanmar,
Sole Sister Lois
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35 Responses so far.

  1. Flipnomad says:

    oh wow sobrang siksikan ... just arrived in lp (overland from vietnam)... swerte hindi kami siniksik, 4 lang kami sa likod... 

  2.  In Asia, anything is possible ;)

    Enjoy Myanmar Sole Sisters!

  3. Bino says:

    Ngak! Maswerte pa pala kami na medyo mas malaking bus ang nasakyan namin on our way to Mouang Khoua from Dien Bien Phu.. Hassle nga yung maiwanan ang passport sa backpack mo.. I hope you still enjoy the trip! :)

  4. Camela Banico says:

     How about a bus ride along EDSA? Happy memories always flash before my eyes whenever I have the unlucky last option of getting a ride in one. :D Oh well, at least there's the AC. Safe travels!

  5. Dumboqtpie says:

    Thanks for posting this and informing me in FB. Anyway I always check your blog for your new experiences. Maybe we will change our itinerary of border crossing.

    Happy for you and your companions. Best regards.


  6.  Mine is just the usual  10-12 hour bus ride to Bicol but not as hellish as this one. Hope your Myanmar trip turns out to be an enjoyable one.

  7.  i like long bus rides. as long as i have a music player with me. im fine. but your experience could be a test..hehe

  8.  A hellish experience indeed! A great resource for my future travel itineraries. Buen viaje for your next destinations!

  9. Jenn says:

    Reminds me of a bus ride I took from Tabuk to Tinglayan (Kalinga) about 13 years ago.  No space spared even the aisle had rice sacks that people sat on, I sat beside someone carrying with him live chickens.  The road was so muddy, we had to get off the bus twice to get it unstuck.  It took us forever to reach Tinglayan but we got there eventually.  

    Another horrible experience was in Uganda, we took the wrong bus and what was supposed to be a 4 hour ride took us more than 10 hours, I think.  Horrible and scary too.Enjoy the charm of Luang Prabang -- definitely a top fave of mine.  :_)

  10. Im glad your safe... Im excited for the Myanmar bus trip!

  11. Thank God your all well. Im so excited for the Myanmar bus trip!

  12. i was just invited  by friends to go with them to vietnam. all expenses paid! need to catch up with some readings from your blog. :-)

  13. Lois says:

    Oo nga Flip. Swerte swerte lang ata yan. I'm lucky to have survived that..

  14. Lois says:

    Oh yes Nina, I can attest to that. We just did a visa run to Myanmar this time Nina. But I vow to come back and get past the border next time. I envy your photos. Do post the trip guidelines soon..

  15. Lois says:

    Did you go Mouang Ngoi as well? That the highlight of our trip. Yeah, rookie move yung passport. I hope I never commit the same mistake again. It's still a wonderful trip and it hasn't ended yet!

  16. Lois says:

    Yeah, bus rides along EDSA are tough especially during rush hour. But this Bus Ride from Hell was still much worse. The 'window seat' was the toughest challenge. Thanks for following our adventures!

  17. Lois says:

    Yeah maybe it would be a good idea to change your border crossing Ed. But if you want a different kind of adventure... ;-)

  18. Lois says:

    Bus rides in Pinas are much much more comfortable compared to this Claire. But so far, we haven't  had any more hellish bus ride experiences. The Myanmar bus ride was quick and uneventful. It was only for a visa run :( But we're sure to go there in the near future..

  19. Lois says:

    Yes, an Ipod is a must on long bus rides. It also helps that I fall asleep on the bus quicker than most people.

  20. Lois says:

    Thanks for dropping by Ed. We're posting more from Laos and Cambodia next so stay tuned for that. Wish you many happy adventures as well!

  21. Lois says:

    Wow! Both of those bus rides can rival my Bus ride from hell Jenn! But it all adds to the experience we have right? It makes us tougher backpackers, agree? We're excited to post our experiences from Luang Prabang soon.

  22. Lois says:

    Myanmar is shelved for the moment Marcus. We have to plan it more carefully. But it's on the wanderlist :-)

  23. Lois says:

    Thankies! Happy Adventures to you too!

  24. Lois says:

    Omg! So excited for you Paulie! You will love it. Please don't miss Hoi An and Sapa! Yes, we have about 11 posts for Vietnam and you're gonna need them :-) Keep me posted on your travels. At sana magkita naman tayo.. kahit papano.

  25. Bino says:

    Hindi na kami tumuloy ng Mouang Ngoi-Nong Khiaw route. Ang mahal ng pamasahe sa slow boat. :( We go directly to LP instead. :)

  26. Jade says:

    OH god- we took the bus from hell in Beijing! It was awful... good thing everything work out for you in the end!

  27. JODYxBUFFY says:

    Have you ever been in a Toyota mini-van (designed for 8 passengers) crammed with 32 passengers, not counting animals?  It made for a most intimate, long-distance ride in Guatemala.  How the vehicle was able to surmount those volcanic hills and dales without snapping an axle or losing a brake, I will never know...

  28. Anonymous says:

    One should always keep his/her passport on their person.  The chances of losing it are much less than if it were kept in a separate bag.

  29. Lois says:

    What are buses from hell in Beijing like Jade? Sounds like it would top this experience. It always works out in the end. And you only see the humor in the aftermath..

  30. Lois says:

    WOAH! That is intimate all right. Talk about invasion of personal space. That sounds outright dangerous! Now I'm looking forward to a South American adventure!

  31. Pishy says:

    Definitely one of my worst bus rides ever. It's just behind the Genesis (a bus company in Baler) experience where we sat hugging our knees on the floor of the bus for almost 8 hours cramped by livestock. Boy, did my back hurt. But it's true that you get to bond more with other travelers in situations like these. If you're lucky, you're with people who have tons of patience then you just tend to laugh the situation off or better yet sleep on it. I think you forgot something in this post. The one about Mr. Kek, the guesthouse owner from Hell ;-)  

  32. Lois says:

    Hey there Pishy, thanks for sharing that Baler experience. Although I'm sure the discomfort was worth it when you finally got to catch some waves. Yeah, I forgot about Mr. kek. It was indeed an unpleasant experience with him.. Another bus ride from hell would probably be from Stung Treng to Ban Lung when we waited for 7 hours and had to sit in the aisles and arrived in the middle of a storm!

  33. Hutch says:

    Yep. The bus ride from Stung Treng to Ban Lung should be a supplement to this post. I think it was the 2nd worst bus ride of our trip. I'm just glad that the Cambodians found something to laugh at during the journey....the barangs squeezed like sardines :-D

  34. Carlo Mercado says:

    Oh my! We're planning to have [low cost] backpacking Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos next year. I could feel my butt getting numb just by reading your post. Bus from hell? Hmm, looks like I don't have any other choice do I?

    Nice blog, by the way!
    Mabuhay Sole Sisters!


  35. Michael Talabucon says:

    my rough plan was to set foot in Ho Chi Minch then move direct to Angkor Wat and if possible to Vientanne in Laos then head to Bangkok from March 20 to April 3. Any suggestion for bacpack solo traveller?

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