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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Good Morning, Viet Nam!

Too afraid to mention anything about fools or pitying them and nervously eyeing around for any signs or apparitions of the Big T himself Myra and I waited for the 6:40 Sawngthaew to the border to roar into life. Before long we were rumbling along the dusty, twisting roads to Na Meo with a motley bunch of other foreigners making a break for it.

Three short hours on and I was trying to play it cool with the border guards hoping that they didn't notice the bead of sweat trickling down my forehead and that the saches of Laos coffee buried deep down in my bag were actually coffee!

After a wee bit of wandering we hoped on the bus to Hanoi - ten minutes later we were sitting on the side of a hill watching the bus driver trying to work some magic on the smoking engine. After two hours of chilling and watching the locals join in with the engine by chopping bamboo into makeshift pipes we were underway.

Eight hours, a dead dog, pig and hen saw us in Thanh Hoa - the midway point. Chucked out into the rain and with no sign of the connecting bus they had tried to swindle us for we took it in turns to try flag down buses.

A few moments after agreeing a price for the journey and boarding the bus that continued to Hanoi the conductor and his cronies (the rest of the bus) began hassling us for more money. We all managed to resist coughing up any dough for over hour, arguing the whole time to the amusement of the locals. Eventually with the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and the other passengers making moves to throw our bags from the bus we bargained an 'agreeable' figure.

Just after midnight the bus pulled into Hanoi bus station. Even more haggling and stand-offs ensued with the local taxi mafia until we managed to cut a half decent price. We'd been warned that the Vietnamese typically charge foreigners 400% or more than the state issued (local) fares. With the police turning a blind eye to it all there's not a whole lot that you can do but try stand your ground and haggle like your life depended on it: thank goodness for Myra - the Hagglenator!


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