Where do I start with today's goings on?? At the beginning no doubt you are saying. Seems a very long time ago now when I got up at 4am to get the bus to Dong Ha.
It had all been arranged that I would wait by the side of the road for the bus at the Dong Hoi Travel Centre. Not an ideal arrangement but seems normal here. So the hotel owner took me to the pick-up spot himself on his motorbike. So me and my 3 bags plus a few supplies got on the back of his bike. He had done this loads of time so I was happy enough we would make it in one piece. Indeed we did and I took up my post beside the road. Immediately I was confronted by two motabike drivers looking to give me a lift. I had to ask that they leave me alone eventually.
It was nearly 6am when I decided to telephone the hotel owner as the bus had been a no-show. He came down and tried the hotel in Hanoi who had organised my ticket and said I should wait where I was as he would be back. 8am came and went ie 3 hours of waiting, and I decided the hotel owner wasn't coming back and the bus definitely was not coming. Ironically a zillion buses had gone past offering me a ride to my destination but as I had been told to wait I waited. What if the bus had just been held up by bad roads or something? Maybe rather too long to wait but I was a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place as the hotel owner had not returned to update me.
With all this waiting around I had been getting plenty of strange looks from the locals but also alot of hellos. Unfortunately, one hello came from a taxi driver who was offering to take me to Dong Ha for 800K Dong. Writing on the back of his fag packet he lowered it to 700K Dong. Fair play to the guy I suppose, but I wasn't that desperate, yet.
I decided to head back to the hotel and found the owner plucking away on his guitar. He presumed I had jumped on one of the many other buses while I had presumed he was coming back to tell me what had happened when he phoned Hanoi. That phone call turned out not to be of help as the people at the Family Hotel did not know why the bus had not stopped either. Talk about going round in circles.
I hitched up my bags again and headed for a place the hotel owner had described where buses stop alot. Once there I didn't like the look of the buses as they all looked crammed to bursting point with luggage stored on the roof. With the hotel owners comments that my bags may result in a further charge because of the weight, I headed to the PO and offloaded the clothes etc which I was going to do in Laos rather than in Vietnam to try and save my Dong. Turned out it was a lot more than I thought so a further trip to the bank was required to settle the tab.
On reaching the bus station, I asked about the bus to Dong Ha and was told there wasn't one. Think they may have been taking the mick but I wasn't sure. I telephoned the hotel owner again but with his limited English the call didn't work out like I thought. He hung up with me thinking he would be down to sort this out for me. Not a sign!
In the meantime there was a change of shift so I decided to try again, this time I was met with a firm "no" to my question of "Is there a bus to Dong Ha". Just "no" that was all she was giving me, not an explanation or different ideas absolutely hee haw and at this point she got back to her film on the TV.
I asked a couple of drivers who were going in my direction but got a swift "no" off one of them. This word was beginning to be my least favourite of the day! Off the other (driver) I got a 100K Dong note waved in my face with him laughing. Bearing in mind one guy in the office told me the fare would be 30K I was somewhat confused by this irrational idiot waving the 100K note in my face. I asked him to kindly explain himself but was just met with more waving of the 100K note. Talk about complete screwing of the foreigner.
Thankfully another member of staff had turned up and she spoke some English. I finally got myself sorted out with a bus for 70K. A bit of a surprise that price as I was told it was 45K Dong on this bus but of course the bags were an issue. An additional charge of 25K Dong was added to the cost of my ticket. No weighing of the bags was done of course just a quick look. This means the bags are more than half my body weight based on this calculation and I can assure you that is not the case. She thanked me very much and I "thanked" her very much for the price of the ticket and toddled off to the bus.
Turned out that the way it works is one guy hangs out the bus door and virtually scrapes people off the roadside and onto the bus. By the time we reached Dong Ha they had got to the point where people were even sitting on little PLASTIC seats normally reserved for children waiting areas!! There was even a table somewhere under all the bags. Extra charge for that? I doubt it very much, purely a tourist charge I reckon.
So anyway,I was squeezed off the bus much more easily than I imagined as the boys operating the bus were clearly pros. Before I had even got myself anywhere near the door I was surrounded by "motabikes". One actually grabbed my bag before I had agreed to anything. I grabbed it back off him and started the negotiations again this time with a little bit of local knowledge from a Vietnamese English student to guide the price. Told the motabike boy I would pay half of what he asked and he said fine. One up for me!
Arriving at the bus station (not sure why I wasn't dropped here in the first place), about 10 guys started shouting "Lao Bao" at me, this being the border town. I just kept my calm and got them all to back off and headed into the bus station office for some respite. I knew the name of a travel agent per LP but I couldn't see it anywhere. A kind gent, a motabiker would you believe, pointed me in the direction of the "DMZ Cafe" along the road. This also turned out to be a "Sinh Cafe" which is a well known travel agent around Vietnam.
I was met by the owner who gave me the news that there was no bus today. I queried this as I was thinking she only wanted me to stay in the hotel for a night. In the end, the offer of USD 20 for room and bus ticket to Savannakhet seemed a pretty good deal to me. No cost for the room but of course this is built into the ticket as it is USD 8 more than LP quoted. Anyway still not bad and the room is clean with hot shower. The only part that perturbed me was that an old lady crept out of the room I was just about to call mine. She had obviously been having a lie down!!