I thought the scams were over but oh no there was a final one to be played out by the Viets. The bus which turned up and picked up myself and a fellow traveller from England turned out to be a minibus! Where was the lovely air conditioned coach that was to take us all the way to Savannakhet. I was thinking the minibus was just to round everyone up as usual and we would end up on a coach. Like hell it we did. Minibus all the way to the border crammed to the gunnels with people and baggage. On the way the minibus got a flat so a bit more time added to the journey. The guys on the minibus were pros and had us going in no time, just as well because we had someones lunch to deliver at the border:))
At the Vietnamese border we were told to get off. End of the line for the minibus! If I had known that this scam would happen I could have jumped on a minibus as soon as I had arrived in Dong Ha the day before and already be in Savannakhet. Shame on you MDZ/Sinh Cafe, Dong Ha, shame on you!!!!
I had my passport thoroughly examined by the control police while my new travelling partner waltzed through. I was not told what was causing so much concern that the more senior officer needed to look at my passport but it came back to me stamped. I wasn't for asking what the problem had been.
It was all rather surreal as I walked through from the Viet border and across no-mans land to the Laos border. No-one seemed to be taking much interest in me which was great. All very laid back until I heard an "oi" directed at me. Some Viet police guy sitting on a chair suddenly perked up as I passed by. So, someone else had a good look at my passport. Nothing came of that either thankfully so off I headed to the Laos Visa desk. I only had to fill in an Arrival Form as I had my Visa already. I paid USD 45 for it to be arranged in Hanoi meanwhile my travelling partner was paying USD 35 for a month's Visa at the border!!! This was a surprise to both of us. I had even checked out the official Laos Government website which had said only 15 day Visas were available at the border. More misinformation!! Anyway a shrug of the shoulders and off we went in search of our bus to Savannakhet.
There was no bus at the border of course so we got a couple of locals to give us lifts on their motorbikes to the bus station. 5,000 kip each which was good considering the others in the crowd of riders surrounding us were offering the same lift for 10,000 kip.
On reaching the bus station, we were greeted with the sight of a bus which would surely have been given it's last rites were it in Europe. For the pleasure of getting on this bus, some lady was trying to charge us 45,000 kip. I kept saying we had paid already and had tickets proving this. Not sure what happened next really but a local guy looking a bit like Tony Soprano dressed in a vest with his shades on came out from the shadows of one of the tents. Suddenly there wasn't a problem anymore and we were ushered onto the bus. Turns out he was the driver but I reckon he must have been more than just that.
So, an eventful journey to Savannakhet began with not too many people on the bus. This didn't last long as we stopped everywhere on the way picking up passengers whether they wanted to go or not it seemed:)) From just hanging around at the side of the road some seemed to decide or had it decided for them by the guys on the bus, that it would be a good day out on the bus to Savannakhet! Some of these trips were shortened as we were stopped by Passport police. Clearly some didn't have any ID and were trying to offer something for the police officers pension fund if you know what I mean. They were asked to get off the bus. Some came back some didn't!? Got to be offering the pension fund bonus to the right guy I reckon. Wrong guy then wave daylight goodbye for a while.
Anyway, after a long and eventful day we finally made it to Savannakhet bus station. We were of course surrounded by tuk-tuk drivers but we just said we didn't know where we wanted to go and they backed off. No hassle or badgering. Brilliant, I love this country!