Four months I had been in Vietnam surrounded by the rudest and worst people I had ever encountered. But finally, I was getting out.
My expedition partner, Dan Aspey-Smith, had come to join me but had decided to remain a while longer to save money. He offered to drive me out of Hanoi and towards Laos, the next country on the 12 month road back home.
The discomfort of riding on the back of his motorbike while straining all of my muscles to keep my backpack up was just a taste of things to come in Asia, but I was and always am very grateful for the distance.
We said goodbye for now after a 5-hour ride and I held up my new ‘Laos’ sign with a dollar symbol crossed through it and looked down the long road ahead. I’d needed a few days to mentally prepare myself for this, and I was as ready as I could be.
It was to be the most mentally-challenging week since the Chinese visa problem.
It had never been this hard to get on the road, not even on the first day. Being in such a toxic place meant I needed a way to cope, so I turned to marijuana. I was now getting over the dependency with withdrawal symptoms in full effect; anxiety, depression, difficulty falling asleep and a few others.
Within a few minutes of Dan leaving, a motorbike taxi stopped and took me for free to a cafe about 20 minutes away. Another motorbike took me to the next city along, which I walked through to find a car at the other end 3km away.
This was the last lift of the first day and I walked off the road in the last hour of daylight to a beautiful riverside spot with a cafe a few minutes’ walk which I used or Wi-Fi.
It was an anxious night of horrific nightmares and little sleep and when I woke to find my urine was brown, I knew that a lot of my negative mood was to do with dehydration. It always is to do with that, hunger or tiredness.
Rehtydrated and fed but still quite tired, I walked along the winding mountain road and found a reasonably long stretch of straight road to wait on.
20 minutes passed and two men on a motorbike took me 200km through the mountains and then another 50km up to the Laos border, which was massively out of their way.
To our great disappointment, the border was only for locals. I had researched which crossing to use, but I must have misread the article.
Back down the mountain we went to find a restaurnt where we would part ways. They were ecstatic when I told them that my blog reaches up to 1500 people and that they would find out what they had done for me.
The 45-minute walk out of the city flew by and I found a camping spot on some very soft mud which suppourted me like memory foam. There was even a Wi-Fi signal I managed to guess the password to – a very tricky ‘88888888’ as many in Vietnam seemed to be…
Despite being so close to a border crossing, I now had to head North-West 220km to the international crossing. I didn’t dwell for too long. Maybe I just had a better opinion of Vietnam to gain, which I certainly did.
Another couple of lifts the next day and I was three quarters of the way there. The second was another uncomfortable motorbike ride. The seat felt like hard earth and afterwards, my whole body ached from keeping my backpack up.
The man offered to pay for a taxi to take me the final distance, which, on top of the distance already covered and the coffees he’d brought me, I could not accept. We parted ways and I went to find what I hoped would be my final camping spot in Vietnam.
Up again into the humid veranda mountains, I pitched my tent behind some trees on one of the fishhook bends. The withdrawl symptoms got worse and the lonliness and silence got to me that night.
One lift took me to the final city before the Laos international border, 30km away. It was walking distance now and only 15:30.
I had time to stop for a coffee, but there was nowhere to go. The shops were all either bike shops, furtiture shops or some other household thing all repeated like a looping animation for 6km which I trudged through in the glaring sunlight and bitter heat.
My opinion on Vietnam had been changed now; it wasn’t a bad place, it just had a bad area around Hanoi.
So, with this new opinion, I walked towards the next country to reach it that night.
But despite being so close, I couldn’t find the final lift. One man did stop with a Laos number plate, but he pulled in after 2km to a hotel and said he was staying there and would take me tomorrow for $20.
I returned to the roadside but was only harassed by curious school kids and locals who kept surrounding me, deterring cars from stopping.
One man said the border was closed today and that I must stay in his hotel. ‘Good one’, I thought.
Catching a ride to a border is always difficult and come nightfall, no vehicles were passing. I’d hoped to be out by now, taking away a new, positive perspective of the country, but I had to admit temporary defeat and walk under the bridge I was on to camp for one last night.
The following morning was so misty that the sun was nowhere to be seen. Apprehension floated around the wet air as I walked the beginning of the 24km to the border.
It was the worst border crossing I have ever experienced. The border staff were rude, pedantic and unreasonable; they refused to accept my and the other foreigners’ US dollars, even though they were in perfect condition. The reason being they wanted us to exchange our currency at a rate of around 50%.
It was during this 3 hour crossing that I finally let out all the built-up anger from Asia. After, I felt a huge weight lift.
They were rude, so I was ruder. They shouted, so I shouted louder. I called them stupid, arrogant, and some other words they couldn’t understand and I cannot write publicly.
They went for lunch early to avoid confrontation with me and during the two-hour break, some Laos locals agreed to swap money with us, costing us around 5%.
On the return of the staff – our first taste of Laos, by the way – they looked at us as if they knew they’d won. But their faces fell with disappointed when they realised they hadn’t.
I threw the money at them, to which they shouted “why you do it like that?”
“If you’re rude to me, I am to you. Be nice, and I’ll do the same. It works both ways, now give me my f****** visa.” Yes, I really said that.
So, with a hard-earned visa, I walked with the other tourists to their bus and the driver agreed to take me for free! It was a 10-hour ride and I made it halfway to Thailand, to Luang Prubang, where I rested up for a couple of days and enjoyed the real, much friendlier and kinder Laos. Asia really does have the best people I’ve ever met, and the worst.
Tom’s Big Hitchhiking Adventure.
On June 01 2017, I left the UK to hitchhike around the world.
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