Sitting in Changi Airport waiting for my flight to London, I have been looking through all my photos and editing them, cutting down on the number. I have cut back to 11GB of photos from my entire trip. I probably had 20GB to start with. So half! Pretty good effort if I may say so myself. Thinking about the trip, I thought I would do a quick rundown of the ways that I got between each city in Asia. In my trips with both Andy and El, we mostly flew between countries, due to wanting to do the countries in a particular order, which meant that land travel wasn’t an option. I wasn’t fussed, I wanted to do them in a particular way. And it saved us many 15-28 hour journeys on buses or trains, that although they are cheap, are not overly comfortable. I will take an Air Asia 3 hour flight any day over a 28 hour sleeper bus!
Siem Reap-Phnom Penh: We took a minibus for $12 USD. Picked up from hotel and taken to the minibus. It took 4 hours (as opposed to 5) but El and I were given seats at the very back with no leg room. Our knees were right against the seats in front of us. A very friendly American Vietnamese girl swapped due to my knee injury, as she had a seat with no one in front of her. The drive is very very fast, very bumpy, and LOTS OF HONKING. Constant honking. No ability to sleep or rest. We stopped half way for a toilet and food break. We arrived near the river in the north part of town, greeted by tuk tuk drivers running an informal cartel charging a LOT of money. I bargained one down to $1 each to take us to our hotel, 4 blocks away.
Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville: We took a bus. Picked up from hotel and taken to the bus as part of price ($4). Was a nice pleasant journey despite it starting to rain half way through. We picked up several locals on the way, but everyone had a seat. The bus had a toilet though neither of us tried it. It got very cold with the AC. When we arrived we were taken to the bus station where the tuk tuk drivers charged us $10 USD to Otres Beach (should have been $5) and refused to back down, as they started at $15. It was raining very hard so we just agreed.
Sihanoukville-Phnom Penh: We paid $5 for a tuktuk to take us to the bus station. Our bus was $4. Same journey way back, but taken to the main bus station by the market in Phnom Penh. Again tuk tuks charging way too much money. We walked part of the way and were approached by a nice tuk tuk driver who gave us a free ride the rest of the way.
Hanoi-Hue: We took an overnight train leaving at 7:30pm arriving at 8:30am. Cost us $52 through a travel agent, Tonkin Travel. We booked two bottom bunks in soft sleepers. It is very confusing which car is yours but we found that the beds were numbered. We were beds 1 and 2. A Vietnamese woman was in bed 3 (above) and another in one of our beds. She refused to move. Saying she was old and wanted ours. And we could have hers. After arguing and arguing, I put my bag on the bed, she moved. You can buy food on board, there is filtered hot and cold water. The bottom beds have a table in front. And an electric plug to charge iPods etc. You get a pillow and blanket but dont look like they have been washed ever. Very loud train. Very bumpy. Hard to sleep. Toilet ok but ran out of toilet paper early. Beds 1 and 2 were near the toilet, which is where the men smoke. Horrible sleep. Once we arrived, ignored all the taxis at the exit and found one in the parking lot to take us to our hotel.
Hue-Hoi An: Took a $6 bus, booked through our hotel. Picked up at 1:30 in a car, taken to a travel agent where we waited 30 minutes. Then walked to a bus, had to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag. It was a sleeper bus, so we took bottom bed/seats so we could have our bags next to us rather than on us. Pleasant ride, slept well. Stopped at the Sunshine Hotel in Hoi An, none of us knew what was going on. A woman from the hotel came on and said “If you are going to Hoi An this is the last stop”. So all the tourists got off – how were we to know the bus continued!!”. There were no taxis or tuk tuks. We called a taxi but then were told our hotel’s sister was up the road so walked there. Our bags were soaked from the rain and other wet things being put in the bus along the way. Not a pleasant walk with wet gross backpacks.
Hoi An-Ho Chi Minh: We flew Jetstar rather than bus and train. Nice and quick and easy. And cheap!! (Though a $8 taxi from Hoi An to Danang, where the airport is, 40 minutes away).
Vientiane to Vang Vieng: We took a bus $9 booked through our hotel. It was meant to be VIP but it was a normal local bus. The AC didn’t work. We were taken to a random bus down a random street and were some of the last to board. Tourists were lounged everywhere no one wanted to give up their extra seat. So we made a French girl move and sit next to her friend so Andy and I could sit together. People put their seats back, restricting the already little leg room. We stopped once for a toilet break (which you had to pay for) with disgusting toilets. Dropped at the bus station, and given free tuk tuks to town. Hot, sweaty, stuffy, uncomfortable, never again.
Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang:We took a $15 minivan booked through our hotel. It picked us up from our hotel, we were the first to be picked up. We then picked up another couple, then a group of 6 in the middle of a field in a tuk tuk. All seats were full and taken. Andy and I were in the front of the back section by the window. AC turned off and windows put down an hour in, so we were right by the air. Could also take photos out of the window. Stopped at a hillside restaurant for a toilet break 2 hours in. 2000 kip for toilet use, but very nice toilets. Another stop 2 hours later, 2000 kip for a toilet but disgusting squat no toilet paper shacks. Stayed 25 minutes for lunch. Basic food. 2 more hours then LP. Dropped in town, but near the clubs/bars area. Not the old town or the main street. Paid for a tuk tuk to take us to our hotel.
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: Booked a $14 minivan through a travel agent on the main street. Picked up from our hotel, meant to be at 1:00 picked up at 1:30. (Meant to leave LP at 2pm). Driven around and around. The tuktuk driver didn’t seem to know where we were going. The bus station was “too hot” so we weren’t going there until the minivan was there. Finally at 2pm we were at the station. AC with free water, not at all hot. We waited 45 minutes for 4 more people, because they had lost their camera. Took forever but we were finally off at 2:45. Stopped at different places on the way back, neither toilet overly appealing. Stopped for dinner around 6:30pm. Last hour and a half drive in the dark was slow, bumpy and scary.
Vang Vieng to Vientiane: Another minibus, $7 this time through a travel agent. Meant to be picked up at 1pm for a 1:30 departure. 1:30, still no minivan. Had our guesthouse call the travel agent. None of the three numbers worked. Finally got through. The minivan was on the way. Picked us up, angry looking and didn’t seem to care we had been waiting. Tried to pick up other people – felt like we were going to every hotel to see if there was anyone stranded. When there were only 8 out of 12 seats filled, he looked upset and kept driving. Picked up some locals off the side of the road who paid him personally. Finally left at 2:30 for Vientiane. The back seat with the luggage which would fit 2 small children, was made to fit Andrew and a local Lao person. Not comfortable. Driver didn’t care. Stopped for lunch but didn’t tell you how long, then got in car and honked and honked almost leaving without you. Didn’t know where we were being dropped in town as he drove past all major hotels so we asked him to stop and let us out. Thank god it was the last minibus/public transport we had to take!!
And now, at the end of it all, I am so so glad I don’t have to take a minibus or public bus in Asia for a while. It taught me that it isn’t so bad. We managed to avoid most of the horrific journeys – I heard of 12 hour Siem Reap to Sihanoukville buses that crash due to a driver falling asleep, or being dropped off in some jungle at 4am demanding more cash from its passengers to continue the journey – and flying meant that we had more time to enjoy the cities and sights themselves.