Travelers Notebook: 24 Hours & $24 to Hanoi – Part 1

Any trip I take, I’m sure to have a steady supply of pocket-sized notebooks and pens to record the trip. It’s perfect for passing the time on long bus rides or pulling out anywhere in the middle of your trip to jot down that great insight or record every detail of an incredible experience you never want to forget. Many of my travel experiences I’ve been sharing with you come from the notes I jotted down in these pads. Usually I use them as a starting point to jog my memory and construct some brilliant prose, but I thought it my capture the feel of the actual journey a bit more if I presented my notes as is, word for word as I wrote them in-country.

First up for this experiment are my notes from a rough trip from Phonsavan, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. The background is this: our 15 day visa in Laos was running out, as was our cash. With no travelers checks left and no international ATMs in Laos, we had $24 and 24 hours to get to the nearest ATM in Hanoi, and we had to travel through a recently opened remote border crossing high in the hills of central Vietnam. Here’s the first page of my notes from the journey:

Leave Phonsovanh at 7 AM on ancient, decrepit public bus w/ assistance from driver’s little bro.
First bus on trip to leave early, ran into three Swedish girls from (Vang Vieng) on bus. Rode painfully slow bus over 100 km to border, filling up with bags of feed, veggies & livestock. Local tribespeople board with children on back and children w/ children on their backs. Clothes & faces filthy, bright colored clothes faded. Men climb on with guns (children kicking & puking behind Jo) and chickens in baskets, children on roadside play in old bomb casing, bus labors up hills, grinds into first gear, breaks down on uphills, driver replaces spark plugs and we have noticeably less power for second-half of journey.  Bus stops frequently for anyone and when anyone aboard yells.

(The bus was only option; tourist bus leaves only Tuesdays & Fridays to Vietnam @ 6:30A, we arrived on Friday, with not enough days on visa, or money in pocket to last ’til Tuesday. Finding money in Laos (or inability) defined length of stay just as much as visas, ATMs virtually nonexistent, few around not connected to global networks. Lao development bank has no facilities to handle credit / debit advances. Travelers Cheques used only if can find person that speaks English & recognizes what are for.

So, despite conserving (cash) and staying on the (Phoudindaeng Organic Farm) Laos charm sucked us in longer than planned, depleted cash (wiring money would require wires). Now have no time left on visa and only $24 to get us to Hanoi.

To be continued….