Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wherein I Sing the Praises of Public Transportation

Public buses are, by far, my favorite way to get around the city. Here are three reasons why:

1.  So, so much cheaper.  It's been my experience that the taxi drivers in each new city we visit are the group most interested in trying to overcharge tourists.  Even when taxis have meters, either they refuse to use them or their meters run too fast.  

The bus fare is the same for everyone and always less than a dollar.  Most recently, in Hanoi, fare was a mere fifteen cents.

2.  More interaction with the locals.  We are often the only foreigners on the bus.  Typically we find fellow passengers eager to try out their English and hear about our trip.  Occasionally babies cry when they see Jim.  Either way, it's vastly more interesting than sitting in a taxi cab.

3.  Better orientation of the city.  Taking the bus requires you to learn the city and not just stick your hand in the air, moving blindly from one attraction to the next.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bus Ride

Oh boy. Where to start?

We had a long journey ahead of us; a 24-hour bus ride. We decided we'd splurge and spend a little extra to get a deluxe, sleeper bus. One bus to take us the whole journey. You've probably already guessed, that's not exactly what we got.

We started the trip switching from one crappy bus to another. About ten hours in, an hour or so from the Cambodia/Laos border, we were told the bus was arriving late, we wouldn't make it to the border before it closed for the day, so we'd have to get a room in a guest house for the evening.  So, not only was this delaying our final arrival, we had to pay for another night of accommodation. The next morning we boarded a bus and then a mini-bus and then we waited. Then, we got on another mini-bus, which brought us to this final bus where the story continues.

I'm going to remind you here that we paid a bit extra for a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned sleeper bus.

Here's the bus we boarded.

Rice. The aisles and the space where your feet should go, covered in giant rice bags.

As the trip began, we were optimistic, trying to make the best of it.

Here, Jim's making his way back to his seat, climbing over the rice bags.  The woman in the front of the photo  had her eye on Jim.  The man sitting next to us translated, explaining that she was impressed with Jim's, shall we say, manliness, since he's the size of approximately 2.5 Lao men.  Also, he has a beard.  Jim is still talking about how much the middle-aged Lao women can't get enough of him.

The first few hours we were having a great time.  We "chatted" with the families around us and shared snacks.  Jim held babies.

The bus stopped often, picking up more passengers.  That nice woman in the photo is sitting on the rice bags in the isle since all the seats were full.

Here's where it really gets good.  A few hours in, we stopped and they shifted all of our baggage from the lower compartment onto the roof of the bus.  Then, tractors pulled up and they started loading livestock onto the bus.  In the photo below, the young men are lifting a bag of live chickens that they'll then tie to the roof of our bus.

Here they're loading pigs and goats into the compartments under the seats.  Live pigs and goats.  The ten or so foreigners on the bus were crowding around taking photos.

They tied the doors closed propped open a bit with sticks, so the animals could breathe.

The bus ride went downhill from here.  As the animals above and below us started doing their business, the bus started smelling.  Jim wasn't feeling well, so at each stop, he was running off the bus to use the toilet (and by toilet, I mean ditch).  More than once I had to stop the bus from leaving without him.  Also, while we were all trying to sleep, the bus driver started blaring Cambodian pop music, maybe to keep himself awake?

Still, easily our best and worst bus ride all wrapped in one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For ...

I realize I won't get much sympathy from folks back home complaining about the weather, but I'm going to anyway.

For most of our trip it's been HOT. The temperatures have been in the 80s, 90s and even above 100 most places we've been.

The heat has had me wishing for some cooler temperatures - a bit of a break. Last night, we arrived in Hanoi. It's been raining ever since we arrived. And it's about 50 degrees. Also, our budget accommodation doesn't have heat.