A dull light hits my eyelids, rousing me from my restless sleep. One night down, one day to go. Outside, the world is all steely grey skies and foggy mountain villages. For a brief moment, I regret taking the bus just a little. This looks beautiful, and very, very quiet. Where are we, anyway?
Fumbling around, I find the GPS, still tracking our progress, and toggle to the screen that tells us where we are. Our route thusfar, with twists and turns aplenty, looks shockingly short compared to the long distance we have still to go. Though we've driven through the night, we've yet to leave Vietnam!
Tyler is awake now, engrossed by the scene beyond his window on the left side of the bus. Any remorse we might have been feeling about missing out on this ride quickly changes to relief when he brings up the elevation profile of our route. We have already climbed several thousand meters.
And still we climb. Up a serpentine mountain road, precipice on our left, rocks on our right, we're shielded from a vertiginous view by the fog that consumes the countryside. At the top of the twisty road, our view opens out a little, revealing a cluster of huts, and the occasional saucer-eyed kid that looks up at us as we pass.
We're being ushered off the bus at the border, into a shockingly cold, damp outdoors, and pointed towards a building about a hundred meters away. We trudge away through the mud, ready to bid farewell to this country once and for all. Inside the retro office building in the middle of nowhere, a few men in uniform sit behind a counter, shuffling papers around.
After sliding our passports under the glass partition that separates us, we take a seat on one of the cold, hard, orange plastic scooping chairs that are arrayed in rows. Even inside the building, our breath floats in the air, and, along with our fellow passengers, we shiver and zip up jackets and fleeces, rubbing our hands together and blowing on them.
We're all still bleary eyed and fidgety after a poor night's sleep, and nearly everybody has to pee. Some brave the bathroom, but I opt for the littered ditch—a far cleaner alternative.
Above us, a tourist sign reads Vietnam: a hidden charm, and I nudge Tyler to look up at it. We both stifle a chuckle—Vietnam's charm is most certainly well hidden! Then, we reminisce about crossing the Mongolian border basically on a whim, and what an adventure that was. Traveling in Southeast Asia really is a lark by comparison.
With our passports stamped out of Vietnam, we walk over a bridge, entering the Lao side of the border, and climb a small hill to the next office. There, we fill out our forms, chat with some Australian and kiwi travelers who we've been riding with, and pay thirty five dollars a person to get our visas. It is easy and smooth, and luckily we have one more passport photo each, tucked away in our passport bag. We forgot about photos!
Our ride is outside waiting for us when we're through, so we all pile back aboard for a long day of driving. The bus roars to life and carries us onward, winding through tiny villages of huts perched on stilts overlooking the edge of sheer drops. Our Vietnam adventure is over, and here, in the remote misty mountainous regions of northern Laos, another is just beginning.