Headlights fly by, momentarily blinding us, adding a hefty dose of disorientation to this impossibly hectic ride. At last long, we pull into the bus station, a crowded, chaotic parking lot, filled to the brim with motorbike touts, taxis and travelers coming and going. It's 6:10, which means our bus is probably pulling away right now, if we haven't missed it already.
The French girl gets off the scooter, shaking her head, looking mightily relieved. We wish her luck, give her one of our cards, and she runs off into the crowd to try and find the bus to Vientiane. We're about to ask our escort where to go next, when he grabs his cell phone and looks down to send a text. Then, he absentmindedly points at someone who will be our new contact, and peels out of the parking lot, into the night.
In a hurry to find out if our bus is still here, we run over to our newly appointed helper, and tell him where we're headed. Inexplicably, this guy just laughs at us and walks away. Great. We've been abandoned. I'm not sure what else to do, so I start showing people our ticket, asking around about buses to Luang Prabang. Nobody has a clue what I'm saying.
When I look on the GPS to check the time, I see that we're at a bus station two kilometers further than the one I'd marked. Feeling hesitant, I tell Tara, who is pacing back and forth, clearly at her wit's end. Her eyes grow wide and she shouts furiously, "WHAT!? You're joking right? GOD-DAMNIT!"
She is seething, shaking her head, breathing stilted breaths in and out. I'm a little shocked to see her so upset, so I start offering solutions. We could could bike two kilometers back the way we came, go to the other bus station, and ask there? Or, we could bike back into town, go back to our hotel, and start at square one in the morning.
Almost before I can finish presenting our options, she shouts "I am NOT biking anywhere, and I am NOT spending another GODDAMN night in Hanoi! I choose whatever option that gets us OUT OF THIS FUCKING COUNTRY!" "Okay!", I respond, a little frightened of the new, wrathful version of Tara I've never seen before.
Our bus ticket says nothing about our destination. Nevertheless, I try showing it to a few more people, only to be met with shaking heads or blank stares. Finally, one man says he will help us, but only if we pay him. We've already paid $100 for this ill-fated journey, nobody is getting any more of our money. At this point, I've given up. We've missed our bus, we're at the wrong station, and it is nighttime. We may as well go home. Tara nods, surrendering, steeling herself for a repeat version of the worst ride we've ever done.
As we push away from the station, a man comes running after us, shouting "Luang Prabang?" For the first time all evening we dare to hope. "Yes!" we shout in reply. He tells us to follow him, and so we do, wheeling back towards the station. He enters, and we follow behind, crossing the small room to get to the back exit, only about fifteen feet away.
The man slips through the back doorway, and we're almost there, when a station attendant comes storming over in my direction. He lightly punches me in the shoulder and forcefully points to entrance, informing me to TURN AROUND NOW. Apparently they don't want our bikes inside the station. I'm confused, but uncharacteristically agree without a fuss, while Tara plows onwards, blatantly disregarding the stupid rules.
They guy runs her down, as well, and points back the way we came. She furiously points towards the door. She's five feet away from the door, and what harm is she causing by wheeling her bike inside? But the man won't have it and reaches out to touch her elbow, stopping her. Furious, she whips her bike around, nearly smacking him in the knees, as she pulls out a phrase more likely to come from me: "You have GOT to be FUCKING KIDDING ME!"
Out of the station once more, we push our bikes around, and our friendly guy is leading us behind the station to where all the buses are. He leads us to a bus labeled Luang Prabang, and we thank him as best we can through our fury. It's not a sleeper bus, and there are no bathrooms, but at least no one else is on it. Tyler throws the bikes underneath the bus, and we get on. I curl up in my seat, and cover my eyes with the palms of my hands, utterly exhausted by both the circumstances and my own outrage.
We wait for an hour, as a few people trickle on. I'm quiet now, but still seething, and Tyler encourages me to spew my guts (as if there was any rage that wasn't already voiced loudly and conspicuously.) so I can get over all this anger.
Finally the bus starts, and we trundle away, on our way out of this country.
We're an hour out of town, when our bus pulls into a restaurant, and the driver shoos us off the bus, saying "Stop 20 minute, EAT!"
We don't have much dong left, having changed most of it over to kip, or spent it already. We have enough for a plate of cum ga, but we pronounce it wrong (of course) and we end up with some fish in a broth that (I am not exaggerating) smells strongly of feces. We eat the rice and pick at the fish, glad that this is the last time we will ever order a meal in Vietnam.
Then we climb back on the bus, and try to fall asleep as we drive ever closer to Laos.