Rolled out of Sam Neua on our Vietnam bound bus as the sun was coming up, a beautiful sight over such a picturesque location, then promptly rolled back through town in search of extra cargo and passengers! Eventually after an hour or so of stopping round town we were on our way through yet more incredible scenery to Na Maew – Nam Xoi on the Laos/Vietnam border. A pretty remote place to cross and apparently not very easy – on the contrary, it was probably easier than the average European border crossing! Had our passports stamped on both sides without any hint of being charged a ‘stamping fee’ or a ‘weekend fee’ and the Vietnam border guards even let me look at some Laos and Vietnamese passports and taught us how to say hello, thank you and goodbye while we waited! Our bus then decided to take an hour or so stop for lunch so the nice border guards pointed us in the direction of some food and then finally we were back on our way. As if by magic, the moment we crossed into Vietnam the driver turned into a nutter even though the roads were exactly the same as in Laos! Whizzed past yet more beautiful scenery beeping at everything on and off the road – normally the horn is used as a defensive tactic, this guy was anything but defensive! After a few more hours of windy mountain roads we finally came to some straight roads (where the driver proceeded to drive even more recklessly if that’s possible) past endless flat landscapes of rice paddies punctuated by the odd river or karst outcrop.
Made it to Thanh Hoa in one piece and were immediately set upon by moto drivers and taxi drivers eager to rip us off! Escaped to find a hotel just near the bus station and find some foe (noodle soup) for dinner, much tastier than the average Laos noodle soup – and surprisingly even cheaper despite everyone warning us Vietnam was way more expensive! Hotel was pretty run down, the first room didn’t have a closing door and the second wasn’t a lot better although at least we could lock up! Bit of a shock coming from Laos where everyone is so chilled out and peaceful to the hectic pace of life in Vietnam where everyone wants to sell you something and the roads are horrendous to cross because of the number of motorbikes – plus it’s even hotter than Laos (which was hot enough already!). After some more foe for breakfast we headed off to Hanoi on a public bus – another crazy experience! First our driver raced another Hanoi bound bus around the city trying to get as many passengers as possible and pulling off some horrendous driving in the process including blocking a dual carriageway just to park in front of the enemy bus! Pretty sure we hit something as we spend round Thanh Hoa, but eventually we got on the road to Hanoi where the driving got worse – no wonder they have so many road accident fatalities per year – we had so many near misses it wasn’t funny! Made it to Hanoi about lunch time where the fun really begins!