Wrapped up in very little besides thick fog and damp air we looked at each other and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. This was far beyond the brochure image of white sands and curious coves . We had practically been thrown off a vehicle we had jumped in from Luang Prabang. In the mid day sun in a bustling village of smiling faces and the smell of spices warming your senses it seemed a sensible mode of transport to cross the border in? We laughed when at what we had considered was maximum capacity a local man carrying a sack of corn hopped leisurely on board as though there was acres of room for him, his corn and a traveling circus. We laughed even more when we stopped to let a woman and her chickens climb on board. Funnier still was that no one seemed to question the corn, the poultry or the traveling circus. We continued in the sun happy to be care free, best friends on a lifetime adventure together. At what point our smiles of joy were etched away by fear and concern was as clear as the fog that surrounded us. It was a dawning realisation that we had been naïve, that we had grown too big for our Havana's, which we now stood ridiculously in amongst the mist and rain. We had been abandoned at the roadside, cast aside in god only knows where, and as the van drove away with a faint echo of laughter, so did our unspoken thoughts that we were invincible.
Through the grey a man emerged and hurriedly ushered us to a room bearing nothing but a stained, worn away mattress, he vanished almost as soon as he had appeared. Dark, cold and tired we could do nothing but try to sleep and await our fate the next day. Had it not been for anther traveller who introduced himself over breakfast, a Dutch man who spoke good English, we would have considered our lives lost to our own careless stupidity. But he was here on the same pretence as us, that this was a legitimate journey through to Vietnam. If we had been conned and foolish then so had, by my own reckoning this intelligent man. I would have felt less stupid at this point, but we were still travelling with hair straighteners and no jumper! After tea with condensed milk and a boiled egg of bluish yolk we left whatever it was we had resided in for the night. Children emerged looking curiously at us for a moment and then continued in their play, I began to feel a little more at ease. The two of us were once again on the roadside but we were a three now and it was not a crowd. It was a hope that however unconventional this journey had been, we might reach our destination. Armed with a Dutch man equipped with a map and some notion of where we needed to head for, several trucks, and chucks later we arrived at the border gate. In the knowledge we were corruptly being taken advantage of, we handed over all our money in every currency we possessed to a stern man in uniform. We didn't argue or haggle, It seemed a small exchange for our lives.
I can't recall how we parted ways with the Dutch man? We must have exchanged farewells and wished one another a safe and happy onward trip but the details are murky. I do remember just how grateful I was for his very presence that day, and although he never showed it and took leadership of the situation remaining calm and controlled, I'm certain the feeling of relief that he was not alone was mutual. Vietnam proved a destination worth the struggle to get to. We were not conned or fooled, and I don't believe our lives were ever once in jeopardy. We may have been exploited, paying way over the odds, but that is the price we paid for being naïve foreigners, and worth more than that is the lesson we learnt. Travel is a great adventure and the excitement is largely in not knowing where you are going or how to get there, but don't get cocky and don't ever think that you are well travelled and worldly wise because you wear a tie dye bandanna and have supped a few mango shakes. Consider the risks, the 'what ifs' and be prepared, a back pack has no place for hair straighteners, travel with a map and messy hair!!