Sheryl's Asia trip from 29/09/05 to whenever travel blog

Bamboo 'harvesting' at Nam Xoi, Vietnam

30 December - To Vietnam - Nam Xoi (aka Nam Can)

Got a songthaew which left for Na Meo (the border with Vietnam) at 7am. Also travelling was Claudio, a Frenchman, who writes science fiction and fantasy short stories and has had a book of short stories published (under his name Claude Mamier) which always impresses me. He has a website: which is only in French.He is reasonably attractive but has a terrible speech impediment so that when he tries to enounce certain words his face becomess contorted in quite an ugly way. I guess that's why he is a writer as speaking is a struggle for him. I was glad to have his compan as I had read that it could be quite difficult at the border I had chosen in getting transport on the Vietnamese side, that they charged vastly inflated fares as there was no other way of getting to the next town.

We arrived at the Laos border at 1030am and went to Immigration. We got our bags searched, Claudio's was searched more thoroughly than mine. The official was very interested, however, in my tampons and held one up for his colleague to inspect, who shrugged his shoulders (they don't exist in Laos). When I mimed what they were for it caused quite a bit of embarassed laughter. That put an end to his searching my bag anway.

We then walked to the Vietnamese Immigration and were met by very friendly officials who were keen to speak English with us as, having caught the only songthaew to this border we were due to be the only westerners arriving there today. We went from one person to another and surprisingly our bags were hardly looked at. Many people think this border is shut, and I had indeed got conflicting information as to whether it was or not. They told us that there was no bus today from Nam Xoi, so would either have to stay the night there and the bus tomorrow, or get a motorbike.

As soon as we walked into the town, we were approached by two young men on motorbikes who offered us a ride each for $10 to Quanson, from where they said we could take a bus to Hanoi at 1pm. There was no way I was travelling over 50km on the back of a motorbike without a helmet, and Claudio wouldn't either (although he later told me he probably would have if he had been on his own, despite the fact I told him to do his own thing).

They followed us as we walked through the town, and we were offered a lift in a minibus but that was very expensive. We decided, after much deliberation, to eat some lunch and a man beckoned us into his small shop/cum restaurant/cum living room. There were just two tables, no menu, but we had a very nice lunch - the dishes of the day. I went off to check on the bus time for tomorrow, which I was told would leave for Tanh Hua (near the coast and some considerable distance)at 12 noon, and that there were lots of buses to Hanoi from there. We decided we would do that, and checked into a rest house, agreeing to share a room for $5, a man having told me that it was 'more polished' (I guess he meant it was the cleanest!). It wasn't great, but not a lot of choice in this border town which mainly consists of one road, but would do for one night. There was no Bank or money changers, but fortunately they took Lao kip, of which I had a little left over, or dollars of course.

I did a bit of female bonding with the lady owner called Hung, who had a shop in the front of the rest house selling clothing. I got her to pronounce some Vietnamse phrases, which I instantly forgot, while I helped her with some English, which also proved to be an impossible task. We were joined by Claudio. Some women thought I was his mother (I mean he's 33!). Hung asked our ages, and I think they then thought I was quite old for him as there was a lot of gossip and giggling going on.

In the evening we went back to the same little restaurant but didn't have such a good meal - rice, peanuts and cold green vegetables. We did get a beer although it wasn't cold. Various neighbours came and went, watching the television, children and dogs came in and the owner lit up a huge pipe made of bamboo and proceeded to smoke it and pass it round.

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