I wasn’t too impressed when my alarm went off at 5am on Wednesday 27th July. I got ready quickly and made sure I had everything I needed. I had given Captain Caveman some of my stuff to make my bag a bit lighter but I made sure I had snacks, spare clothes, a travel towel and pillow. I hoped I would get some more sleep during the journey and was pleased we had paid 1,000,000vnd (£35) for the sleeper bus, rather than the 850,000vnd for the mini-van. I arrived at the Lynn Visa office, the Danang pick up point, in plenty of time and saw people getting in the mini-van. No one checked who I was or spoke to me but, as Lynn herself got in the mini-van, she shouted to a group of us that her husband was on his way. Within a few minutes Lynn’s husband was there, as well as a bright yellow bus. I was the second person to get on and I chose the second seat, bottom deck, behind the driver, hoping to avoid sunlight on the way there. The bus wasn’t full but there were still plenty enough passengers and I wondered how quiet it would be. By 5.50am I was comfortably reclined in my seat and as ready as I would ever be for the journey. The bus itself was comfortable, it wasn’t the spangly new blue bus depicted on the Lynn Visa Facebook page but it was no worse than the usual sleeper buses around. It could have done with a bit of a clean in between trips as there were bits of food on my window ledge but there was a blanket provided for each passenger and the AC was wonderfully cool. We were due to set off at 6am and we did so exactly on time, Mr Lynn Visa had us all check that we had our passports and that our visas matched the details on the passports. He didn’t check any of our names or count us so I wondered if anyone may have missed the bus if they were late. I had a little nap and then woke up at 7.20am for the toilet stop and to see we were almost half way to Hue. I let Captain Caveman know my progress and went back to the bus, remembering to remove my shoes (it is expected to take your shoes off on sleeper buses) then more napping. We didn’t stop at Hue to pick anyone else up so I wondered if that may have been the (logistical) reason to charge Captain Caveman so much for a drop off there on our way. By 9.40am we had another toilet break at a nice service station then were passing through Dong Ha, making good progress to be at the Lao Bao border before lunch.
At 11.30am we were minutes away from the border crossing when Mr Lynn Visa announced that we would be stopping for our lunch break. Now, I know we are in Vietnam and it is customary for Vietnamese people to eat lunch early, but I wasn’t bothered about a stop for lunch. Everyone got in the queue and it looked like a meal of chicken, rice, veggies and tofu was on offer but I can’t comment on the price or taste of it as I had a banana which I brought with me. I took advantage of a toilet break, which weren’t bad at the restaurant and they had soap. I got back on the bus before the others to find one of the passengers was noisily eating crisps so I had a cracker and a GF chocolate cookie.
Once everyone was back on the bus, we drove 2 minutes and got off again. It was hot as we walked with our passports and visas to the immigration desks. I got chatting to a couple of passengers as we waited inside the main building, which was very hot. After about an hour, we were sent to exit Vietnam in small groups, once we had been stamped out of Vietnam and had our passports back. There was a bit of a wait and I was one of the last to do the walk in the hot sun to the Laos entry point. One of our group had bad legs and really struggled, plus the sun was relentless and no shade at all. The walk was only about 10 minutes but I wish I’d brought a hat and suncream as I felt my face burning.
As I walked in to the small immigration office on the Laos side, Lynn Visa was at the counter assisting people. We had to show our passport and give $45 in clean notes to the official. We also gave Lynn Visa 100,000vnd for the Vietnamese exit stamp. It was hot and there was a second fan which had the plug cut off. Everyone was extremely sweaty and there were not enough chairs for people to sit down while they waited. For those people who didn’t have their passport-sized photos, as requested by Lynn Visa, you could pay $5 to the immigration and they would take one for you. This would have probably been a cheaper option for me, given that I got a taxi to and from a photo shop to get mine, but sometimes it’s good to just be prepared and means we weren’t waiting as long. When I gave my dollars the $1 and $2 notes were not new, so they wouldn’t take them and I ended up giving a $50 note for my Laos visa. If you don’t have dollars or they aren’t in good enough condition, they will allow you to pay in Vietnamese Dong and Lynn Visa did inform me of this before the trip.
After waiting a while, we were again given passports back in various batches and were told we could take the walk back to the Vietnam immigration point. We were also told a few times not to put any money with our passports or visa and, if asked, not to give any money and to say we were with Lynn Visa for the visa run. Again, I was one of the last and I got chatting to a couple of the other passengers. We noticed a golf buggy vehicle outside and discovered for 10,000vnd (£0.35) we could get a ride between the immigration points. Well, I was pretty surprised that we weren’t told about this, considering Lynn Visa does this trip once or twice per week. When we asked Lynn Visa about it, she said she hadn’t recommended it because her preference is to walk. A few of us got on the golf buggy and went back, shocked that the lady with the bad leg had struggled when she could have had transport so cheaply. Once back at the Vietnamese entry/exit point we had another wait for our entry stamp, the one which was going to allow us to stay in Vietnam until 26th August.
By 2.50pm I was finally through immigration and back on Vietnamese soil for another 30 days. I checked my passport and visa stamp to ensure they were correct then walked to the bus. I decided to go look for a place to get a cold drink and a toilet break and found a lovely cafe hidden behind a big lorry. It was clean and only 15,000vnd (£0.53) for a cold green tea. While I was there I saw 2 English passengers from our bus who had not been able to complete their visa run so they were going to be trying again tomorrow. It was not long after 3pm when we were all back on the bus, except for those 2 passengers, and heading back. Everyone but me and 2 Irish girls were going back to Danang, I’d asked Mr Lynn Visa if he knew where in Hue we would get dropped off, so that I could ask Captain Caveman to arrange a taxi for me. He said he didn’t know so when Lynn Visa herself got on our bus, to travel back with us, I checked with her. She said they weren’t able to drop off in Hue city but it would be near by. I couldn’t get the exact location from her but I explained I didn’t have access to Grab and wanted to arrange for my other half to sort out my lift. At 4.50pm we were back at the nice services again and making good progress to be back in Hue before 7pm. I asked again about the location of the drop off but I still didn’t get to find out where it was, just reassurance from Lynn Visa it would be as near to Hue as possible and there would be taxis available from there. At 5.40pm I let Captain Caveman know I was 28km away from where he was and looked like I would get dropped off shortly.
Unfortunately, the bus suddenly stopped 22km away from Hue on the main road and dropped us off outside a phone shop at around 6pm. There was me and the 2 young Irish girls with all their luggage, I messaged Captain Caveman with our location and he would get us a taxi. There were 2 old guys on motorbikes telling us they could take us to Hue for 200,000vnd (£7) each and it would be about a 30 minute drive. They had no spare helmets and we had too much luggage between us so I politely said ‘no thank you’. Captain Caveman called me to say he was having trouble getting us a car and to go in to the shop to ask them to call a taxi, I could hardly hear what he was saying because of the noise of the busy road. None of us were too happy that we had been dropped off so far away, with no real plan of how to get to Hue but eventually Anna, one of the Irish girls, got us a Grab taxi and we went to their accomodation. It cost another 250,000vnd to get to the centre of Hue from where Lynn Visa chose to drop us off. None of us were expecting the extra expense but we were glad that there was 3 of us to share the cost. The motorbike drivers continued hassling us quite a bit and it was stressing me out.
Captain Caveman decided to get a taxi to come to meet me, and my new travel buddies, at Hue Backpackers. By 8pm we were in the bar having a (much needed) cold drink and laughing about the whole fiasco. I was definitely glad I had not been alone at the drop off point, somewhere not that near to Hue. We were also fortunate that it was still light and the weather was incredibly dry and hot.
Captain Caveman and I were meant to be going out for dinner but I no longer had time to go back to our homestay to change and had to do so in the toilet of the restaurant.
I was hot, sweaty, hungry and tired as we got to La Jardin de la Carambole and we finally got to eat (my first meal of the day) at 9pm. We both had the French onion soup to start and the duck for main and it was very enjoyable. We had a nice bottle of white wine and it was good to have done the visa run successfully, despite the 14 hours it took from start to finish.
After our meal, we got a taxi to our accommodation, The Purple Hue Homestay, where we had a ground floor room with a separate bathroom outside of the room and adjoining the communal kitchen. The place was nice but I hadn’t brought pyjamas and the bath towels were not big enough for Western women to cover everything up at once. The shower was very good, with toiletries provided and it felt good to finally be clean again.
The bed was comfy with great pillows and I was fast asleep in no time. Tomorrow we would go back to Phong Nha again, where we’d be until the end of August.