Vietnam cannot

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

  • It’s just before 7am as my awful overnight ‘disco bus‘ arrived at the border between Laos and Vietnam. The torment of piercingly loud Laos pop relented for a mere 58 minutes on the ride here from Vientiane. Those 58 blissful minutes of pop-free air might have been restful had it not been for the perilous condition of the track from Savannakhet to the border and the drivers apparent fascination with the internal lights that he constantly turned on and off for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

    I’ve experienced some less than pleasant journeys in my life, but as we rolled to a stop at the Laos Vietnam border it’s fair to say that I was over the ‘romance’ of this particular journey. However, despite the fact I’d been on the bus for some 13 hours already, there were still at least another ten hours to go once we cleared immigration.

    At the Vietnamese passport control office I stepped up to the window and handed my passport and visa to the immigration officer through the small opening in the window. Like all immigration officers he looked at my passport and visa with that glazed expression they all manage to perfect. Opening the passport at my photograph he looked at my picture, looked at me, then looked back at the picture, then back at me. I stood there as he continued to examine my passport and the various stamps. I thought he was perhaps interested in where I had been, but it soon became clear that wasn’t the case.

    “Cannot.” He said without a trace of any expression on his face.

    “Cannot?” I replied. “Cannot what?”

    “Vietnam cannot.” He said, pushing my passport back to me through the opening in the glass.

    Pointing at my visa I began asking what the problem was, but he just cut me off and waved the next person forward. It was a pointless exercise anyway because nobody at the border spoke a word of English. ‘Cannot’ wasn’t helpful, but nonetheless it was clear that I wasn’t going to enter Vietnam today.

    I walked back across no-mans-land to Laos where, after waking up the immigration officer, I explained that I needed to re-enter the country. The problem was that my single entry visa had been stamped as used when I left the country a little while earlier. That didn’t seem to worry the officer though. He simply wrote a note and stapled it into my passport with my expired Visa. I have no idea what it says, but with that he waved me passed his rope barrier then reclined back in his chair and closed his eyes.

    After a while I found a local bus that could take me back to Savannakhet, some 180 miles (290 Km’s) and more than 7 hours away. I’ll fix my visa issue there tomorrow then return to the border by bus to hopefully find dramaless passage into Vietnam.

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