Throughout Indochina, most things are now well geared for the traveller and even better for the tourist. Cheap accomodation and eating places are everywhere, and getting from A to B can be done in a myriad of ways from the typical tour bus replete with requisite Van Damme video to the back of a motorbike-drawn trailer accompanied by chickens and bags of fruit and veges.
The tourist will not have the experience of the local transport, which is a travellers ritual of its own in these parts. The design of local buses caters for locals only, and your typical Western or African male cannot hope to conform to it. The difference in height is sizeable but it seems like the entire difference comes from the length of our legs, hence much cramping in local buses, often with chickens, fruit or cloth taking the space ordinarily reserved for feet.
This is manageable, even on bad roads like that of the laborious 16-hour journey to Dien Bien Phu from Hanoi. That's just part of the adventure. It is other frustrating elements which make it trying.
The touts are the worst, and will rip you off without hesitation, either by making you believe that you're paying for a ticket when you are not, or that your destination is the same as that of the transport you are taking when it is not. The drivers will feign ignorance through poor English, when they are just as complicit. These are the worst moments when travelling and infuriate to the point where frustration will almost boil over into anger.
It is a credit to the nature of fellow travellers, and to the 'bo pan-yang' (it doesn't matter) ethic of the locals, that violence never eventuates despite many instances of rip-offs and of travellers refusing payment.
article published 5/15/2003