06 Dec 2013 Crossing the Laos/Vietnam Border with a Crocodile
When I saw the bag on the seat opposite me moving on its own accord, I did a double take. When I looked again, it was perfectly still. I rubbed my face and presumed that it was sleep deprivation that was making me delusional.
I was at the bus station in Savannakhet (Laos) sitting on a dilapidated coach, bound to Hue (Vietnam) and just relieved that I had two seats to stretch out my ungainly, almost two-metre frame, to sleep away the next seven hours of travel time.
A bag moving on its own accord wasn’t going to occupy my thoughts and prevent me from getting the rest I needed.
This bus was chosen because after a few weeks in Thailand and Laos – spent travelling in taxis or on air-conditioned tourist buses with fellow backpackers, speaking English, acting English and doing nothing more parochial than drinking the local beer – I craved something more authentic. I had been advised by my travel guidebook that local buses were a great way of experiencing the ‘real’ Southeast Asia.
It was with this in mind; I set off, on my own, for the bus station, in search of my great adventure. The coach was certainly authentically Iocal; there was nothing touristy like legroom or clean windows to look out of.
When the bus got going, I then realised that it was also lacking in that thing that made the tourist buses more comfortable. Suspension.
Sleep, predictably, now proved more difficult than I thought it would be. Along with the lack of comfort, a mixture of Boney M playing on the TV at ear-splitting volume, two teenage girls listening to different pop music on their mobile phones at loud volume – and singing along even louder – all polluted my ‘blocks all noise’ ear plugs. I made the best of what I could do in this situation, as there was no other farang to talk to, and read some more from my guidebook. It told me:
‘Tourist buses really isolate travellers from the rest of Southeast Asia, as few local people travel this way.’
With this thought rattling round my cerebrum, I began feeling really smug with myself. I was making an effort to blend in with the locals and I would surely be rewarded for my efforts.
There was then a shrill scream from a woman at the front that rose high above all the sounds on the bus, shattering any lingering notions of tranquillity or ideas of assimilation.
A man started to crawl on his hands and knees underneath the seats towards the front of the coach, as many passengers shouted and pointed frenziedly. People jumped up off their chairs and ran from the front of the coach to the back. The driver swivelled round – whilst continuing to drive very fast – to get a full view of what was happening. I stopped everything and stared at what developed before me.
The crawling man had now risen to his feet to a round of applause and audible sighs. He was grabbing hold of something I couldn’t quite see and lifting it up like a trophy. He walked to the back of the bus to the seat opposite me. He passed whatever he had in his hands to the woman sat there, who had remained passive throughout.
It was a baby crocodile.
She looked the crocodile in the eye, gave him a quick once over, followed by a gentle stroke, and then placed it calmly back in the bag I had seen moving a few hours ago.
My guidebook was right; local transport had given me a more adventurous and authentic experience. It provided me with both a narrow escape from a nasty nip and, more importantly, from a holiday without any local flavour.
I sat back in wonder for the rest of the journey. Firstly for the bravery of the man who captured the crocodile but mainly for knowing that my fellow passengers get to experience bizarre happenings like this on a regular basis. What a wonderful life they must have when even a routine border crossing turns into an adventure.
About the Author: Robert Davies-I am 36 years old and from England. I am currently living in Bangkok having moved here with my girlfriend. One of my many passions is travelling and I have had many adventures such as this one. My other hobbies include reading, cinema and sports. Find me on Facebook.