4:00am: I wake up in a sketchy guesthouse that, with crooked floors and hexagonal dimensions, better resembles a funhouse.
4:30am: A gang of saber-toothed street dogs chase me through the dark alleyways of charmless Muang Khua all the way to the river.
5:00am: Standing with two backpacks (big and small, front and back) I balance on a rocking canoe as I cross the Nam Ou in the pitch black of night.
5:05am: The boat captain’s friend pushes me as I’m balancing, demanding money. Am I buying into some illegal crossing? Are we about to storm the Alamo? I give him what he wants.
8:00am: It’s light out and we stop, waiting for the dirt road to open in our direction.
8:10am: I squat over a hole for my usual, early-morning bout of diarrhea while cursing myself for the mystery meat I ate the previous week. Knees trembling, I vow a strict vegetarian diet.
8:17am: I am invited to join four Vietnamese men for breakfast (Beer Lao and some rice whiskey). We drink and smile while watching psychedelic music videos on the television.
8:30am: I feel dizzy.
9:00am: I get back on the bus and squeeze into a seat where I (small and thin) can barely fit. To my right, men laze atop piles of rice as if on bean bags while, up front, women plopped on a mat primp each other’s hair. The bus cum party chugs along.
11:00am: On a dusty road that looks destined for the moon, the bus loses its traction, sliding backwards. I scream, everyone laughs, and we continue forward inching closer to China than Vietnam.
12:30pm: We reemerge above the clouds at the alpine border with Vietnam. The guards are on a lunch break. We will have to wait.
12:31pm: But while we wait, a prim comrade leads us to a statue of the great leader Ho Chi Minh. Do we know about him? Do we know about the American War? Are there any Americans here? Would I like to know more about Ho Chi Minh or some destinations in Vietnam where I can learn about the atrocities of the war?
1:00pm: Everyone’s visas have been processed… except mine.
1:15pm: I am free to enter Nam.
3:00pm: I arrive in Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam after ten hours of travel. We have gone approximately one-hundred kilometers, averaging an astonishing ten kilometers an hour.
6:00pm: I catch an overnight bus to Hanoi sharing a pink bed with a mentally retarded man. He smiles a lot.
4:00am (the next day): I arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam with zero stampable pages left in my passport. (I will be stuck here for a while!)