If you are a foreigner you will get yelled at.
And pushed to the coffin-like shelf for five at the back of the bus.
Comparing notes with others who’d traveled the “VIP” sleeper bus between Vietnam and Laos yielded the same story and the same advice: Stand your ground. Yell back. Assert your right to a seat (it’s first come first served) and Watch your ass (the driver will likely try to grab it).
Well, he didn’t grab mine (I’ve never seen myself as the kind of gal who gets her ass grabbed), but he did grab my wrists and go in for a kiss with his obnoxiously puckered lips, at which point I ducked my head, pulled out of his loose grip, and gave him a few solid punches he wasn’t expecting.
He wasn’t as overtly philistine with the local travelers. Instead he’d conveniently plant himself in the aisle when a young woman tried to get by so they’d have no choice but to rub their frontside up against his backside.
And let me tell you, the thinly veiled look of pleasure on his face was enough for me to wish castration upon him.
After a couple of us six foreign travelers (we’d banded together for the bus ride) fearfully snuck ourselves into proper sleeper seats, I made a frantic call to my host in Vietnam who must’ve called connections and advocated for us somehow, because five minutes after my call one of the drivers grumpily nodded his ok for us to be in actual seats.
For his next trick, however, he plopped himself down in the aisle next to the Danish girl, flung his arm over her thigh, and pretended to fall asleep.
Not cool, buddy.
I was keeping an eye on him (giving him my meanest “teacher look”) from the top bunk while she squirmed to keep him off when I noticed the green plastic loop of my safety whistle dangling out of his back pocket.
How did he get his hands on it?
Not feeling completely safe, I’d put it in my pants pocket for the ride. Had it fallen out? Or had he pulled it out of my pocket?
I was furious and whispered to her to fish it out for me. She did and handed it back and he was none the wiser, but I was even more on guard for the rest of the ride, until he took his turn behind the wheel. Although his driving was as reckless as his behavior so it was only a mild comfort. At least his hands were occupied.
The only guy in our pack, an American, saw and did nothing. (To anyone who suggests women are safer traveling with men, I disagree and use this as exhibit A.) I suggested he offer his top bunk and take her bottom one so she could at least sleep without fear of molestation. He offered and won the gentleman of the year award in her eyes. I didn’t mention it was my idea (but I’m mentioning it here because he shouldn’t get all the credit for his “chivalrous” move).
We did, in the end, make it in one piece to Vientiane, Laos, thanks to the gods that be, moral support from other travelers, and the kindness of a few English speaking Vietnamese and Laotians on the bus who translated, explained things, and stood up for us.
I felt bad when those back of the bus seats were eventually filled, but the issue for me was more than the seats, it was how we (and others) were treated on the bus. Days later when I boarded the bus to Thailand I was terrified I’d have the same experience, but I’m happy to report all went smoothly, sanely, and politely.
It could certainly have been worse, but next time I ask myself “how bad could it be?” I’ll remember that bus ride to Laos.