Waiting. I hate waiting. I also hate it when others are late. It’s irksome at best and makes me feel outraged at worst. Mostly, I feel listless and annoyed when waiting for others to show up.

Waiting, as it seems, is also an integral and unavoidable aspect of traveling; especially budget overland traveling in the laid-back and seemingly unorganized backwaters of South East Asia.

Rumbling along in a packed mini-bus is often the cheapest and easiest way to travel. Be prepared to wait though!

Rumbling along in a packed mini-bus is often the cheapest and easiest way to travel. Be prepared to wait though!

As I write this, we are on hour #3 of waiting for a mini-bus that may or may not take us across the Cambodia-Laos border. It was supposed to be a quick bus change (“15 minutes!” our previous driver had yelled out the window while pulling away in a cloud of dust), but here we still are, abandoned under a sheet metal hut on the side of the road with a handful of other backpackers in the middle of Cambodia. No instructions, no communication, no information readily available as to the continuity of our trip – so we wait. In dust-coated hammocks or on old fruit crates, playing cards, slapping flies and quietly chatting, we wait…

This has happened so many times over the past month or so, I’m not even surprised anymore. Some examples:

  • The mini-buses in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are often late. If they say it leaves at 7am, you can easily still be waiting for departure hours later. Picking up other clients, trying to get paid or having breakfast seem to be some of the causes of these delays.
  • A train or bus journey will always take longer than advertised (even if you have obtained an official bus schedule, as I tried to explain to a very exasperated older French lady the other day). The most impressive case of tardiness (thus far) was a night train from Hanoi to Danang which was meant to take 12 hours…we arrived more than 19 hours later.
  • Any tour or group activity will inevitably leave you stranded at a guesthouse/small café/side of road at some point of the trip. This happened when we visited Mai Chau (2 hours late in the morning and then 3 hours late in the evening, not counting the 3 hour taxi ride which more than doubled in length).
  • Traveling with a photographer. I love love love his creativity and passion, and the photos he produces are not only amazing, but are wonderful memories for us. It does mean, however, that I am often left tapping my toes in the hot sun and dust as he slooshes through rice fields to get “that perfect shot”.
My beloved, as I often see him, behind the lens. Here he was waiting for the perfect sunset over waterfalls in Donlé Sap nature reserve, Vietnam.

My beloved, as I often see him, behind the lens. Here he was waiting for the perfect sunset over waterfalls in Donlé Sap nature reserve, Vietnam.

  • Vietnamese coffee. This stuff is worth the wait! This liqueur-like brew takes easily 10 minutes to drip through the double filter and accumulate, thick and warm, in the bottom of the cup. As a coffee addict, my morning cuppa can feel sort of torturous, as I sit groggy-eyed waiting for that first shot of caffeine of the day.
Waiting for the caviar of coffees, a small dark gulp of Vietnamese brew, always served with a weak green tea to wash it down.

Waiting for the caviar of coffees, a small dark gulp of Vietnamese brew, always served with a weak green tea to wash it down.

The opportunities to wait are plentiful every day. And we’ve started thinking of them as just that: opportunities rather than a waste of time. If gives us the opportunity to really observe our surrounding in the road-side cafés. It gives us the opportunities to try our (extremely limited) language skills with the locals. It gives us the opportunity to chat with fellow travelers and pick up some unique destination tips. It gives us the opportunity to read, write, take photos, sleep, eat, think and sometimes just be.

We’ll eventually get where we’re going. And even if we don’t, we will have had a great time…waiting and all.