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Laos Public Transportation and Life Appreciation

THAILAND | Monday, 14 May 2007 | Views [3074] | Comments [1]

It’s funny.  When you pick the brain of a traveler who has already covered your intended route, you hope for useful and informative feedback and advice.  When you pose the question “where did you eat” or “how did you find the food” you hope to learn which restaurants, pubs, and vendors are good, and which are ok with the occasional six legged protein supplement.  Or if inquiring as to which routes provide the best travel from country to country, you hope to learn that some routes are safe while others are known to be amusement parks for terrorists.  You’re not asking much, I’d say, just looking for a little helpful information, so that one day you too can provide the same for another confederate in the guild of gadabouts.  And invariably, there’s always someone with an answer that pacifies your unease like a binky; that makes it seem that going from point A to point B is as easy as that.  But be forewarned:  the brothers in the fraternity of travelers and their casual stories about the simplicity of travel can seldom be taken at face value.

Just such an experience was ours, these few weeks past.  With only a month to see South East Asia, one week of which had already past and we were only in Laos, we were looking for the most expeditious route from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng.  “Take a bus” we were told, and being the green travelers we are, we decided to give it a shot.  We’d had no previous ill experiences on busses, so why should we expect anything different?

And so, on an unsuspected evening in May, we boarded our bus with a smile, destined for Vang Vieng.  It was supposed to be a 5 hour bus ride.  It was supposed to be non-stop.  It was supposed to be a safe route.  And it was supposed to be an easy ride.  But, as we soon learned, and would continue to learn ad infinitum on future journeys, bus trips in South East Asia are never what they are supposed to be.

Our first indication to the contrary of our suppositions was when we boarded and had to step around the stools in the aisles to get to our seats.  We would later learn that these were for the unlucky late passengers who came after all the cushioned bench seats were full.  We began to further doubt our comfort when they began loading human sized bags of vegetables into the seats behind us, restricting our recline capacity.  At half past 7, the intended departure time, the bus was only half full, there wasn’t a driver in sight, and it seemed that no one had any intention of leaving any time in the near future.  While watching the seconds tick by, we asked the passengers in front of us if we could take a gander at their Lonely Planet for Southeast Asia, which is commonly and affectionately referred to by many as “The Bible”.  Innocently flipping through the section on Laos, we came stumbled upon one of many cautionary warnings to travelers that read a little something like this:  “There is increasing lawlessness and a risk of terrorist action. Be security conscious. Attacks have occurred on buses on Vientiane/Luang Prabang (Route 13). We recommend you travel only in daylight hours.”


And, with the perfect comedic timing of Charlie Chaplain, who walks in but a young man in casual dress with the largest automatic weapon any of us has ever seen.  Perhaps my unease and fear magnified the weapon a bit, but when I say that that boy walked onto our bus toting a bazooka, this is not hyperbole, but, at most, slight exaggeration.  As we followed this freedom fighter to his seat, we were terrified to realize that he was aiming for the back of the bus, and had targeted the row directly in front of ours.  Looking for comfort in anything we could, we were happy to see the driver board the bus, but that happiness was quickly stifled as our driver appeared to be nothing more than the freedom fighter’s school yard chum.  Even with a professional justifier at our disposal, the best we could come up with was that the soldier of fortune was there for our protection, and the bus driver just looked young for his age.  Our only real sense of security came from the monk who sat in the seat behind me, next to the bag of vegetables.  But he was no real help as, once the bus finally started up 45 minutes late, he entered a state of meditation and didn’t surface until we pulled into the station at 2 in the morning.  Thanks a lot.

But this was a two-tiered cake, and for every two-tiered cake, there are two layers of icing on the cake.  The first layer of icing was the route we took.  The roads we traveled were apparently designed 75 years ago by an engineer with a love of sports cars and a vendetta against busses.  The second layer was that we only stopped twice for the whole trip:  once in the middle of the road (about 45 minutes after we passed an overturned pick-up truck) with only the lights of the bus for everyone to pee by, and a second time, honest to God, we stopped and I watched the bus driver run off the bus to the roadside shop, grab a waiting cup of beer, chug it, and jump back behind the wheel.  I can remember looking back at the meditating monk, seeing the serene look of inner peace on his face and wanting to ruin it with a well placed wet willy.

But, we arrived safely; late, but safely.  And the next day we forgot all our woes once we were tubing down the river in Vang Vieng, an activity I highly recommend, especially any one of their 10 GIANT rope swings.

Tags: planes trains & automobiles



Lao people are very kind. You will have a safe and wonderful trip in Laos. I am sure, cause i am Lao. welcome to my country :) Note from the authors: Absolutely!! though the bus trip was tough, we found the people in Laos to be warm and welcoming. We had a wonderful time in the country!

  samakomlao May 14, 2007 9:51 PM



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