After a few restful, pastry-filled days in Luang Prabang we started our journey to Vientiane – the capital of Laos. We figured going by bus would be our best and most economical option. In addition, the route is scenic, peaceful, and we figured we could get some stuff done i.e. work on the blog, READ, journal, etc. since we wouldn’t be doing anything. The ride was scheduled to be about 8 hours. Yes, I know that’s a long time but, we would break for lunch so it would basically be 2 4-hour rides. Not bad. We also opted for the “VIP” bus (you know us!) which included fancy chairs and a bathroom, so we figured it really couldn’t be that bad especially since we always load up on snacks. We’d leave at 8am and arrive just in time for dinner. Thank the lord, we already had our hotel booked. You’ll realize why this was a blessing at the end of this post.
When booking our tickets, the sales ladies were adamant that we be there no later than 7am however further conversation confirmed we really should be there by 7:30. Still early by our standards but after the nightmare bus we almost got on from Pai to Mae Hong Son – we didn’t want to chance it. We arrived and boarded the double decker bus. Everything seemed fine and in working order… until we realized it was 8:30 and we still had not left. Driver is hanging outside, conducting water cooler talk while we passengers are twiddling our thumbs. We finally get on our way around 9am and thats when it began: swaying side to side, enough to make us have to adjust ourselves every 3 minutes otherwise we’d have been in the aisle on the floor. In addition to being tossed like a rag doll, the driver (and all drivers on Rt 13) would constantly honk to let other drivers know they were coming around the bend. This combined with the gentle tossing made it impossible to catch any z’s.
It was just past 1pm and we were cruising along picturesque hills and valleys when I noticed that we were not moving. Or rather, the driver would push the gas, we wouldn’t move, and then he’d hit the brakes. The driver engaged in this little song and dance for about 5 minutes and then we got the word: Get off the bus, we’re broken down.
It was at this point we noticed a clear divide between locals and westerners because all the westerners believed that there was no way that we wouldn’t be on our way in a few (naive). I mean, we were in the middle of no where. And we were on the VIP bus. Surely, they’ve called for another bus to come rescue us ASAP and continue on our journey. The locals however knew what was up because immediately after deboarding the bus, they started walking. To where, we had no idea; us westerners thought it best to stay with the bus to be the first on the rescue us. However hours later, one of the locals came back to report that there’s actually a restaurant just up the road. We went up to join the masses, ate, came back and still found the bus driver and his minions still doing the same thing, seemingly making no progress.
About 4 hours had passed, meaning nightfall was a concern and left us wondering: What will we do? Sleep on the bus? Hitchhike? Walk? After struggling to get a status on what was going on, we grabbed our bags, took our our flashlights and started walking…back to the restaurant. Surely this was a better place to wait for the supposed “rescue bus” that had left at 6pm from our original departure local (mind you, the bus broke down at 1pm) and wouldn’t arrive to get us until about 10pm. Our comrades opted to wait next to the bus alongside chickens, pigs, and other farm animals was the way to go.
The restaurant owner, Lucky, was super sweet. She assured us that we’d definitely catch a bus going to Vientiane. So much so that she put up a sign in Thai or Laotian to stop to pick us up. Still thinking we’d have to hitchhike if the rescue bus never came, every time we saw lights approach the restaurant, we ran to the road, waving flashlights to signal to stop. We watched about 4 buses pass by. Maybe hitchhiking is not a thing in Laos. It was about 8pm at this point. We felt that it would be a good idea to get back to our fellow passengers. While we felt pretty strongly they would stop to pick us up if the rescue bus did come, there was no guarantee. We were about to leave when a bus approached and gave us a ride down the hill. Amazing!! And as we passed our fellow passengers sitting by the side of the road by candlelight, we saw the rescue bus!!! Hallelujah!! We’re saved!!!
Luckily, we were the first on to the bus and got a seat. Some others weren’t so lucky: they had to sit on a stool in the aisle. Frequent stops, pitch black roads, potholes, and sharp turns made for a not so pleasant ride. We arrived to some place… at 4am. 8 hours after we were supposed to. We managed to get to our hotel and hit the sack. Applause for bus travel in Southeast Asia!