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Tag Archives: Bus travel

Laos – a nostalgic collection

So it’s been a year since I properly travelled Laos. Of course, it’s only appropriate that I now make a video compilation of a bunch of the footage from those two separate trips.

While in Laos with Melissa in January 2012, we visited Vang Vieng and I fell in love with the views, but not the cheesy tourists making a mess of the town. We trekked through the mountains and countryside, kayaked down rivers, and stayed overnight in a Khmu village in Luang Prabang.

I also returned later, in April 2012, on a more interesting method of transport, to float down the river on an inner tube, contributing to the whole mess that the town is currently in. I’m happy that I was able to tube the river while everything was still open, so that I could see just how dangerous it was and so that I could actively contribute to the conversation about what Vang Vieng did wrong in terms of tourism and how they can turn it around in the future. For more information into the drunken beating this town took, the government crackdown, and how they’re currently doing, check out this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. (Appropriate source, since most of the deaths / drunken idiots where more often than not 18 year old Aussie’s.)

Unfortunately my old camera didn’t take the best video quality. Which I’m really sad about. I also wasn’t really thinking about taking the best video footage at the time, but nonetheless I spent some time yesterday working with a crappy downloaded free program (that is so different from Final Cut that it actually made me cry inside a little bit) to make this for you, friends.

Enjoy.

Bus travel in Laos = a death wish

In the process of obtaining my B-Visa, I had to make the trek into Laos to go to the Thai Embassy. So after me and another teacher, Raiyna, got our passports back, we decided that we would stay an extra few days and head to Vang Vieng since we had some time before school training starts.

Somehow, we got dropped of at the public bus station, so ended up taking one of the local buses into Vang Vieng. The bus itself was the oldest I’ve seen on the road and was completely rammed full of people, filling every seat and even on the platform at the front that I thought was for luggage. While we waited, people climbed on top of the bus to rope their luggage and shopping onto the top, throwing bags from the ground to whoever’s job it was to tie everything down.

After finally getting going did we fully realize the shape the bus was in. Every time it would stop, it would chug and shake and rattle to get going again. Having a comfortable, air conditioned bus to compare it to from the first time I made the trek with Melisa, I was laughing hysterically at the state of the bus and at us for being the crazy farang on it. We swore that it wouldn’t make it, but it was at least amusing to all the village kids that we passed who laughed at us and the bus as it tried to start up again. Stalling and shaking and generally making a gigantic amount of noise.

After chugging up the steep inclines where I swore we were going to roll backwards, and down steep hills where I was only praying that we didn’t fly off the cliff taking the turn at the bottom, we finally got to Vang Vieng. I grabbed my bags, admired the imprints of my fingers on the seat in front of me from gripping and praying that we would make it and jumped off the bus.

The only ride that I have to compare to the terrifying Laos roads would be the pick-up truck drive on Koh Phangan in the rain. Even in a mini-van (or maybe especially in a mini-van because they’re driving faster) I feel like I can see my life flashing before my eyes. There are no rules on Laos roads, passing happens on corners, hills, between two other cars if there’s room (or even if there isn’t: they’ll make room). Making it even more ridiculous are the abundance of cows, water buffalo, goats and kids that you have to avoid while plummeting down the road.

It makes all other travel seem like a piece of cake. I’m looking forward to a relaxing train ride to Chiang Mai for Songkran (Thailand New Years) in a couple days, despite being stuck in a metal box it won’t feel like traveling after the 30+ hours I’ve spent in buses in the past week.

From Chiang Mai to Vang Vieng

Leaving Pai resulted in three nervous breakdowns and an almost fist fight between a Thai woman and a Turkish woman. We watched a bus come and people start getting on it, and thought that our tickets reserved our spot. Rookie mistake. We didn’t realize that we were supposed to check-in and double check in to reserve our spot on the bus. So, while the bus was full and sitting there we were pleading our case about all the connections we had to make and then one woman said the next bus was coming at 4:00. Since it was currently 2:00 and the three of us had connections with the hour upon arriving in Chiang Mai we were all slightly stressed out. After the time miscommunication and some frantic screaming, we were assured that there was a bus coming within 20 minutes.

After finally getting on the bus and getting to Chiang Mai, I narrowly avoided a possibly very public and very emotional goodbye and we plopped down our bags, checked our watch and headed off for dinner.

Notice a step missing?

We didn’t check in at the desk. So for the second time that day, we didn’t check in. Not until we noticed another large group of people with their passports at the desk did we realize that we were going to miss another bus, so we went up and handed our passports over and got our names on the list for the next bus.

Eventually the bus left, what was supposed to be 7:00 turned into 8:30, but we were on the road.

Driving down a Thai highway is a lot like driving down any highway unless you see the road signs. We could have been anywhere in the world. So we just cuddled up and tried to sleep through countless 7-11 bathroom stops and 4 loud girls from New Zealand in the back.

The border was uneventful; we filled out our departure cards, got our passports stamped and Visa’s issued and we were on our way. We were surprised at how pricey the Visa was since we had read on the internet that it was $35US, but we had to pay 1,800 Baht. We took a Songthaew into Vientienne where we waited for a big bus to take us on to Vang Vieng. This time we were prepared to jump on that bus as soon as it arrived to ensure our spot.

The ride into Vang Vieng was beautiful, through villages and up and down mountain sides. Many times the driver had to stop and honk at cows and goats to move out of the road. In many places the paved road gave out to gravel and I learned later that it’s because the roads are new, but they’re not paved properly, so every time there is a big rainfall, it washes out the road.

Arriving was such a relief, we had picked a place to stay out of Melisa’s book and grabbed our bags and headed out in search of it. However, since Vang Vieng is known as a party town because of the tubing down the river and bucket drinks, everything that was remotely cheap and clean seemed booked so we just grabbed a room at an upper class place with the most wonderful view in the world.

After hitting the bank machine to get some KIP ($1 = 7,800 KIP! I’m a millionaire!!) and dropping off some laundry, we proceeded to grab something to eat and drink. And so the night begins. Almost immediately, we met one of the adopted locals, an American who has been coming back here for 9 years to teach English, give Chiropractic care to the people here and run a restaurant in town. They actually completed an adoption ceremony to accept him into the family that consisted of the sacrifice of a couple chickens, a lot of candles and a shaman, and n ow most of the town calls him “poppa.” Him and his partner fed us Lao Lao, essentially Laotian moonshine, and we were able to ask him all our questions and they took us on a tour of the towns best bars. We were thoroughly upset by the 19-year old crowd (or younger?!?!) and called it an early night. Also, exhaustion and drinking hard liquor don’t mix very well. The crowd here seem to be as rowdy and reckless as the Haad Rin crowd that we constantly made fun of at Haad Tien, except that here there is a constant stream of people coming and going and the party continues every day of the week.

The weirdest thing about this town is that every other restaurant plays Friends on the big screens. So they have the low tables and mattresses on the ground with pillows for relaxing, as one would expect at a truly Lao restaurant, but restaurants side by side play continuous episodes day in and day out. On a day like today, with the rain coming down so hard that you don’t really want to be anywhere else, it was a simple comfort to sit on the internet, beer by my side and an episode of Friends for background noise.

Popa told us that the reason for this is that one bar started playing it one year, and everyone flocked to it because it was so random. Other business owners saw their success and followed suit and started doing it to the point that if you’re sitting on the patio, you can hear three different episodes playing simultaneously. Some have swayed a little and started playing Family Guy or South Park, but for the most part Friends is the staple.

One of the things I love about Melisa is that she absolutely loves animals. Of all kinds. But today we saw a poor dog that had a limp and her heart just broke. Heading over to cuddle it and give it some love the poor thing whimpered while it was trying to sit down. The owner kind of shrugs and says that it got hit by a mini-bus. So for the next half hour, she’s asking everyone around if there’s a vet or animal clinic around somewhere that she can take the dog to so that his leg could get fixed. Alas, there is nothing close at all, and most people tried to send us to the hospital, so I had to take her mind off of it before she broke down into tears. Sometimes animal culture shock can be the hardest reality there is to face. (Popa also told us that if the people here have a particularly bad year as far as tourism goes, the dogs are the first thing that they turn to for food… And I thought they didn’t do that here!!)

Since the rain started today instead of a trek that we had planned to do in the mountains, we’re going to head into Luang Prabang tomorrow, where we’re hoping to trek and spend a night in a Northern village. I’ve come to learn that planning and expecting things while traveling can really only be done from each location you’re at. So I’ll have to book my ticket back to Bangkok, but until then we’re going to take every day as it comes and play by ear.