Published: May 19th 2012May 13th 2012
Laos PDR "Please Dont Rush" really lives up to it's name as we experienced. Seems when it comes to transport in South East Asia we are jynxed. Something always seems to go wrong.
Our bus journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng got off to a good start with the bus only being half full so we had as much space as we liked. The next 6 hours was like the Bolivia episode of Topgear. Narrow, winding roads through the mountains with a 300ft drop at the edge. We spent the whole journey sliding about our seats and getting whacked with things flying out our bags. At one point the bus just came to a stop behind a queue of buses and trucks. A few people went off the bus to investigate the reason for the hold up. Turns out the road was gone. You could see the other side of the road where we needed to be but the part inbetween had been dug up so it just didnt exist. So we sat for a wee bit while a man in a digger dug out a path for the buses to weave through. After more mental driving up the mountains and having to drive right along the edge of the road while a truck drove the opposite way, we arrived in Vang Vieng. Our accommodation there looked like the inside of a garage but for £1.50 a night we cant complain. The next day was spent 'tubing in the Vang Vieng'. Starting off with mulberry mojitos and Lao Tiger whisky shots we knew how this day was going to end up. Armed with our rubber rings we got to the first bar - Q Bar, ready to start floating down the Nam Song river. The tubing was fun, visiting many riverside bars on the way down. One bar even had the Beatles playing when we arrived which made us happy. After buckets, more tiger shots, playing beerpong, getting to be DJ's and some garlic bread we floated the rest of the way down the river trying to avoid being whacked by rocks. The next day was the Rocket festival. Locals where driving through the streets on pickup trucks with huge rocket launchers made out of bamboo on the back then sent massive flares into the sky. Was pretty mental, much cooler than our bonfire night.
Next place we went to was Vientiane, the capital. We got a mini van from Vang Vieng which just powered along the roads with us hanging onto our seats again. Pretty sure all 4 wheels left the road several times. For once we got to a place earlier than the expected time. The only bonus to the driver thinking he was driving an F1 car. We found accommodation easy enough and having a bathroom with a hot shower was amazing. We still felt dirty from being in the river. That night it was absolutely pouring down. We finally got to use our rain jackets. Never thought rain would make us as excited as it did. Felt like proper Scottish rain!
We wandered around Vientiane for the next couple of days. Lots of French influence in the city-coffee shops with fresh baguettes and croissants and a huge concrete stucture called Patouxai which resembled the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed to the top and got great views of the city.
The bus we got to Thakhek was another typical Lao bus journey. We stopped every 5 minutes to pick people up, a woman came on to sell eggs and one bus even had a goat tied to the roof. Surprising enough we got to Thakhek without the bus breaking down or being a ridiculous amount of hours late. We had got lucky this time. Thakhek was a small town with not very much to do. We stayed in Thakhek Travel Lodge which was recommended in Lonely Planet and seemed to be the place most people stayed at. We met some cool people there and learned some new card games.
Next stop was Pakse. We got to the bus station at 12pm since the buses where meant to be every hour but the bus to Pakse wasnt until 4pm so we had a 4 hour wait in the bus station. To pass the time we played cards which attracted a crowd of Lao men around us watching what we were doing. Was rather odd. 4pm came and went, still no bus. Finally the bus turned up at 5 by which time we were ready to sleep. The roof was piled high with sacks of vegetables, car tyres, spare parts and fridges. The aisle was full of sand bags, bags of rice and sacks Chinese cooking powder which we had to climb over to get to our seat. The bus was full of locals so our pale skin attracted a lot of stares and smiles and people asking us where we were from. People in Laos have been so friendly and happy to chat away to us. As usual the bus stopped all the time, picking people up, delivering the stuff strapped all over the bus, people getting off to buy chickens on sticks, changed drivers and picked up a motorbike which was then put in the middle of the aisle wedged in between sand bags. We were meant to have arrived at 10pm but at that time we were sitting outside a restaurant while the driver had his dinner so we guessed we still had a while to go before we would get to Pakse. At 2am the bus stopped in a small, empty looking town and we were told we were in Pakse. We got off with no idea which direction we needed to go in to get to the centre of the town. It was pitch black and everywhere was shut since it was well past the 11.30 curfew so we just had to walk along the street in the hope we found somewhere that was opened but no such luck. All the guesthouses we passed had locked gates and no way of getting in. So we just had to keep wandering about. 'Piece of bloody nonsence at this time a night!' Then 2 police men passed on bikes and pulled up next to us to see if we were ok since we werent meant to be wandering around the streets at that time. They ended up giving us a lift to a hotel that had a security guard outside the gate so we could be let in. He woke up the guy in the reception and finally got a room for the night and crashed out. We stayed there for a few days before we left for 4000 islands, the last place we were going to in Laos. That bus journey went without a hitch since it was a mini bus which went straight to the boat harbour without stopping. The island we were going to was Don Det, a small island in the middle of the Mekong river. It was a lovely wee island with one main street with a few places to stay, restaurants and bars. We stayed there for a couple of day and rented bikes to cycle round that island and explore the waterfall on the other island, Don Khon. It was a good chilled out time there despite a 15 hour power cut,a cat stealing food off our table and Katy getting a puncture.
Next stop Cambodia!