The Road to Laos

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June 11th 2010
Published: June 18th 2010
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River overlookRiver overlookRiver overlook

during tire rescue
The bus to Laos left Sapa early and was to take about 10 hours. I hadn't slept well the night before, so I figured I could catch a few hours on the ride to Laos. Boy was I wrong.

I've been on rough bus rides before, but this one was comically brutal. I also had a seat behind the rear wheels which means that we got an extra spring on every bump in the road. The road was the worst I've seen, yet that will soon not be the case. On the entire journey from Sapa to the Laos border you could see a modern road under construction several hundred feet up and back on the mountain. Staggeringly large amounts of concrete had been poured to retain the terrace needed to support the road, and bridges in various stages of completion dotted mountain passes. In 10 years this will be a stellar place for sport bike enthusiasts - or for fun agile cars 😊

Interestingly as well, not a single bridge started on one side of the valleys - they were all freestanding, neither end touching land. Now I'm no civil engineer, but I always assumed you started on one end and built your way across, but that's just not the case here. I wonder if it's just building style or if there is some benefit here.

However, in the less bumpy sections there were some real views to be had. The kind of views the word "breathtaking" was invented for.

Other trip highlights involved running over the spare tire that ejected from its under-chassis holder on one mountainside and the Laos border crossing, in which a team of agents processed every document by hand on paper; not a single byte of electronic equipment was evident, save the calculator for vise fee processing. The entire process took between two and three hours and we were officially in Laos.

None of the roads were paved, yet I think if not for the bus's springy suspension they wouldn't have been that bad. Very narrow though. There is one section just after you get into Laos where the road is so narrow I'd guess there's only 18-24 inches of dirt to spare. And then we passed a pickup. From the right side windows you couldn't see any ground, and looking down, the tops of trees were impossibly far away.

After another transfer, a night in Oudomxay, and yet another day bus, we finally reached civilization - Luang Prabang.

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