Long haul to Luang Prabang

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January 26th 2019
Published: January 27th 2019
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Sam Neua to Luang Prabang

We are up early as our bus leaves at 7.40am and we need to get to the bus station. There is a little idiosyncrasy in the shower in that, either they had a bodge-it plumber, or they have different ideas about tap colour coding here...as the water runs cold when turned towards red and hot when turned to blue. I keep forgetting and get scorched every time as a result. We are all going our separate ways today. Two couples are heading on to Vietnam leaving ourselves and Lisa only for the Luang Prabang bus.

The taxi is late so today we do not get first dibs at the minibus seats - we are almost at the back. It’s a much smaller bus than the one we arrived in and much less comfortable. The driver is busily trying to ram a huge sack of onions under the seat in front crunching my toes in the process - does he expect me to chop my feet off? We have our own bags under our legs in the seat well - there is literally nowhere else to put them. A bit of a tussle ensues where he shoves from the front and my feet reject his sack from the back - in the end I let him put the sack on my feet then kick it back the minute his back is turned. Result!

Today I wore sandals with the same expectation of the ‘shoes off inside’ rule as we had in the van two days ago. Wrong again! Today’s van is filthy with no such expectation. There is, however, some wooden crate seating in the aisle for additional unfortunates. Today though the aisle space only measures about 6 inches so it will be a nightmare as we are already overlapping our narrow double seat. In short we have tickets for a heap of old junk and we are just cattle!

We set off on the bus traversing a mountainous road for, what promises to be, at least 12 hours of hell.

We are only 30 minutes into the snaking journey when the lady in front starts to chuck up. Suddenly I am glad about the huge sack of onions between us as there is now no sign of the bag she was using! Let’s hope she didn’t have a large bowl of noodle soup for breakfast. :-(

As before, the road is mainly tarmac except for the places where it has disappeared and we take a dirt track deviation. As well as being potholed, the road is liberally scattered with buffalo. The driver hoots but, for the most part, they take no notice at all. This results in a sudden swerve around and a few near misses!

Unusually there are three spare seats on the back bench, although this does not last for the whole journey as there are a few pick ups along the way. Sadly no-one has vacated the bus yet!

It’s almost 12.30pm and time for lunch. It’s the usual noodle soup. A bit bland today and full of gristly pork but the noodles are OK. We were too early for breakfast this morning so have only had a couple of bananas and a few biscuits so better than nothing we suppose. According to google maps we are almost one third of the way.

More twists, more turns, more bumps...the journey from hell continues. The road has definitely deteriorated since lunchtime and it’s hard to say just how many mountain passes we have driven through.

It’s 3pm and we now have to fit another five passengers onboard. Everyone squeezes up except for us. Seriously this van is way overloaded. Ian says the shock absorbers have gone. Mine definitely have. We now have 24 passengers in a 12 seater minibus! Six are children and Lao people are generally smaller than us, but even so...!

It’s 5pm and we now have an evacuation of a family of five. Chickens are being loaded on the roof. They are clucking loudly though something tells me their accommodation might be better than ours. I hope their basket is nowhere near our luggage as it probably won’t survive a serious pecking! More passengers arrive to replace those who have just alighted.

One hour to go until we reach Nong Khai where I suspect there will be further passenger changes...and another four hours after that to reach our destination! Was the detour to see the caves worth all this effort, I ask Ian? Definitely not, he replies!

We have finally reached Nong Khai where we say goodbye to Lisa. It’s 6pm so there is no way we will arrive at our destination at their eta of 7-8pm. We reckon 10pm if we are lucky. We are decidedly fed up. Either the road or the driving has got worse - I think it’s both. On the plus side, we appear to be out of the mountains. On the minus side, it is dark and the van keeps stopping every fifteen minutes or so to let off passengers. This means removing the tarpaulin on the roof each time to access their luggage, so it’s a lengthy process.

Another hour and we don’t appear to have moved very far on the map. The van has stopped for a loo break, but now it turns out to be a full meal break. Just a pity that no one told us as we could have had some food ourselves. Now it’s probably too late to order! We content ourselves by using the restaurant loo and buying a large bag of ‘iced gems’. Very unhealthy but we have only eaten bananas, a few biscuits and a bowl of noodle soup today!

And just when we thought the worst was over, the road just beyond Nong Khaw all the way to Luang Prabang is a complete nightmare. Most of it is unmetalled and full of huge potholes. The only good thing is that we finally make it to our destination without bottoming out or breaking down!

It 10pm and we are dumped at a bus station on the outskirts of town where we negotiate a tuk tuk taxi. As usual the fare needs careful negotiation and we are over a barrel with the tuk tuk cartel. We are sharing with a Thai traveller on his way back from China, who, it appears, did not negotiate a all and is paying double.

Anyway, we are finally here and checked into our hotel. We are both shattered. We had expected the journey from hell and that just about sums it up!


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