Ride to Phonsavan

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, January 21, 2007

The bus ride to Phonsavan wasn't miserable, but it was a little rough on anyone who suffers from motion sickness (like Lindsey).  We had paid a couple extra dollars for what was termed a VIP bus.  As I learned from my Super Royal Class fiasco in Peru, you never know what to expect no matter what they call it.  But this bus was pretty nice.  It even came with an onboard security guard.  I was a little nervous when I saw a young guy step on the bus just moments before we left, plainly dressed, but with a large machine gun visible beneath his jacket.  Fortunately, I was sitting next to the man on the bus who had been collecting tickets, and he acknowledged that the guy was supposed to be there and armed as well.  It was strange because it's not as if I'm unused to seeing firearms (God bless America).  It's just that in the States those people are usually uniformed - police officers, bank guards, military.  Or in Texas they wear camouflage and orange vests and shoot their friends in the face.  But they stand out in some way other than the fact that they're carrying a weapon.  This was just another guy on the bus who happened to have some army surplus slung over his shoulder.  But I was kind of glad he was there.  Now that we've safely left Laos I can admit that there have been a few unfortunate events on these roads.  Two ambushes in 2003 left 25 people dead and many more injured.  People on buses tend to carry money and goods and make a nice target.  So armed guards were normal on this particular road even though the passage from Luang Prabang to Pohnsavanh is much safer these days.  I'll go ahead and ruin the suspense by telling you that there was no attack, I did not save the day with my Rambo like heroics, and there won't be a made-for-TV movie about the incident with me played by Zack from Saved By the Bell.
I decided I wasn't concerned about armed attack, but a bus ride through the mountains always raises other concerns.  People in SE Asia habitually drive on the wrong side of the road.  Lane distinctions are consistently ignored.  Everyone takes the easiest and quickest path no matter which side of the road it may be on.  (I ended a sentence with a preposition.  I'm an ignorant bastard).  Drivers simply tap on their horn as a warning to oncoming drivers.  The problem is, warnings don't help with there's nowhere else to go.  There's no shoulder to pull onto (I did it again).  There's no passing lane.  There's just a cliff one vehicle can utilize, and I guess it is most often going to be the smaller of the two.  Since we were in a bus, I assumed, as did our driver, that we constantly had the right of way.
When we first left the station everyone onboard was given a plastic bag.  I figured it was to put trash in even though SE Asians don't normally care where their refuse goes - out the window, in the river, the floor of a train, a well-manicured garden.  It's all the same.  They treat their country like more of a trash can than Mexicans do, which is quite an accomplishment.  Well, I found out during the journey that the bag wasn't for trash.  It was for whatever contents people had carelessly brought onboard in their stomachs.  Food, like life, is transitory.  The road to Phonsavanh is at no point straight.  Serpentine comes to mind, but this doesn't begin to describe the path.  Snakes curve, but there is some uniformity to their movement.  This road wasn't a calmly winding or meandering path.  It was haphazard.  It was like traveling through someone's small intestines.  We drove 10 miles for every one we moved forward.  I don't get motion sick, but it was still rough.  Your innards are constantly shifting back and forth, left to right, and often very quickly.  Fortunately there was a stop in the middle of the trip that allowed people to take a deep breath and compose themselves.  But after that we were right back at it.  One lucky girl spent the second half of the journey sitting on the floor in the isle because the guy next to her had vomited at their feet.  I guess he had foolishly squandered his bag on trash - stupid hippy.
Lindsey was smart enough to take her Dramamine and we arrived unscathed.  We even got there a little early.  And to top it all off there was a guy from the hotel we planned on staying at already at the bus station.  He was recruiting people for the guesthouse and we got a free ride into town.  The room was pretty nice and relatively inexpensive.  TVs aren't something we ever look for, but the nicer rooms tend to have them.  This one did, and it turns out that CNN airs a special edition of the Daily Show on Saturday nights.  We were liking Laos better all the time.
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