Taking a Laos Bus is an Adventure!

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
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Sunday, May 4, 2014

One of our guide books referring to the local busses in Laos as follows:

"Despite newly sealed roads making life easier on long journeys, Laos busses are still ancient and seemingly made of wet cardboard (watch the sides folding in on tight corners!).  Prepare for your space invaded by an old-timer being sick into a plastic bag, while a cage of chickens are squawking in your ear.  Your bus will most probably breakdown, but take a breath, smile, and remember you'll get to where you're going.....in Laos time."

We can't say we weren't warned, but we want to travel Laos and a bus is the way we've chosen as there are no trains here.  The roads are incredibly windy and they have plastic bags in the busses just in case.  Our next stop on our Laos experience was a village called Nong Khiaw and we knew getting there would be an adventure in itself. 

We bought our bus tickets to Pak Mong, which is an hour away from Nong Khiaw and we were told that bus would leave at 8AM and get us there by 2PM.  Once at the bus station, we boarded our bus, which is nothing more than a minivan, a few minutes before 8.  It turns out we sat there for more than an hour as the bus didn't leave until after 9.  We had read that often Laos busses wait until all tickets are sold before leaving rather than following a schedule.  And boy did they sell tickets!  I counted a minimum of 28 people not including the driver in this minivan.  We were all fairly squished and there were 4 or 5 rows of seating with no aisles.  Our luggage was stored under a tarp on the roof, plus other people's bags were on the floor all throughout the minivan.  

The ride started and it seemed like there was no straight road whatsoever.  The road was winding the entire way.  It didn't take long for the puking action to start.  All 3 kids on the bus brought up as did the guy sitting at the end of our row.  They did what they needed to do in the plastic bags provided and then simply opened the windows and threw the bags out.  This is something Garyn and I are having a hard time getting used to and certainly not partaking in the littering we've seen in Asia.  It's common while in a car or on a bus the locals will throw their garbage out the window. 
  
The bus stopped for a bathroom break when one of the passengers yelled he needed to go.  As soon as the driver stopped, most people in the bus, men and women, exited the bus quickly to do their business on the side of the road.  Then, it was back in the bus and the journey continued.

We were the only white people on the bus, so there's no doubt this had a local feel to it, unlike Thailand where tourists were the majority on most of our bus rides.  Part of the enjoyment of the ride was looking at the people and different villages we were passing.  The majority of the houses were made from bamboo and looked like "huts".  Some houses were made of bricks and others we weren't sure.  The roads certainly weren't paved in the villages and there were animals like pigs, chickens, dogs, and more running around free.  We saw many people outside just relaxing, women weaving, and kids playing.  It was pretty neat just to take in the sights.  The last few hours of the ride, the road wasn't paved, making it quite bumpy along with windy.  As the ride continued, we could tell that we were closer to our stop - less than 20 km away.  Suddenly the bus stopped because the road was blocked both ways with construction as crews were cleaning up dirt that they had knocked down from the top of the hill overlooking the road.  With no alternate way to go, we just had to wait.  We ended up waiting an hour and a half and went for a walk to pass the time. Then, just like that, horns honked and we were able to move. 

Finally we arrived at Pak Mong and as the driver handed us our luggage from the top of the bus, we noticed both bags had the words "Pak Mong" (at least that's what we think they say) written in Laos on them as Pak Mong wasn't the bus' final stop.  So, if you're traveling and see a blue and red suitcase with "Pak Mong" in Laos written on the front in marker, you know we're close!

Once in Pak Mong (again, we were the only tourists and most people here don't speak any English), we tried to arrange a shuttle to Nong Khiaw.  They charge a flat fee for the ride, so the more people there are, the less each pays.  We waited about half hour hoping more people would show up, but nobody did, so we ended up being the only two on that bus, which definitely made our ride more expensive.

When we finally got to Nong Khiaw, it was about 6PM - more than 10 hours since we left our hotel in Luang Namtha.  The town here is beautiful.  It's very laid back and has incredible scenery with mountains and a river and the two parts of town are connected by a bridge over the river.  We found a guesthouse with a great view for the equivalent of less than $10 CDN. 

It was definitely an interesting and authentic way to experience Laos transportation and get from Luang Namtha to Nong Khiaw.  There's still a lot more ground for us to cover here in Laos, so this experience will likely be one of many similar to it!
 
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