Nightmares from Laos Street

Trip Start Dec 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 03, 2011

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Where I stayed
on the friggin bus

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What I thought was to be a half day trip into Laos turned out longer that I had expected - much longer. It was a tuktuk ride to Arcade bus station to buy a 830am bus ticket to Chiang Rai. 3.5 hours later, arrived at the outskirts of Chiang Rai to be told that connecting bus to Chiang Khong only departs from the city station. Hastily hopped onto a songthiaew to get into the city and almost missed the 12pm Chiang Khong minibus. I was pretty sure the bus driver was meaning to pull off without me, until I gave that disappointed frowned face with that 'please let me in' hand gesture. Worked wonders.
It must had been about 3 hours before I finally arrived at Chiang Khong. What pissed me off was that the dropoff was 2 km away from the Mekong river custom border to Huay Xai, Laos. Reluctantly tuktuked to the border and was greeted by the basic facility that was the Thai Immigration. Leaving Thailand was easy, chop chop, all bahts disposed and hopped on the long tail boat. Huay Xai did not seem far away, probably due to the dry season of the Mekong. At the Laos Immigration checking in, I was waived the immigration fee of US$30, after the officer sighted my Singapore passport. I was not told the reason and was simply brushed away indifferently when everyone else was queuing to pay. For a moment I really thought this must be a scam but really, I got the visa stamp and that was all that mattered.
Now my original plan was to stay the night at Huay Xai and make my way to Luang Prabang by boat (only one departure at 11am). The boat option was a pretty daunting 8 hours slow boat to Pakbeng, spend the night at Pakbeng and ride another 10-12 hours slow boat to Luang Prabang. Pretty tedious I reckoned. The other option was a 12 hours overnight bus to Luang Prabang via Luang Nam Tha. Seeing that Huay Xai was a dead end town, right there and then decided to get the overnight bus for US$25 for a 5pm departure. A saving of 2 days in my itinerary was too good to miss. Looking back this US$25 bus tickect was the pricest I had paid for the entire trip.
A songthiaew transfer to a derelict bus station 20 minutes away, was just the beginning of a nightmare. Met 3 russian travellers - very cold characters, probably still thawing from their slavic winter. A young japanese chap with us was alot more chatty despite not knowing much english to begin with. My seat at the last row back of the bus - warning bells went off. After packing in every Laotians with stools on the bus passageways, the engine suddenly died on us for 30-45 minutes, killing the air conditioning with it. With no news of what was happening, everyone was frustrated in the heat contained by the fixed glazed windows. The Laotians started disembarking and I thought "ah shit..". One burly young caucasian gave up, retrieved his backpack from the bus and walked away. He even gave us the good luck gesture. He was about 100 metre away when suddenly the engine kickstarted like it was waiting for that bloke to give up. And off we went! Without him, haha! A free upgrade for one lucky Laotian on a stool.
The route was up north to Luang Nam Tha and turned east to Oudomxai before heading down south to Luang Prabang. The roads were horrendously bumpy and from what I had experienced, there were no straight roads longer than 50 metres. The constant swaying and jolting of seats meant no sleep at all. A little before midnight, we must had stopped at Luang Nam Tha for a supper break. It was freezing and dinner was a simple ham and cheese roll. 
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Chris on

Someone mislead you with the slow boat travel times, I think. They sound more like the trip "up" from LP against the river flow. In any case you missed a magical trip. It is one of the best I have done - stunning scenery. I know the bus to Luang Namtha is pretty scenic too - done that as well. But do yourself a favur id you're ever back there and do the slow boat.

wilsonheng on

aahh..thanks chris. Another excuse to revisit luang prabang via Chiang rai.

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