Let me preface this and say that we’re pretty sure Laos has it out for us. At least the bus system. Our first ride from South Laos, Don Det to Vientiane was also terrible and terribly hot. We sat on the second floor in the back of the bus. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the air conditioning had been working. Instead it leaked water on us. That bus was a sauna. Constant body sweat. The bus henchmen knew it didn’t work and passively went to fix it but it ended up being just for show. They were working on the wrong thing anyway. It was useless to complain. We’d have to forfeit our ticket for that bus and maybe get another one would be better or money we didn’t want to spend. Towards the end of the ride maybe hour 6 of 10 it finally got cool. When other people started to complain that it was too cold! Imagine that, too cold! Lesson learned was if there is writing on the wall, literally, that says “warning can’t breathe, a/c doesn’t work, mold…” you pay attention.
Now, yesterday we settled in for an easy ride. We thought 5-6 hours wasn’t bad. The bus was not ideal, too small, neither were our seats, lacked leg room for our long legs. It would have to do.
Busses in Laos, specifically local ones fill the bus partially at the station and take on more down the road. So we went from 18 to 31 passengers. It was cramped but it could have been worse. I’ve read of people sitting on bags of rice and chickens in cages.
The first 3 hours went smoothly. Then we got going up the mountain….
The first hiccup was when the new paved road turned into a dirt road. Our bus didn’t get stuck in mud (red clay mud) from the recent rain but someone else’s vehicle did. When this happens the bus driver shuts off the bus, gets out, finds a rock to place behind the wheel and then ventures to see what’s happening. Anyway the first time only lasted about ten minutes.
The second time it was about 15-25 minutes. Other passengers took that time to get off the bus to do their dirty business on the side of the road, in and out of view. This was quite the group though. There were several older women, a few men, a hilltribe couple, a woman with a mickey mouse voice and a chain-smoking monk. One woman got up to tell a story about how a person was falling asleep while standing and holding the top handrail inside the bus (she acted it out). That ended with an eruption of giggles. Those ladies giggled like it didn’t even matter that we had been waiting(seems like a common problem). Finally we got out of that one and breathed a sigh of relief.
The 10 hour wait. Our third and final setback. Upon arriving at this one Seth and I hoped that would be as easy as the other two. Gradually half and hour grew and grew. The sun was setting and we were still stuck. Our busride procedures are to drink little water (less chance of bathroom frequency, will the bus even stop and for how long?) and eat little (possible motion sickness? Safe not sorry. Plenty of natives get sick and need puke bags. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all have motion sickness). It’s basically a forced fast. I had bought two mangoes, water and some (nasty) Laotian molasses rice snack to take along. That’s it. Needless to say after I ate that mango three hours earlier I was getting hungry. I always get hungry first. After a few hours we were passed a loaf of French bread. A holy sight indeed. It got a bit chilly on that mountain pass. I had a wool coat and Seth ended up wearing my rain jacket. The stars were the best part of being stuck.
Nothing moved until 8pm. Cars took the chance to squeeze in front of our bus and took off. The bus driver hesitated and that’s when we waited another four hours or something. We didn’t just see cars pass. There were wide loads with tractors, loaders, semis etc etc. Everyone, even the ladies wanted to just get going! Cellphones were going off and conversations of “nope, not yet” were taking place. Once we were able to pull through it was still stop and go. It looked or sounded as if the Chinese who were redoing the road were giving the orders. The bus driver was just obeying them. He did what he had to do albeit very slowly.
Around a few bends and then we were flying down the bumpiest road ever. I was so tired I somehow managed to sleep. It was 5am when we finally reached the bus station. We should have arrived at 6pm the previous day.
You know what we did when we got off the bus?
We walked 6 kilometers to town. You have to when you’ve been sitting so long.
Then we ate Chinese noodle soup and slept for hours.