Transportation in Laos is somewhat unpredictable and always an adventure. We left Muang Ngoi and took a quick one hour trip downriver to Nong Kiew on a boat stuffed with travellers. There was no possible way to get any more people on this boat (we’re guessing the Laotians would disagree). The ride was pleasant enough and once back on shore we quickly found our next mode of transportation–the bus to Oudomxay. We were told the bus was leaving, “right now,” so we hurried up to get some snacks and use the toilet. It ended up leaving about 45 minutes after “now.” Something was lost in translation… One of the coolest and craziest things about Lao busses is that once every regular seat is taken, they pull off a stack of plastic chairs from the roof rack, line the aisles, and continue putting people on board. We had real seats next to a cool Aussie couple, Dave and Rita, who are organic farmers we connected with quickly. Dave is also a chef and his love of food was something we shared in common.
We arrived in Oudomxay after a short four hour ride. The next bus we needed to catch to Luang Nam Tha (LNT) looked rather full as we pulled into the bus station. The first few people on our bus (we were at the very back) managed to run over and get the last seats (the plastic chair seats) on the bus. We weren’t too concerned and had already figured we’d be staying overnight waiting for the bus the following day. What we didn’t anticipate was Dave’s travel skills. He went around and figured out who else on our bus wanted to go to LNT. Then, he found a mini bus driver who agreed to take the seven of us there for relatively the same price as taking the local bus. This was the best possible situation. We watched the overcrowded, non air conditioned local bus sit in the bus station for 15-20 minutes, and finally pull away as we went to eat a late lunch and relax a bit before taking off. We left about 45 minutes after the local bus and ended up arriving about 10 minutes ahead of it. It only got sweeter as we booked the last room in our guesthouse and then walked down the stairs only to bump into one of the couples who had sprinted for the local bus ticket booth and got some of the last seats. It was one of those moments where you wanted to rub it in, but we have been on the other side of that before and know that you just don’t always win (okay, we do have to admit we gave each other a big high five when they walked out).
Our next bus ride was two days later and also an adventure. This was the most packed we have ever been on a bus–there were three people in plastic seats (including John) one person sitting in the aisle on top of three bags of produce and two people standing for the four hour ride. The roads were quite curvy (side note: this bus was so full John was hearing the wheels scrape the wheel well as we turned each corner under the weight of all the people) and the woman in front of Erin vomited about every 15 minutes. She threw up into little plastic bags and then tied them and threw them out the window. She was obviously prepared as she had a whole stack of bags. We felt bad for her, but it was also pretty funny. Even as we pulled into the bus station and parked, she had one more heave in her. Thankfully, Erin didn’t feel sick at all and kept the iPod cranked loud enough to block out the retching sounds.
We truly know that buses in Lao are probably tame in comparison to the stories we have heard about transportation in Africa. We have that to look forward to as we arrive there on March 9!