01.01.2012 - 01.01.2012
On New Year’s day 2012, we took a VIP Luxury bus from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. What is so special about a VIP Luxury bus you are wondering? Well, so are we! The bus we were on was awful, the worst we have seen on our travels in Asia and will no doubt always have a special place in our hearts!
When we arrived at the bus station we should have spotted the tell-tale signs. First of all, the driver was underneath the bus, face up with his feet sticking out. He was under there doing some last minute repairs with a screwdriver. Secondly, the bus looked nothing like the glistening white beast they had shown us in the pictures when they sold us the tickets – it was ancient. Still, in the front window, which had a large crack right across the front, they had had enough confidence to reconfirm with a sign that this was to be a ‘VIP Luxury’ journey. So, with no other option, we boarded the bus and crammed ourselves into our seats, which were filthy and had no leg room, not even for us short people.
The seat in front of Sophia’s seat had something that looked like thick marmite smeared across the back so she would have to look at that and avoid touching it for the next nine hours! We had been promised air conditioning but, of course, there was none, so we were to travel in the 30+ degrees heat for nine hours like this. Still, we didn’t complain and reassured each other that it would be fine.
Eventually, the bus left an hour late and then 5 minutes later we stopped to refuel. Why didn’t they think to fill up before all the VIPs arrived?! Still, it will be fun and adventurous we thought. After the journey from hell in Thailand, we are prepared for everything, we thought, and popped some travel sickness pills. We were already late, too cramped and overheating when the fumes of petrol from the engine starting spilling into the bus through the broken air conditioning fans. We followed the lead of the locals and tied scarves around our faces to cover our mouth and nose but still started to feel sick and got headaches quite quickly. And so the journey continued with ‘surprise’ after ‘surprise’. Sully felt worse and worse and decided to try sleeping through the nightmare.
The driver was a maniac and was driving through the mountains as fast as his rickety bus could carry us. A couple of times we swerved badly across the lanes and there was a loud gasp across the bus as we felt it wobble from side to side and wondered if we were about to roll. That would explain the cracks in the windows we thought. Still, we were up in the mountains and the drop on the side of the road was so steep that no one would find us if we fell into the forest below. It was truly very scary! As a slight consolation, the views were amazing and Soph managed to get some photos through the filthy windows. We even passed a village where a wedding was taking place and everyone was wearing traditional tribal costumes.
About 7 hours into the journey, we broke down. At that point nobody seemed particularly surprised; the bus had been making all sorts of noises. Besides, it was an excuse to get out and get a gasp of fresh air and cool down. The driver opened the door to the engine and the steam clouded out as all of the passengers crowded at the side of the road. He spent some time fiddling with a screwdriver and tied some parts together with a rope. After 30 minutes we seemed to be up and running again. In the meantime, a French family who were obviously quite distressed by the whole experience had flagged down a passing car and offered the driver $100 if he would take them the rest of the journey; they were too scared to get back into the bus. So were we to be honest, but we did anyway.
An hour later, we passed a town called Vang Vieng, at this point we were due to be arriving in Vientiane but from a look in our guide book we noted that we still had another four hours to go. That was quite a depressing moment and then to make matters worse, the sun went down. After 30 minutes, it was absolutely black outside. Some lights flickered on the ceiling of the bus and tried to come on, but failed. We were sitting in darkness. The crazy driver was driving in darkness too; there were no street lights in sight. We weren’t sure if we were hallucinating on petrol fumes! Sully noted that Piers would definitely not find this situation acceptable.
At some point after that, a lady further ahead let out a small yelp. Her seat had become detached from the floor of the bus and suddenly she was laying back in the dark on the lap of the man behind her, with her seat hanging in the aisle and everyone in the bus wondering what was going on in the darkness. Again, our head torches came in very useful.
Anyway, eventually we did arrive in Vientiane and we were still alive. The journey had taken 14 hours instead of 9 and we found we had been dropped at an out-of-town bus station nowhere near the city centre and we were very hungry! The adventure continued…
Moral of this story? Don’t be tight, take a flight.