Having spent a good few days in Vang Vieng, it all of a sudden felt like it was time to move on again. Our friendly young hotel owner, Tea, booked the transport for us and we would leave around 8.30am next morning for what was supposed to be a 6 hour journey to Luang Prabang. The mini bus was full with only the front seats remaining, which was perfect really, as we had lots of space, reclining seats, and a front seat view of what was to come ahead. We had heard that this trip was particularly stunning, and serendipity, or politeness, whatever way you look at it, had given us the prime seats. From the broken English coming from the back, I could work out that our fellow travel companions, all young, were a combination of French, German and Israeli. Being in the front made it slightly difficult to get chatty, and it seemed however that there was a real bond within this group. They had obviously been travelling together, or maybe had just come together as a result of the tubing in Vang Vieng. It was one of those mornings where I think both of us were not really up for socialising anyway, it does happen sometimes, and you kind of get bored telling your own story for the umpteenth time. Time then to kick back, relax and just take in the scenery.
The scenery seemed to get even more impressive as we progressed. We had only been travelling for an hour when the bus pulled in for a pit stop. I looked at my watch, we had been up since 7.30am, the bus didn’t actually leave Vang Vieng until 10am. It was now 11am, we had been on the road for 1 hour at approximately 40km/hour. A trip back home that would 15-20 minutes – but this is Laos – Please Don’t Rush!! After a 40 minute break for the driver, who was obviously exhausted from a whole hour of driving, we were on our way again. For the next hour, we stared in awe at beautiful green mountain scenery, covered in the most interesting cloud formations, natural beauty, a bit like a continual Glencoe.
Then we hit a really bad muddy patch of road, got around the bend, and joined the tail end of a long stationary convoy of trucks, busses, mini vans and cars. There were 2 diggers working up high trying to clear a massive landslide that looked about 7 or 8 stories high, and had completely blocked the road.
This happens almost every other day during the rainy season, and it makes things extremely dangerous. Tons of waterlogged earth can avalanche down without warning and roads collapse making for slow arduous journeys. Everyone was milling about in the sunshine wondering when the road would be cleared, and after an hour or so, bored travellers who had been resisting temptation, succumbed and were buying cool cans of Beer Lao from temporary stalls set up by the side of the road by the locals from the nearest village. The good thing was that the locals were not exploiting the situation, and were charging the usual prices for food and drinks. Quite reasonable these people from Laos, although as usual, whenever we had a break at any of the “official” pit stops, just like the Motorway Services Stations back home, the prices always seemed to be highly inflated.
The roads are also full of bone shattering potholes, which the driver would try to avoid, although all too often he would hit one which resulted in a massive crunching jolt through the cabin. Travel in Laos is slow as a result of the road conditions, but also because of the laid back nature of the people of Laos. Nothing is rushed. You really just have to chill and take it all in your stride. It’s a beautiful country to get stuck somewhere, and with the sun shining and a can of beer in your hand, you may as well make the most of it. It wasn’t long before people were breaking the ice and chatting away with other randoms to help pass the time. I was idly chatting some small talk with a guy from Ireland, when I heard our little group deciding to watch a movie on a laptop. I had to laugh when eventually they picked “Trainspotting” as their film of choice, and someone decided they wouldn’t need subtitles as they had chosen the English audio version. I had to tell them they would definitely need subtitles, although I am not sure how they took this advice. Maybe they thought I was commenting disparingly on their poor English, which was actually of a very high standard. A few minutes in and one of the girls smiled at me “I think we need subtitles”. I smiled back, and gave her a wink “I’m from Scotland – that’s how I knew you would”
Around 3 hours later, we were on the move again, and arrived in Luang Prabang in darkness around 8pm, totally shattered and exhausted. Of course, rather then take us straight to the old town city centre, first we would have to have a battle of wits haggling with the TukTuk drivers conveniently waiting for us at the Bus Station 6km out of town. Nothing is ever easy, but a few days here would allow us to recharge. Hotel room acquired, it was time for some food and cold beer. More about the Ikon Bar later.