Nightmare Transport in Laos

Travel can be stressful there is no denying. I like to think that I can keep my cool under stressful situations, after all panicking isn’t going to get you anywhere. But if there comes a point in your journey where you are stranded on the side of a Laotian road at 2am in the morning with a bus full of people and no explanation as to why you have stopped, then I think it is acceptable to panic a little.

I was about half way through my South East Asian backpacking trip and its a route well travelled by many before me. But my friends and I were at the point in the trip that we had been dreading – travelling from Luang Prabang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s a big distance to travel and as far as we knew we had four options:

1. Speedboat

2. Slow boat

3. Fly

4. Bus

The speedboat option was extremely dangerous and completely out of the question. We considered the slow boat but it takes two days and we were on a tight time limit. There was the option to fly but  we were slightly deterred due to the main airline that services that route having had several plane crashes with fatalities. Besides it was the most expensive option out of them all. Finally, we decided on the bus trip. It was a long journey totaling approximately 16-20  hours, depending on which guide book you read or travel agent you spoke to.

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We purchased a night bus ticket in the hope that we will be able to at least sleep part of the way to pass the time. We had no trouble with boarding the bus however it seems we were lucky to have gotten a seat. The bus was overbooked. Their solution? Put plastic chairs along the aisle for the passengers who were scammed into thinking they were in seats numbered 40 and above.

Already feeling grateful we had a seat, we departed around 8pm. The bus ride itself was bumpy and windy, stopping every couple of hours for a toilet break which was usually behind a dirt mound or in a bush. It was 2am, about 6 hours into the bus ride, when we stopped. Everyone thought it was another toilet break so some got off while others waited to get going again. But we didn’t. After about 20 minutes the bus driver turns off the engine and the lights leaving us confused in darkness and a little scared. By this point I was a world of emotion, I was tired, cramped and cold, and i just wanted to get moving so that bus ride could end.

The bus driver builds a fire by the side of the road.

What is going on??

Clearly we were going to be there for some time so I tried my best to sleep. About 3 hours later I had really had enough. We still had no idea as to why we stopped. Feeling stiff and busting to go to the toilet, and finally with daylight upon us, my friend and I went for a walk. We got out to see a long line of buses and trucks all parked before us and decided to follow it to see what it was that was blocking us. At this point we began to think it was a road accident. We were right. After walking for 15 minutes we finally had an explanation as to why we were stranded. A large truck carrying what seem to be sacks of straw or grass, had been overturned and spread across the narrow road blocking both sides of traffic. We got talking to some other travellers who were stranded in the other direction and they had informed us they had been stuck since 10pm the night before. Four hours longer than us. But why didn’t anyone try to do anything?

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I was at a loss for words. What were we going to do? How were we going to get through? The roads aren’t wide enough to turn around and go back. Now a small crowd of people had gathered around. Tourists and locals moved the contents of the truck to the side of the road and were trying to communicate with each other whether a local farmer had a crane of some sort to lift the truck and move it over. Sure enough a Laotian local appeared with a small crane and finally it felt like we were getting somewhere. The crane lifted the truck while a group of men pushed together to move it across the road. They had cleared one lane and everyone cheered.

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We walked back to our bus relieved and so happy that we would finally be on our way. It was 9am when we finally started moving again, some 7 hours after we first stopped. The elation didn’t last long as we were weren’t even halfway through our bus journey. However, the main ordeal was over. Once we reached the Thailand border we were relived to be off that bus. Our next problem was being able to find the next bus to take us to Chiang Mai. As we were 8 hours later than we were expected we were concerned we couldn’t use our pre-purchased tickets for the second leg of the trip. To our relief we found the bus company and they accepted our tickets.

From there on in it was smooth sailing. Once we crossed the Thai border it was a 4 hour journey to Chiang Mai on smooth, tarmacked roads. We arrived safely at our hostel in Chiang Mai 28 hours after leaving Luang Prabang. Needless to say we were exhausted beyond belief. I went and had the best shower of my life and crashed in my bed.

I made it!

I understand that sometimes, especially when travelling on a budget, you’re going to encounter some obstacles that hinder on your overall experience. It has to be said though, I feel that after that experience I can do anything! My nerve and patience was tested on that bus journey and I think I came out on top. I kept my cool as best I could and despite everything, I have come out of the experience with a good story to tell!

Leave a comment about your transport experiences I would love to hear from you!

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I love to travel as often as I can and I'm always in the pursuit of a new adventure. I hope to inspire through my passion and show you how small trips can leave big impressions.

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