13 Weeks of Wandering – Laos

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: “Don’t listen to what they say, go see” ~ Chinese Proverb


13 WoW – Laos

On my quest to get to Luang Prabang, only will power could speed the slow boat on from Muang Khua. A tiring and long journey left my patience in the red when I eventually arrived.

Arriving in Nong Kiaw
Laos Boat

The boat arrived around 4pm in Nong Kiaw and the boat driver was quick to hail me a tuk tuk by pointing at me and yelling “Luang Prabang” to some man. This man helped me into the back of his tuktuk and I  tried to get assurance that I had not missed the bus to Luang Prabang. He waved off my concerns, tried to gather more folk into the tuk tuk but failing that, he took me on a surprisingly long journey.

First Stop; the Monastery. We waited there for around 5 minutes and a monk emerged after this time. He climbed into the back with me and nodded, relaxed, adjusting the “blinds” that supposedly protected us from the downpour of rain.

Next Stop; the ATM. At my request, he dropped me at the ATM and left (with my luggage) to drop off his other passenger, our monk friend. I prayed fervently, remembering my woes in Sa Pa, and inserted my card. When my money was dispersed and my card returned, my heart celebrated despite my being nearly ankle-deep in rain water. To top it off, the tuk tuk returned, with my bag! Huzzah!

Third Stop; The Bus Stop. Couldn’t tell you the name of it, couldn’t tell you how to get there. But can tell you what it looks like:

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Cheerful and happy, I arrived, ready to continue my journey to Luang Prabang. The bus stop seemed rather quiet; nobody was around. I approached the window cautiously and asked to get on the next bus to Luang Prabang. “8am tomorrow!” I was told, to my surprise. He then explained that there are only two buses, one departs at 8am and the other departs at 2pm, unless I wanted to charter my own bus for a much larger sum (I vaguely remember 500,000 kip). I did not wish to do this, so I returned to my tuk tuk dismayed with the instructions to take me back nearer the river where I could stay the night at one of the guesthouses.

The cogs in my head were turning as I was ferried by this tuk tuk driver, he must have known the last bus left at 2pm yet he still took me for this long ride.
My patience was on even thinner ground than before as he came to a stop. I asked if there was any other way of me getting to Luang Prabang, he pointed at a building that seemed to be advertising tours.

The man inside spoke very good English, but he only repeated what the man at the bus station had said, “there are only two buses and they leave at 8am and the last one at 2pm”. I knew the answer already but I asked “do all the tuk tuk drivers know that the final bus departs at 2pm?” The answer, “yes”. My patience was gone by now, “So why did this tuk tuk driver take me with false promises of a bus to Luang Prabang?”. He shrugged his shoulders and translated to the driver… Maybe my sass was a little extra, maybe he had been found out and I struck a guilt chord, either way he walked to his tuk tuk, grabbed my bag, dumped it in my arms and then drove off. Thanks for nothing I guess!

Nong Kiaw

Bag in arms, dust cloud where tuk tuk used to be, torrential rain, lost look on face. I did a 360 degree on my surroundings and was pleasantly surprised to spot some friendly faces; the German families from my boat trip lunching beneath the shelter of a veranda. The kids were already smiling and waving, and I was ushered in to join them for lunch.

We chatted over Pho and a mango smoothie about their travel plans and that’s when I found out how they came to be here. The four of them, as youth, had travelled the world themselves backpacking. Now, years later with their children of the same ages; 9 and 11, they wanted to re-live their travel experience with their children and open their eyes to backpacking. As a family, they all decided on Laos for the same reason I had, it was a less-travelled country with many unexplored corners.

The families had been all travelling together with their backpacks, staying in hostels and travelling cheaply by bus, train and tuk tuk. They were now deciding whether to head back to Luang Prabang or to go to Vientianne. Their accommodation that night had not yet been decided, and neither had mine!

When we parted ways, I headed to the river to book a cheap room.
The double bed was dressed with well used sheets and a duvet decorated with a children’s design. There was a DIY mosquito net that was a riddle to set up with wires to attach to two walls. The wifi was a luxury that neither worked, nor did I expect it to work. In short, it was what I would describe back home as a dive, but what was most probably the most luxurious hotel in the small village/town area. Hashtag “First World Problems”.

 

A Long & Dark Night

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The rain continued to beat down, and it got late, but I knew I needed to get something to eat if I was going to take my doxycycline (anti-maleria tablet) so I worked myself up to venture out in the dark, wet night.

I don’t remember which way I walked, or how far, but eventually I came to a restaurant which was surprisingly full. Not keen to sit in the rain, I looked for a table in the balcony upstairs, and who was I to come across but my German friends! I joined them again and we spun stories of our travel adventures until we finished our meals. After paying, and as if on queue to us about to depart, the electricity in the town went out.
We wove our way through the inside of the building, which seemed to double up as a hostel, and lingered at the door where the rain seemed to furiously beat down, with more intensity than earlier that evening.

My pathetic excuse for a mac/anorak was already soaked through from earlier, so I didn’t hesitate. Tightening my hood’s strings and zipping my cold and damp jacket, I secured my flip flops on my feet and stepped into the rain, bidding my friends good night. Thinking myself clever, I fished out the mini torch that I’d brought along and headed confidently in the direction I thought I’d came.

I’d never seen the darkness quite so… dark. Buildings were barely a shadow as they blended into the blackness and my torch did nothing in the torrential rain to guide my path, weak as the light already was due to the fading batteries. Ten minutes must have passed and I still did not recognise anything, there was a turn somewhere, I was sure of it but I couldn’t remember where. I cursed myself for not thinking more carefully about the route I was taking earlier. Other than the rain, all was silent and not even the moon was out to light my path. My imagination started to get the better of me as time continued to pass and I couldn’t recognise anything. I thought about where I would take shelter if I could not find my way back, fearfully I shone my torch over the buildings either side of the road and imagined scary men lurking in the shadows. I was in full panic mode now, it was fight or flight… or apparently freeze, which is what I did when I saw a motorbike’s lights go on and then shortly after breeze by me. I didn’t know whether I was relieved that I hadn’t been abducted by this motorbike man or annoyed that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to ask where I was. I no longer cared that I was entirely soaked through and I accepted that my torch did nothing for my vision, but kept it on as a security blanket to hold onto – I was very aware by now that my rape alarm wouldn’t compete with the powerful sound of the rain.

There was only one thing to be done, return to the restaurant and try to ask for help. They would probably be closed by now but perhaps someone would be there to help me find my way. That’s what I tried to do, but in the blinding rain and the pitch blackness, it was hard to tell after an undisclosed period of time whether I had passed the restaurant, taken a wrong turning somewhere or if I needed to keep going.

The sound of German singing battling with the rain was never a more delightful sound to my ears. I saw flashlights coming my way and praised the heavens for them all! I must have seemed like a crazy person shouting at them from a distance but they soon figured it was me. They knew exactly where they were, and exactly where I should have been… 10 minutes in the opposite direction to where I had originally set off!

Feeling foolish, I headed back cautiously and couldn’t have been happier to finally stumble into my little “hotel” room. Sadly, not only was the electricity off, but the water was also, so I improvised with the last 500ml bottle of water I had, brushing my teeth, washing myself and taking my anti-maleria tablet. #Winning!

 

One for the Road

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I was grateful to wake up the next morning to working water and electricity, I was packed and ready to get my tuk tuk taxi, courtesy of the guesthouse owner, with a new 1l bottle of water for July’s Challenge!

Happy to see that sign indicating the bus station again, I head straight to the window to pay for and secure my spot in the Luang Prabang bus. It was a long wait before we finally filled the bus, although each time I thought it was full, they always seemed to fit one more in. Until one American lady.

She was clearly a backpacker, and she was a fairly large lady with a fairly large bag who seemed to be arguing with the man at the window. The whole bus was curious but it became obvious why she was so furious as the level of her voice kept rising. “I’ve heard about you, you know!” She was yelling, “You are famous on the internet you know that?”
I leaned my head out of the window further, curious as to what on earth she was on about, “Yes, you’re famous for all the wrong reasons! They told me about you, saying the bus is full when it’s clearly not full! Trying to extort us tourists!”

I looked behind me and in front of me and it seemed pretty damn full.

“Fine! If you won’t take my money then I’m going directly to the bus driver then, because that bus clearly is not full!”

We all braced ourselves as she head our way. “You,” she addressed the bus driver, “Here, Luang Prabang, will you take me?” She waved money at him as he smiled awkwardly. One of the boys on the bus was pretty much (annoyingly) narrating exactly what was happening in my ear as it unfolded before us, throwing in his opinion “the bus is clearly full, I don’t know what she wants?” I shook my head but listened on as the bus driver tried to convince her that the bus was full and she would have to wait until 2pm for the next bus. “But it’s clearly not full! Look, I can fit right there!” She pointed to a space just under half the size of the rest of the seats which also happened to be right next to me and I cringed slightly. The argument carried on for longer than we were interested, and the boy narrating in my ear decided to get involved and re-iterate what the driver had just said to her. “He says the bus is full, that the law only allows for a maximum of 16 people on this size bus and you will have to wait for the next bus at 2pm.” She brushed him off, “That’s nonsense! He’s lying!” The whole bus sighed.

Eventually, after threatening to further damage their reputation on youtube by filming them and telling the internet about them she left with a resolve to hitch-hike there. The bus left and we drove past her as she walked on down the road to Luang Prabang.

Now, the funniest part of the story was… she turned out to be absolutely right! Around 20 minutes into our journey, the bus driver stopped and waited in a location. A young woman appeared with luggage which she slung on top of the bus and she sat on that half-sized seat next to me the entire way to Luang Prabang!

What do you think about this? Was the American lady mistreated? Who was this mystery woman and how come she was allowed to sit on the half seat? Chuck your opinions in the comments below!

See what happens when I arrive in Luang Prabang in my next post!

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2 thoughts on “13 Weeks of Wandering – Laos

  1. well done for coping with the rain the dark and the accommodation, Mary! And maybe the big American lady was too big for this bus. size discrimination!

    Rosemary xxx

    Like

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