This blog post is about planning and travelling from one place to another. I’m afraid it is not a topic that I can document very well with photographs and even the parts where there was some stunning scenery, I was too terrified to take proper photographs…. See the story further down…
And for this reason I thought I would decorate this post with some random photos from Luang Prabang, this gem of a city in Northern Laos that I adored! 🙂
When we received our Vietnamese visas from the Vietnamese Embassy in Luang Prabang we immediately sat down and started planning our journey to Vietnam and the rest of our route in Laos. We found out that getting a sleeper bus through Laos into Hanoi would take 20 hours and we heard and read quite horrifying stories about the conditions onboard. Some passengers reported having to sleep on the floor and that even if you had a reclined seat, the space is actually so small, that you cannot sit up. Stories of no working toilets onboard and dangerous roads and bus drivers were also doing the rounds in traveller circles so we decided not to explore this option any further. There are no trains between Laos and Vietnam and it seemed that the most convenient way for us was to fly. We got onto Skyscanner and to our surprise found out that the cheapest tickets were costing £100 each between the two capitals Viantiane and Hanoi. We could have flown from Luang Prabang but we still wanted to explore a bit more of Laos, so we decided to fly from Viantiene and stop on the way in backpackers Mecca Vang Vieng. So we coughed up the £200 and bought our flights to Hanoi.
This was the second time we were horrified by the prices of flights in the region. Where were all the cheap flights like everyone said there would be? I was hoping for the £15-20 flights, but so far they were just a myth…
Since the cheapest flights were already £100 each, we didn’t really have a choice in the date of travel, as all other days were a lot more expensive. This meant we had to cut our time in Laos shorter by a couple of days, but would still have time for a short trip to Vang Vieng.
In Luang Prabang, just like in any other major tourist destination in South-East Asia, there are many many tourist ticket offices lining the streets. Arranging tours, excursions or any onward journeys should not be too difficult. On our last afternoon here we went into one of these offices in the hope that they would still have bus tickets available for us for travelling to Vang Vieng the following day. Luckily they did! We bought tickets for the VIP bus (although again we knew VIP really did not mean anything and we could end up on any kind of vehicle). Each ticket cost 140000 kips (£11) including our tuk-tuk transfer to the coach station in the morning.
The next morning we said goodbye to the lovely guesthouse we had been staying in in Luang Prabang, had a hearty breakfast and got on our tuk-tuk to get transferred to the coach station. The coach was actually ok, we lucked out!! It looked ok from the outside anyway and for the first hour of the journey it was ok. The seats were very uncomfortable though and halfway through the 6 hour journey I could not put it off any longer and had to go to the toilet which was in the belly if the bus, where all the luggage a were stored. To get to the toilet I had the almost walk in a squat position and climb over dozens of backpacks. When I finally made it there was no light, so I had to manoeuvre myself into the loo in darkness while the bus was crazily swaying on the mountain roads we were now driving on. It wasn’t easy, but I managed and climbed back onboard successfully.
As I said by now we were driving along the mountain roads between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng and if I want to be perfectly honest, I was terrified!
We got a preview of things to come when just as the bus was pulling away from the bus station it started swaying from side to side like a boat on the uneven dirt surface on the way out to the main road. The main road wasn’t much better: bumpy and full of holes, but we had actually been expecting much worse, so we settled in for the journey ahead. It was all ok until the bus started climbing up the mountain roads into the towering mountains ahead. It just kept on driving further and further up and round and round the mountains. The roads started to get narrower and narrower and dangerously close to the edge. We literally could not see the road anymore from the windows of the bus, it felt like we were teetering and swaying above a 2 mile drop with each bend in the road. And that’s not all! The driving style of most drivers on the roads was definitely something to get used to.. How can I say this? At first it may seem like they are all maniacs..! Big vehicles like buses and trucks happily overtake anything on the narrow road, and they especially love doing it while approaching a blind bend ! It’s crazy! They also beep their horns constantly, which I can understand when overtaking on bends, but perhaps if they just stuck to their lanes and overtook when safe then they wouldn’t need to constantly lean on their horns!!
Anyway, amazingly, we were never really in any real danger, and the drivers obviously know what they are doing. We noticed that, unlike back home, where everyone is expected to look out for smaller drivers, here the bigger vehicles definitely rule the roads. If you are smaller than it’s your responsibility to look after yourself as the big vehicles certainly won’t think twice about cutting you off or driving in the oncoming lane.
After a while we got used to the driving style and learnt to trust the driver. And we tried not to look out the window too much. Which was of course incredibly hard as they scenery was absolutely spectacular!! Mountains upon mountains, green valleys, just amazing, I was so impressed, the landscape really took my breath away.
After about 7 hours we arrived in Vang Vieng, also know sand Laos backpacker central, home to the infamous tubing experience.