After finishing up our treehouse experience in Northern Laos, we planned to make the trek down to Luang Prabang. Originally our plan was to take the slow boat, which had been recommended to us by some friends, but after we realized that it would take two days instead of one, we did the unthinkable… against all logic and advice we had been given, we decided to take… dun, dun, dun… the bus (GASP).
Now truthfully, I wasn’t expecting the worst, although a close friend of mine did say, and I quote, “it was the worst experience of my life.” She went on to regale me with horror stories of people vomiting all over the place, lots of people getting motion sickness, the never-ending winding roads, no on-board bathrooms, the putrid smells… on her advice alone, we never would have tried it. However, since we were on a tight schedule and we wanted to fit everything in, we decided to give it a go. It also helped that two of our “treehouse” friends (see my posts on The Gibbon Experience) were also taking this 13 hour night bus to Luang Prabang, although theirs was set to leave an hour before ours.
So… to set the scene… here we are after just having been in the wilderness for three days, we haven’t showered at all and we are pretty exhausted. I was already feeling sorry for anyone who would have to sit near us, although we tried as best we could to sponge bathe ourselves in the bathroom before we left. Our tuk-tuk comes to pick us up and we get half-way to the bus station before he realized that he had forgotten to pick someone else up, so we made a U-turn, went back, and then headed to the station. When we arrived, I could already tell that something was wrong… there were our two friends, clearly exasperated, still standing there (they were supposed to have left an hour ago). Apparently their bus didn’t leave until 5:30 like ours, and they hadn’t yet been issued their tickets although they’d already paid for them. Their driver was being rude and making fun of them to others who were waiting and they had clearly had enough. So when we got there, our first task was to deescalate the situation. Luckily not long thereafter their driver came with their tickets in hand. We waited a short while before we were allowed to embark. Both of us fought hard for front seats, as we had been told that the motion sickness wouldn’t be so bad there. We succeeded and commandeered the first two rows of seats. The bus continued to fill up until we had already gone beyond capacity- there were people that spent the entire 13 hours sitting on the bus floor.
It started out okay, Trent and I read for a while and slept on and off, but as the night went on the bus got colder, and colder… and colder. The AC was on full-blast while it was nearing freezing temperatures outside. The windows were all frosted over and people were uncomfortably cold. Outside in all the villages we passed, there were fires burning as people were trying to stay warm. We stopped every three hours or so and people filed off the bus to pee in a line along the side of the road. If we were lucky, we stopped at places that had little fires burning and we huddled around them to stay warm. Eventually someone asked the bus driver to shut off the air conditioning when we were stopped for a break, and we finally got a reprieve from the icy blast. However, as soon as the bus started back up, it was back on. Apparently the AC runs if the bus is running, no exceptions. So our friend Ashley pulls out a big roll of duct tape from his backpack and starts ripping off pieces to cover the vents with. We gladly joined him in this endeavor as we were already huddled up with all of our available clothing on (the rest was stored under the bus) in addition to wearing hats, mittens, and being curled up in blankets.
At some point in the wee hours of the morning, when my bladder could contain it no longer, Elle and I disembarked to try to find a more private area to squat and pee. Thankfully we found some bushes around the corner and did our business there. We had much more privacy than I’d seen before. We got ourselves a sandwich and got back on the bus for the last bit of our trip. It was at this moment that I remember looking back in the bus and, I kid you not, it would have made a priceless picture, except I felt too bad to take it (of course, now I regret that I didn’t). The misery on the people’s faces was so evident. Everyone was freezing, everyone was uncomfortable, and everyone wanted the bus ride to end.
Thankfully no one peed or pooped ON the bus and as far as I know, there was no vomit; I didn’t get motion sickness nor did anyone around me. All in all, it could have been far worse, but the cold was nearly unbearable. Finally we arrived in Luang Prabang at around 6:00am. We got off the cold bus and stepped right into the cold outside. We took a frigid tuk-tuk ride into town with two others from Australia and Brazil to try to find a place to stay. We stopped for food at the Coconut Café and had a delicious, warm breakfast with some hot coffee to try to restart our circulation. While we were there we Skyped with our parents since we had been AWOL in the jungle and pretty much out of contact for 5 days. Then we headed out with our friends Ashley and Elle to find ourselves a nice hostel. They made quick friends with a French gentleman (Elle grew up in France) who owned two very quaint hotels that overlooked the Mekong River and booked us both rooms for the next few days. The only things on our agenda: a hot shower and a nap! Unfortunately for both of us, it turned out that the hot water line to our building was broken (as was our heater), but the owner was very accommodating and allowed us to use the hot water in the other hotel to shower until the line to the other building was fixed. That shower felt SO good! After a nap, it was off to see the city!
(The owner of the hotel) (The friendly staff at Sala Luang Prabang)