Still Clutching Cushions from Sue Wright, Laos, Mekong River, Louangphrabang Province.
Posted on Jul 02, 2013 by
Luang Prabang is just a lovely distant memory and we are now on Don Khon in the Thousand Islands of Southern Laos.
We came down by bus, not the VIP bus with the onboard toilet but the Express bus. Barbara was adamant she would not travel on a bus with a smelly toilet, so in spite of my reservations we booked the Express. It was to take one hour longer than the VIP but Babs reasoned that was because it had to stop for regular comfort stops.
We had an inauspicious start to the day when the tuc tuc we booked for 5.30am was late and we took off into the cold dark morning in what I, with no sense of direction thought was the wrong one. Eventually I saw a row of lights which looked suspiciously like runway lights, then my light went on, he was heading for the airport not the bus station!
We eventually arrived in good time to get seats towards the front of the bus but our hearts sank when we saw our vehicle. The roof was piled high with everything under the sun as was the aisle. This was our first clue that the Express bus is the local bus going all the way to Vientiane with only one scheduled stop for lunch and none for calls of nature. A fact which didn`t seem to bother the locals as few were going the whole way and the attendant was passing out little plastic bags for those who were. The men took a pee in theirs and placed them neatly in the aisle along side the sacks of rice and produce, while the women mostly used theirs to quietly throw up. The express bus then stopped at every roadside village to pick up and drop off. Six hours into the journey we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the spinach quiche. ginger cake and fruit we had brought with us.
Ten and a half hours after we left the bus station we arrived in Vientiane, only one and a half hours late. Within minutes we reached the welcoming smiles of the best reception staff in South East Asia, the boys of the Mali Namphu Guesthouse. Our room was ready and waiting.
A good 3 course meal on the fountain square for the princely sum of $6 each restored our equilibrium and next morning we changed a few $`s for millions of Kip to finance the next adventure, also by bus. But... before the overnight bus to Pakse we confirmed our flight from Pakse to Siem Reap thereby cutting out a long bus and overnight train journey, and checked our of the hotel. With an afternoon to fill we scoured the market for bargains, Barbara bought an old, I hesitate to say antique carved stone pillow but not for her guest room I hope then we went for a walk along the river.
Too soon it was time to set off for our final major bus journey. Having failed to find anyone who had heard of the new bed bus let alone anyone who could sell a ticket, we finally saw them at the bus station. They are fabulous so long as you aren`t over six footand we would definately have take it had we been able. Our bus turned out to be the pretty spectacular King Of Bus. A two storey affair with some seats below and a mammoth luggage area and possibly 60 seats on the upper level. The decor looked as if it`s designer was lounging on a day bed in a bar in Vang Vieng at the time, following a meal of extra happy pizza. Rose pink swags and Jabot`s complimented (?) flamingo pink pleated shades, the roof was black padded and studded vinly and the very comfortable reclining seats a radiant electric blue velour with an abstract pattern in a rainbow of flourescent colours. It`s perhaps as well we were expected to sleep all night.
Dinner was served (shame on you Air Canada) and it was an exceptionally good spicy meat dish with rice. Dessert was a handfull of bon-bons and a welcome bottle of icy cold water completed the feast. Barbara wasn`t hungry so donated hers to a pair of giant backpackers who quickly devoured it along with their own admittedly meager portions.
In the seats behind us were the Aussie boys who had donated the cushions in Luang Prabang. They no longer had the remaining two and didn`t look too comfortable, we almost gave them back! It was without a doubt our best bus journey to date and better to end on a high note we think.
To reach the islands we rejected the local bus "leaving in ten minutes "in favour of the large mini bus "leaving in 10 minutes" which it did for the center of town where we were expected to sit for two hours until it`s scheduled departure time of 8.30am. We put the time to good use by checking out hotels for our overnight before our flight to Siem Reap. We choose the Sala Champa, a restored French Villa with huge rooms for $35, we were in the row of rooms built in the garden for $13 and very good value at that.
Two hours after leaving we arrived at the boat landing on the beach in Nakasang to find it had disappeared beneath the very high and fast running Mekong. We negotiated a $2 fare to our floating hotel and minutes later were at Sala Phae a floating boatel.