337 km (210 miles) in 15 hours
I think the hardest part of traveling is the actual traveling, moving from place to place. When you get dumped off at a bus station miles in an unknown town, in the pouring rain, at 2 am and have to walk to find a guesthouse, things can get stressful. So I wanted to dedicate a blog post to the details that I leave out of my posts. Below is the journey from Green Climber’s Home to the capital, Vientiane.
Nick and I left GCH around 4:30 pm as we knew the sun would set in an hour. We stepped onto the main road heading to Thakhek and stuck out a thumb. Within 5 minutes we quickly jumped into the bed of a truck heading towards town. 8 miles later we knocked on the window and jumped out at a fork in the road just a mile before the bus station (little did we know this vehicle was heading directly to the bus station… too bad we couldn’t speak Lao).
We schlepped on our bags and started to walk. We arrived to the bus station at dusk, however sleeper bus tickets wouldn’t be sold until 10:30 pm. We sat and waited. It grew dark and we listened to pigs scream as they were shoved into the baggage compartments of busses. We watched the bus station kids play and the babies get breastfed. We watched homeless families lay out their blankets and prepare for the night. A man threw up in a garbage bin a foot behind our chairs. Later, street dogs made their rounds picking food from the nearby bins. Our hearts were heavy taking in all of the sites.
Nick and I spent about 30 minutes trying to reapply data to our SIM card and once successful got some more delightful news. Not only had I been accepted into Oregon’s Sustainable MBA program, I was accepted into the 1 year accelerated program and offered an academic scholarship. Rad! We used the data to call our folks and check in. At 10 pm we went to check on the status of the bus. “No” the man at the desk replied when I said, “sleeper bus to Vientiane.” He pointed. Okay, so we were taking the double decker local sitting bus instead of the sleeper bus. Not ideal, but no biggie. We piled on and not a seat was left unfilled (of course).
From 10:30 pm to 4:30 am the lights were on, the Laotian music was in full swing and there was no room to recline our seats. The bus was hot and it smelt like there was a hazardous explosion in the restroom. We listened to cats meow and people snore. We arrived at Vietiane at 4:30 am (it was still dark) and as always were hassled by tuk tuk drivers. “30,000 kip ($3.66) pp to city center ,” they yelled. We decided to wait for the local bus ($0.38) and slept outside the bus station. It was cold. A bus came but by time we got our bags, we missed it and I rolled an ankle in the process. Around 6 am we opted to take a song ta uu for $0.61 pp. We got dropped off at the market and walked 2 miles to the downtown area. We walked in and out of about 7 hostels and guesthouses as they were either full or the price wasn’t right. Finally, 15 hours later we arrived. Traveling has been a blast. The highs are high and the lows are low. It’s easy to let Asia get the best of you, but you put one foot forward and keep on moving.
Random Food for Thought in Laos
- Images of Che Guevara are found all over the communist country of Laos representing rebellion.
- Reliable wifi does not exist in Laos, not in the south, not in the north, not at coffee shops or guesthouses. Maybe we will have better luck in Thailand?
- Sticky rice is eaten at almost every meal, it’s rolled into a walnut sized ball with your hand and dipped into curry or eaten with eggs or vegetables.
- Buses stop on the side of the road, everyone gets out together, walks into the woods, pees and returns onto the bus. This is normal.
- Lao time/ Asia time, there is no exact time. You should never travel with expectations. You may leave an hour or two earlier or later than expected.
- Cobra, worm and scorpion whiskey are commonly drunk throughout the country. Nick became friends with a bus station bathroom attendant and was offered worm whiskey. He obviously didn’t know what it was until after the fact but said it was extremely smooth.
- The sex industry is unfortunately alive and well. You meet people at your guesthouse who you later see walking down the street with a prostitue and it’s shocking. Then you realize, it’s more common than you ever expected. and it breaks your heart.
- Bear bile is harvested in SE Asia and China and over 12,000 bears are held in captivity to extract their bile. Their bile is used for medicinal purposes.
- Don’t be fooled by the eggs in Southeast Asia. What you may think is a hard boiled egg is most likely a balut egg (developing bird embryo).
- Rather than salt and pepper being available on every table, MSG and chili flakes can be found on every table in Laos.
- Tourists can be the worst. The majority are entitled and have no respect for the local people. They roam around local villages half dressed without any awareness of local customs. I thought all travelers travel for the same reason, to gain a global perspective and learn from the people and places visited. However, I am quickly learning travelers have different priorities and reasons for travel. Travel is such a fine balance between learning/contributing to locals and simply gawking at locals like visiting a zoo. It’s important that we put down our cameras and try to form genuine relationships. Learning to be easy and travel without any expectations is critial.