Although we knew beforehand Vientiane wouldn’t be that interesting, it is the place where most international flights arrive. But after two nights we saw more than enough of it. We couldn’t wait to leave this depressing place and go to somewhere more interesting.
Luang Prabang is about 220 km to the north of Vientiane and is the place to be for tourists. To get there we could take a local plane, but the only airline that goes this route, Lao Airline, is not famous for its safety record. Furthermore, when going by bus or train you get to see a little bit more of the real country. As there is literally only a few kilometers of rail in the whole of Laos, we opted for a ten hour bus ride via Vang Vieng.
Early in the morning we where picked up from the guesthouse with a still empty bus, but we ended up with a full mini bus after a short tour through the city with mostly Asian tourists and one German guy. It went slowly at first due to heavy traffic and often horendus road conditions, such as big holes in the tarmac, or large deep pools of mud, but after an hour or so the roads were mostly empty and the road conditions improved to acceptable levels, maybe even better than Belgium roads. The driver took this as a sign to speed up a little (much). Either he must have thought he was Schumacher or that the road was disappearing behind him. Overtaking other vehicles on the twisting and winding road in corners without any visibility of oncoming traffic was no exception. Adrenaline was pumping nonstop through our veins, every corner thinking, “if someone is coming now, we will either crash into it or have to avoid the heads on crash by driving into the 100m deep ravine. Either way, we’ll die”.
Amazingly we survived the first halve of our trip and arrived in the backpackers mekka Vang Vieng, infamous for drunk partying tourist and dangerous entertainment like tubing (going steerless on the river in a car tube). Interestingly, many signs over here where written in Korean. Apparently the city attracts many South Korean tourists because a famous movie (to them) was filmed here. Except for the German guy everyone got off here, but we had to change busses to continue. Unfortunately, a guy took our bus tickets when we left in Vientiane and we didn’t have any proof that we bought a ticket all the way to Luang Prabang. Much confusion among the tour operator staff when we tried explaining the situation to them in english, which they didn’t understand too well, but after a while we got hold of someone that could translate our predicament. A few phonecalls later, to the guesthouse that sold us the tickets and we were cleared to go with the next bus that was due to leave in an hour. When we drove through the city our ideas about this place where confirmed and we were happy we skipped it altogether.
The next leg might be the most exciting drives I had ever experienced. But not in a good way, as the driver was even more crazy with his overtaking behaviour, and we started to come in the mountains, with dangerous ravines right next to the road all the time. Especially nerve wrecking was a part of the road that had apparently vanished in a landslide earlier. They where trying to rebuild the stretch of 1 kilometer bumpy and slippery mud with a bunch of machines, but they had some work to do yet. One part of the ‘road’ with bumpy uphill mud was very narrow, but we had to pass it to reach our destination. The driver didn’t hesitate, took a run-up and we just bounced past the deep ravine to the other side. That piece of road was even more narrow after we had passed it, as part of the edge of the mud road had slide into the abbys. Our hearts where racing, it must have been at least 200 beats per minute, but we where happy we survived this ordeal.
After taking in the views from the mountain pass, we continued and arrived safe and sound, close after sunset, in Luang Prabang. Dropping us at our hotel was an imposibility, so we had to hike a mile to the hotel with 20 kilos on our back before settling into our relaxed Vietnamese-run guesthouse with a cold beer. Next time we prefer to play Russian roulette as bus rides in Laos seem to be a little bit too much excitement for us.