The joy of transportation in Laos

I woke up feeling sore. My neck was aching from the tough pillow. I feel like I haven’t actually slept well in a while. I can’t wait to sleep in my own, comfortable bed. I had my breakfast at the guesthouse and asked for a sandwich to take on the bus with me as well. I walked the 1,7km to the bus station and already started sweating. I had to wait a little while for the 9.30AM bus. There was one other foreigner on this bus. My bag was put in the bottom and I easily found a seat. So far it all seemed too easy. And it was.

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The bus stops along the road in Tad Lo

After a short drive we stopped for 45 minutes. Ladders and barrels were propped up against the bus and a huge amount of heavy bags were lifted onto the roofs. Everything that didn’t fit was put somewhere in the back seats. After this arduous process we were on our way again for all of 5 minutes. Then we stopped for another 10 minutes, this time to find heavy parcels that were hidden underneath the seats. One guy slid them to the front of the bus for a delivery in the village. We weren’t only the bus, we were supplying towns with all kinds of stuff. After 1,5 hours we had only driven 18km!

But we took off again. A guy was painting a pedestrian crossing on the streets and some of the paint had already smudged because people drove over it. Why they even bothered with the crossings was a mystery to me. Nobody uses them. People cross anywhere and no matter where you cross, no car will stop for you. Not long after we stop again. This time some young people with bowls filled with pins hop on the bus. They seem to sell them, perhaps funding their education? At least we didn’t stop long and at least we didn’t stop anymore after this, except to drop off people. On the way here we stopped three times to let vendors in with chickens on sticks, green fruits, sticky rice in bamboo and peanuts.

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Our old Chinese bus got pretty full, with people sitting in the aisle as well. There was a massive crack in the windshield and storks were decorating the curtains. The young driver would fire some warning shots with his claxon as we avoided oncoming traffic. And then suddenly we were there. We were an hour late and not at the southern bus station, but everyone heading into Pakse was kicked out. They put us in a jumbo that went to the main market. From here I could get another jumbo to Champasak. I had to wait for almost an hour before the jumbo actually started driving and I was joined by two Germans who had taken the bus from Tad Lo an hour later!

The women in the jumbo tried to talk to me, but I just shrugged. Then I’m pretty sure one the women explained to the older woman that all I knew was ‘sabai dee’. So I said ‘sabai dee’ and ‘khop chai’ to confirm that. The two benches of the jumbo were well filled with people and in between stood a whole bunch of groceries. The roof was also filled and my bag just stood at the very back of the jumbo, barely supported. I was glad when the driver decided to tie it up with some rope. The road was actually the best I’ve seen in Laos and the people on the jumbo were friendly. We stopped to do some more groceries and I was wondering what the women were selling. It looked like a garlic the size of an onion. Then all three falang were handed an oversized garlic so that we could try it. The woman next to me showed me how to peel it, laughing at me for not knowing. The locals had it peeled in no time, but us falang were still struggling as we were eating it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get it all, but it was tasty nevertheless. It’s pretty close to a kohlrabi, but not quite the same.

We got dropped off along the main road and had to walk a little bit to get to Champasak. It seemed like there was absolutely nothing out there. Champasak was one big street with big properties that were quite spread out. I passed a visitor center that I would have a look at and then checked into the first guesthouse I saw, because at 40.000KIP I would not be able to find a cheaper place. The first room I got had a cigarette butt in the bathroom, so I asked for another room. This one turned out to have lots of long hairs in the bathroom, but I guess this was the lesser of the evils. I took the shower head and tried to steer the hair in the direction of the drain. Like most Asian bathrooms, the design was flawed and the water actually flowed away from the drain. Eventually I got rid of the hair though and at least the water was warm. I wasn’t too happy about this accommodation though and already started dreaming of a better place. I promised myself that I would do some research for the 4000 islands. I planned to spend a bit more time here, so a nice place was a necessity.

For the rest of the afternoon I walked through the long street a bit and took a look in the visitor center. I read my book and stared out over the river. Then I had a delicious dinner at Champasak with Love. Tomorrow I’ll check out the ruins.

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