Monday, March 30, 2009

Laos 3 : The Long Road to Xieng Khuoang

"Are we there yet?”

That must the thousandth time I've asked that question.

We’ve bumped along in the bus for more then 10 hours since leaving Vientiane. The bus had broken down a total of five times. Each time the driver and the conductor had managed to cobble something together and coaxed the old beast to move a few more kilometers before it protested with a cough and splutter, spewing evil smoke plumes in its wake.

The passengers were remarkably tolerant and patient, perhaps resigned even. Bus breakdowns were a common occurrence in Laos. Not surprising as most of the local buses looked as though they were held together by little more than rubber band and glue. Hardly able to withstand the rigours of travelling on the mountain roads.

The fifth breakdown was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Mr Bus Driver gave up trying to fix it. By then, dusk was upon us and darkness was beginning to shroud the countryside. No knights in shining armour charged to the rescue but the bus driver from the bus that was trailing behind offered a ride. That will do! Thank you God! I don’t relish squatting by the lonely country road for hours waiting for help to arrive.

“Xieng Khouang?” I asked the Laotian girl sitting next to me. The last thing I’d want was to get into a bus heading towards the wrong town! Vigorous nods assured me. Before long I felt a nudge at my side, ‘lift up your hands’ she indicated. I obediently raised my hand. The conductor was counting the number of passengers headed for Xieng Khouang, the province where Phonsavanh is located.

The bus we boarded plies the Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang route, and Xieng Khouang wasn’t exactly ‘on the way’. I had no idea how long a detour that would entail for the Luang Prabang bound passengers, was just grateful they consented to pick us up.

There was no moon that night, the darkness was engulfing, cut only by the beam of the headlights. For the next 3 hours, I held on tight as the bus zig zigged around the hairpin curves of the narrow mountain road, trying to make up for lost time. It was a stomach clenching, gut roiling kind of ride, one misjudgment and down the ravine we all tumble! Oh joy.

At last! At about 8pm, the bus swung into the bus terminal for the Xieng Khouang province. My relief was palpable when I stumbled out of the bus. We had travel for thirteen hours from Vientiane. My longest bus journey to date and I don’t care to beat that record anytime in the near future.

Next up, Phonsavanh and the Mysterious Jars...

* Board the bus heading towards Xieng Khouang from the Northern Bus Terminal in Vientiane. LaoMiao's blog has good information on bus schedule.
* We were told to purchase the bus tickets on the day of travel, just turn up at least an hour earlier at the bus terminal to secure your tickets. But if you are there during the holiday period, you should check to see if you can buy the tickets ahead of time.