The overnight bus to Vientiane is full.
But this fact doesn’t stop the driver stopping, picking up new people and piling them on. When it’s not possible to squeeze anymore onto beds; foam mattresses piled with pillows, people and duvet are laid along the aisle. So desperate to get on this bus, people have wedged themselves into tiny spaces getting ready to crouch there for the next twelve hours. This is a scene I would expect to see in India or Nepal. But instead I found myself witnessing it riding the overnight bus to Vientiane in Laos.
This was my first time traveling on an overnight bus in Laos. I expected when you booked an overnight bus – naively might i add – that the ‘bed’ you’re promised is your own. Just like it was on the overnight trains in Thailand right? Nope.
After squeezing along the narrow aisle and looking up, B35, great, my bed!
My bed mate, a Laos boy, looked instantly just as uncomfortable and surprised as I was. Climbing onto the top bunk, trying not to wipe anyone out with my seemingly endless hand luggage, we made polite conversation as we snuggled down with our separate blankets.
‘Sua’ as he liked to be called is a Hmong boy from the Xieng Khouang Province (or someplace nearby, from what i understood). He’s been visiting his parents for the holiday and is now returning to Vientiane to go to school. The next morning that we pull in. Now that’s dedication.
On this overnight bus to Vientiane I’m the only ‘Farang‘ (or westerner, as Laos call us) on the bus. The conversation between me and Sua was brief but curious, mainly why I was on a locals sleeper and not the tourist bus. Well Sua, I just gave money to a hostel owner and hoped for the best; he laughed.
Although uncomfortable, I had to remind myself, this sleeper overnight bus to Vientiane, is really no different to a seat.
I mean, if opting to take the day bus to Vientiane I would be sitting next to a stranger. Probably falling asleep, trusting my body not to let my head rest on the strangers shoulder, snore or drool my way through the journey and vice versa. – of course – So really the only difference here is that we are laying down next to each other, which is slightly more intimate and the purpose is to sleep.
The beds the overnight buses are kitted out with are not much larger than standard western Singles. Clearly not made for ‘Farang’s’ but more suited to the slim frames of the Laos people. I was just so glad the overnight bus to Vientiane had fitted the top bunks with bars to stop you flying out – and onto a person below. Tossing and turning to find a position where we don’t cross into the others space, is comfortable and within a breeze of air con is difficult. Especially when the bus flies around the tight beds, rolling your once sleeping body into the bars or the person next to you. Oh the fun!
Laos time works very much like Island time.
If you’re leaving somewhere early, you’re bound to get held up somewhere else and still arrive late. But that’s ok, as every Lao I met says, everything works out in the end! It took an hour or so to get out of Phonsavan. Throughout the journey the bus got stuck on a dirt back-road once. Struggled to pull the overcrowded weight up the hill and like clockwork, every two hours, stopped for a break. To load more people, let the driver have a smoke, give the overheating bus a break or toilet stops. Every two hours the lights came on and we were up, sweating from the broken air-con and overcrowding but trying not to drink any water to avoid peeing – the struggle is real folks!
The overnight bus to Vientiane from Phonsavan took around 11 hours, which was not too bad. Expect to be on this bus for around ten to thirteen hours. Depending on road conditions, the driver and just how long it takes to get everyone on board. Don’t expect to have a well rested night, between a broken air con, frequently hourly stops resulting in all the lights being turned on.
The overnight bus is probably one of the more uncomfortable journeys you will have on your trip. But an experience all backpackers should experience – haven’t I convinced you? – I mean the journey itself cost me 150,000KIP which is the equivalent of eighteen US dollars! A Bargain!
What’s been your worst or most memorable travel experience on the road?
Have you traveled by overnight bus in Laos and have a different story? Let me hear it!
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