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For details of the places I visited in Vientiane and Bangkok, with GPS Coordinates, see my books Vientiane: 20 Must See Attractions and Bangkok: 20 Must See Attractions.
Outside, tree branches strain against the onslaught of the wind. Inside the hotel, i am sound asleep. Dark dreams as stormy as the weather outside, fill my thoughts, but i sleep on while time is running out.
A clatter in my room rip me from my dreams. The storm outside had died down. Sleepily i look at the floor where my external battery pack had landed. I have two of these monster Anker batteries, packing 15000 mAh of power with the weight of a brick. In my dreams i have kicked the battery off the bed where it was charging my iPad mini. Luckily the cable pulled out and the iPad did not follow the battery pack to the floor.
I press the menu button on the iPad and gulp. It is 6.05 am, shit. I fall out of bed and grab a fresh pair of clothes i have folded on the edge of the bed the night before. Having already packed the night before, I am out of the room and running the three flights of stairs down in 4 minutes flat. The reception guy is still fast asleep as i burst out of the hotel.
As i run into the main road, i notice the name of a hotel across the road from the one i stayed in. The hotel is named the same as the wi-fi connection I was given to use in the hotel i stayed in, they are pirating the hotel’s internet connection. Now i know why only the corner units have proper internet connection as they face the other hotel. Internet piracy is actually a big thing in Asia, you can read all about how i got hacked here.
The main road has four lanes, two going each way, split by an island. I run up the road in hope of finding a tuk tuk. To my surprise, they do not wait on street corners and outside hotels as in Cambodia. Although there is traffic in the road, it is mostly people going to work. The few tuk tuks that do pass me, already have customers. With two backpacks, i run the just over 2km in about 20 minutes, all uphill. By the time i arrive at the bus station, my lungs are burning. Damn i am out of shape.
A tour bus is standing in the road, ready to leave. I go to the first small ticket office and show my ticket to the guy. He is the controller for the people getting on the bus. I notice that they give him a pink picket, and he then exchanges that for a yellow bus receipt. He shakes his head and says that my ticket is not valid. I ask him where i can get a ticket for the bus to Vientiane, and he says i have to buy a new ticket at another booth about 30 meters deeper into the compound. As i start to walk over, the guy that was loading the bus asks if i need help, and I show him my ticket. He informs me that all i have to do is exchange the ticket at the second office, i do not need to buy a need ticket, i must just ask for an exchange. He also adds that i need to hurry, as the bus is leaving in a few minutes, well before the 7 am departure time as scheduled.
Thanking the guy, i sprint over to the second office. There, i hand my ticket over, and ask for an exchange ticket. The guy at the counter writes out a ticket for 100 000 kip, with no destination. Without missing a beat, he flicks the ticket to me, then picks up the book he was reading. I head back to the controller office, and the guy reluctantly takes the ticket, but slips it under his clipboard. He then tells me it is okay, i can get on the bus. The baggage handler then informs me to hurry. I refuse. I want a receipt for my bus ticket as i now have no proof I paid. The controller guy reassures me it is all okay, i can get on the bus, again I refuse, I want a receipt. At this point, a guy that i presume must be a manager or something, shows up and wants to know what is going on. I inform him that i want a receipt for my bus ticket. He asks the controller guy something in Laos, and then turns to me and says the controller guy says i have no ticket.
Catching them all off guard, i lean into the small office and over the counter and rip the clipboard up and grab my pink ticket. I hold it up for all to see and exclaim that this is my ticket that the controller took. For a few seconds, deadly silence descends on us. Just go, the controller guy snarls through gritted teeth. The baggage guy whispers next to me, you better get on the bus now. Nodding, i get on the bus, and head to the back.
My pink ticket that I still have.
I find the couple that i had traveled with before, near the back of the bus. They look exhausted and not too happy. I sit down near them, and ask them if they had exchanged their bus ticket for new ones. The guy hesitate a little, then say yes. I say they wanted to charge me for a new ticket, but got them to give me a free exchange, and then ask him if he had to pay. He says unconvincingly no, he did not need to pay. I leave it at that, and never did find out if he had run through the same troubles as me. I did however find out that the hotel he stayed in had called him a tuk tuk to take him to the bus station.
Strangely, the back seat is open, so i move over and make myself at home. Soon after, the bus heads off.
View inside the bus from my cosy spot at the back of the bus.
About 15 minutes or so after departure, a conductor goes though the bus and ask for bus tickets. I am so glad i argued for getting a receipt, as else i would have been made to pay for a ticket, as well as probably a large bribe for them not to call the police and say i am a stowaway. Corruption. The conductor is a bit taken back by my pink slip, and shrugs his shoulders and move on. I glance over as the couple show their yellow tickets, and note that it is not the same as what the controller guy handed out to the other passengers, so i wonder where he got the tickets. Tip, always hold onto your ticket or a copy of a receipt. The only time you may give it, is to the conductor or the bus driver, however I would suggest you argue and try to hold onto your ticket, you should get a conductor slip and a customer slip with each ticket. It actually says on the ticket, keep your copy (just under the 100 000 kip line). In Asia, crime is harshly punished and as a foreigner, they know you have money and will threaten you with jail and even throw you in jail for a long time, for small things. I saw some being arrested later in my trip, but that is for later.
The countryside wiz past as mile after mile go by. Unfortunately the bus’s window is not that clean, and the driver did not want to stop and clean it for me. 🙁
At points, we pick up passengers along the way, or drop people off. Sometimes we take packages and goods destined for a a town, and it gets packed where ever there is space, even in the isle. However, it is better than the buses where plastic seats are placed in the isle for people to sit on.
The bus remains partially full, so i am able to retain my back seat and snooze as much as i can get.
Almost each time we stop to drop someone off, or pick someone up, it is at a small market and people selling all kinds of stuff swarm the bus. Some have boiled eggs on sticks while others have what looks like cooked and spread open rats on sticks. I was going to get a stick with boiled eggs, when i noticed one egg’s shell was broken and i could see inside. The eggs was green and fungus wires were already growing inside. Somehow, my dry oats is more appealing, and i go for a bowl of that.
Bus after bus and truck pass us as we eat up the road. Most buses, are loaded to the brim, with whatever people need to transport.
Eventually we pull into a small compound, where there is a small market and restrooms. In Cambodia, the restrooms are free to use, but not here. Every place we stopped at, you had to pay for the privilege of using the restroom. Not that the restrooms are much different that those of Cambodia. It is standard Asia restrooms, with at many places the urinals for the guys are against a wall that all have to walk past to get to the actual toilets, and the toilets are squatting toilets with buckets to wash you sexy ass. Sometimes, the toilet is just scrubs alongside the road.
This is actually one of the better toilets i have seen around. Clean at least. Toilet paper is not used at all by locals.
My bus is the back one, and in better shape than the one in front. The place have the same what looks like rats on sticks, as well as eggs well past their sell by date. I decide to go for the safest thing i could get, and the moment the couple saw what i got, they had to get some as well. 🙂
Spicy chips and a bonus packet of caramel popcorn, lunch.
While i am eating a fly licks its legs as it is waiting for a piece of my lunch. I try and shoe it away, but it refuses, it just sits there and salivate over my lunch. I manage to get the ipad right up to him and take a picture. Then, i bring my finger right to him, and flick him off the seat. The fly flies though the air and bounces off a guy’s head a seat forward and across the isle. He snaps his head around and i duck behind the seat in front of me as i try to contain my laughter. Man, even if i tried a 100 times, i do not think i would be able to get that angle again.
After about 30 minutes or so, we are on the road again. Boringly, the miles go by. By 5 pm, just as the sun is setting, we pull into a large bus terminal with a market, in the middle of nowhere. The market have all kinds of things for sale, and the couple, having no warm clothes with them, contemplate on getting a jacket. Eventually they decide it is too expensive. Laos is considerably colder than Siem Reap, and i am glad that i packet a fleece jacket that has its own hood. Tip, aircons on buses in Asia have only two settings; not working or full blast. Always take at least a fleece jacket with, you can even use it as a pillow. In the market, i spot some fresh bread rolls for 10 000 kip (just over a dollar), and got me some.
3 bread rolls gone, 3 to go.
The miles again drag by as the sun makes room for the moon.
At some point early in the morning, i think it was like 1 am, my bladder awakens me with an urgent message, find a toilet. Unfortunately the toilet on board is not functional, and the toilet is in fact used as a storage area (checked it out earlier). As the miles go by, my situation changes from desperate, to dire. I move into the stage where one thinks of all kinds of schemes. Having been on the road before, i have done a few things. I have a stainless steel flask, and a 1.5l water bottle about half full. I empty as much water as i can into the flask, and then down the rest of the water in the bottle, being about 1/2 a liter. My plan is to relieve myself into the bottle, that i have done with fruit juice bottles before, however, to my dismay, the opening of the water bottle is way too small. I am not bragging, just stating facts. With the added water that i drank, things move from dire to where i am contemplate throwing the water out of the flask and urinating in the flask. Hey, it is stainless, i can wash it out with bleach. Just as i start to pour the water back, the bus stops to drop someone off. Desperately is shuffle to the front of the bus, trying not to pee in my pants.
With sign language that i hope i never have to repeat, i demonstrate that i need a toilet and will only be 2 minutes. Not giving the driver any time to argue, i hop off the buss. I decide to go and stand in front of the bus, near a building. My reasoning is, that should he pull away, i will easier stop him than being behind the bus. The building turns out to be a roadside shop, almost like the one i encountered on my return trip from Sihanoukville where the owner opened the shop while i was busy. Throwing caution to the wind, i let it go while illuminated by the bus’s lights and oncoming cars. It must have been a show. Halfway though, the driver calls for me to get in as he wants to go, but i am in full flow and nothing is going to stop the force now. Finally, after flooding the local area, i am able to return to the bus and a very agitated driver. I have no idea how they manged to be named the most peaceful country in the world, when they do not negotiate and are so inflexible. Maybe they just do not tolerate violence, no negotiations, 🙂
It is just before 4 am when we eventually arrive in Vientiane, at some bus station. Here, the tuk tuks are powered by two stroke engines. More noise and smoke. The couple had managed to get in touch with their hotel to change their booking date, so they want to go to their hotel. I check my iPhone (ForEvermap application that has offline maps with hotels and so on), and see there are two backpacker hostels listed in town. One for $3 a night, and one for $5 a night that includes breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee. The pictures for the second backpacker lodge looks better, so i decide on that. We take a tuk tuk together. The couple’s hotel is not far from the backpacker place, so i walk the last two blocks, using my iphone’s GPS to get me there.
At the place, i find a backpacker working on his laptop, and a guy at reception, just about to close up shop. I ask him if he has a room and he says yes. However, i will have to be out by 10 am or pay for another day. I am like, it is 4am in the morning, why should i pay for a full day when the day is already over. That is the rules he goes. So i go, okay, what time do you open in the morning for checking in for a new day? 6 am he says. So i go, okay, so if i come back at 6 am, i can stay the night and check out at 10 am the next day. Yes he goes. Then i ask him, can i wait in the reception area? Sure he goes. So i end up making myself comfortable on a couch in the reception area, and fall asleep.
At 6 am, he comes to wake me, and informs me that i can now check in for the new day. Rules are rules, no negotiations in Laos. Tiredly i follow him to my bunk bed, lock my stuff away, take a quick shower, then fall asleep.
Reception area of backpacker hostel in Vientiane, Laos.
Other bunk beds in the hostel room, taken from my top bunk. 6 beds in total in the room. One shared shower and toilet outside.