Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rocking Bus Ride on Stormy Seas to Luang Prabang

When you arrive in Hawaii, a beautiful woman welcomes you by adorning you with a flowered lei. Similarly here in gorgeous Vang Vieng, to punctuate what a pleasant ride the bus company promises you to Luang Prabang, upon boarding, they hand you a pink plastic barf-bag.

The Northerly trek through Laos is covered by one sole, beaten-up dirt road which winds its way serpentine-like through steep mountains. I get motion sickness relatively easily. If I’m aboard a 30 person boat on choppy water I’m usually the second or third person to heave-ho, so I know in advance I’m in trouble.
“Hey, does anyone want to make bets on who throws-up first?” I offer the four couples sitting around me, “I’m likely the favorite.”
We start talking. Two of the couples have been travelling for years, as if seeing the world was a profession. One of the guys had been travelling for--
-- “Eight years??”
“Eight years,” he affirms.
“How do you do that?” I ask, “At least I have some belief I have a home,” my mind flashing back to an already hazy Los Angeles, realizing I’ve been away for the better part of the last year.
“Well, I stop places and work to make money as a dive master.”
“Hey, we’re dive masters too,” chimes in a couple from Denmark.
“Us too,” states a surprised Canadian couple.
“Seriously?” I question, looking around for the hidden camera. “All of you are dive masters?”
Even the Swedish couple that by some miracle bucked the odds and weren’t dive masters, had lived on a boat for a year. The conversation naturally turns to the under-water world, including stories of their dumbest students who pay the hefty fee to SCUBA and promptly refuse to so as much wade into the practice pool.
For my benefit, they speak of rough seas and novice divers on small boats, unable to handle side-to-side sway of the ocean, regurgitating their lunch for the fish, laughing as my face turns a darker shade of blue. They're like bullies on the playground teasing the weak kid. I slump in my seat, realizing that in the “Puking Sweepstakes,” I’ve gone from merely favorite, to sure-fire lock.
A view from the bus
Meanwhile, the old bus plods ahead down the dirt road like a shoe-less drunk navigating a street littered with glass, slowing down to stall speeds while traversing the road's many pot-holes, and taking the serpentine mountain bends like a grandma in a wheel chair. The 100 mile trek is set to take 8 hours. Any MIT mathematician with the help of an advanced supercomputer could calculate our average speed as “slow.”
Our large vehicle continues to rock back and forth like a small ship on stormy seas, bad shock absorbers unable to handle any bump; each dip in the road creating the sensation of being nearly capsized by twenty foot waves. I start to feel nauseous, and attempt to meditate my way out of it. No dice, the body and brain's equilibrium seem to have a mind of their own.
I look out the window at the spectacular views of mountainous jungle and the valleys below, hoping the natural beauty helps me regain some semblance of balance, as I bravely battle the elements. My forehead falls back into my hands as I fight the losing battle.
Almost seven hours in, I’m somehow still afloat.
By some divine intervention we hit a stretch where we actually seem to moving straight ahead; perhaps the storm has passed.
Dark clouds quickly cover the sun, the wind howls. The serpentine passes start anew. A horrible mechanical burning like smell emanates from somewhere, something’s wrong, it actually gives me hope.
 It’s gotta be our bus! Please be our bus! We’ll stop, I can walk off the dizziness. Ten minutes later we’re still sailing, the putrid stench becoming stronger. We go around a sharp bend, hitting a bump, the bus leaps off the road, landing, rocking back side to side. I’m enveloped by a wave of nausea. I look around for the pink barf bag.
BLUUURGGHHHHHHHHH!!! My stomach evacuates itself. Then again. And one more time for good measure.
“Well you were prediction came true,” excitedly shouts the bald Danish dive master with mock encouragement.
Seven and a half hours of the eight hour ride I lasted. So close.

Wait, why are we pulling over, why are we stopping?
“Fixing the clutch,” answers a bus employee.
“Couldn’t you have stopped have stopped five minutes ago?!!” 
broken down
It's wasted breath. A half hour later we pull into the Luang Prabang bus depot, I'm still not feeling well. We disembark, and I grab my belongings and start slowly walking away.
The bald Danish guy throws his arm over my shoulder and teases me, "Hopefully your children have stronger stomachs." 
If I wasn't so dizzy I'd punch him.  
"Hopefully your children have hair," I retort back weakly as he walks away. He laughs. He knows he deserved it. Fucking bullies.


  1. Hi there
    Is there a particular reason why you picked the VIP bus over the mini bus? I'm travelling to Vang Vieng in Feb 2012 and will have to take this same dreaded route to Luang Prabang, and the thought of it makes me nervous!

  2. hey Bek,
    There's no way around the ride. I took the bus cause it was leaving at that time rather than mini-bus which I would have had to wait hours for.
    The mini-bus is a little better I hear, but still ain't no picnic.
    Hey, feel free to subscribe to the blog if you like it! i work hard and there's a lot of great material. :)
    Hope this helps my traveling friend!

  3. I prefer the big buses in Laos (in fact in the whole of South East Asia) as they don't drive quite so fast. Some of the minibuses I travelled in were driven by complete maniacs. Way too fast for the road conditions.


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