Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. The best way I can express what I was feeling in Laos is this:
Laos needs an operations manager.
Assuming that position will never get posted and filled, I will write a few tips for the future traveler to Laos.
If your bus says it will leave at 7am, consider yourself lucky if it leaves before 9am. Don’t be surprised if the seat in front of you is broken so that the man in said seat is basically napping in your lap the entire time. After leaving two hours late, the bus driver will immediately pull into the gas station next door to fill up.
Your journey will always be 10 hours or more, no matter how far you are going. Rule of thumb: double the expected time on the bus to figure out your actual arrival time.
Buy some pills from a questionable stand on the side of the road. Don’t hesitate to take them, despite the fact that the ingredients listed are in Lao and there’s no way to tell what you’re actually taking. You will need them for the twisty, bumpy ride ahead.
About 10% of the bus riders will be throwing up their breakfast. Sometimes that number includes you. But this issue has been considered; everyone is conveniently provided with a plastic bag for their own personal puke.
The bus you are on is guaranteed to break down at some point. Sometimes within 10 minutes of leaving the station. Don’t worry, you can relieve yourself on the side of the road, along with the other 30 passengers, as you wait two more hours for the bus driver to fix the bus by removing some engine parts.
If you choose the alternative bus option, a 15 seat minibus, it will almost always contain 20 passengers. They won’t sell your seat, but they may sell your lap.
Slow Boat Travel:
This is a lovely way to travel. Just know that slow boats may pack just enough people on to come to the brink of sinking. If it sinks.. safety first! The boat has windows so you can easily escape. Just watch out for water snakes.
This is the best way to travel, albeit the slowest. It’s still ok to go tube the river if it’s cloudy, the numerous bars along the way will have fires going which you can crowd around, shivering in your swimsuit. This was the most organized form of travel we experienced, complete with rented tubes and tuk tuk rides to the put-in spot.
-If you find 100 earwigs on the walls of your pre-paid hotel room, “don’t worry, they don’t bite. They just crawl in your ears.”
-Your hotel manager greets you at the door on evening number three of your pre-paid stay to say: ‘We moved you into a smaller, much smellier room. Don’t worry! We moved all your stuff for you!” Fair warning.
-Your hotel room will not have a window, so don’t expect to be able to escape in case of a fire.
-The tour you booked that comes with lunch may instead come with a bag of raw meat and no means to cook it.
-Expect food poisoning at some point in your journey, even if you have successfully dodged the raw meat lunch.
Needless to say, we ran into a string of bad luck while we were there. So much so that we couldn’t bear the thought of another curvy bus ride to get to the relaxing southern half of the country, and instead took a night train back to Bangkok in order to make our way to Cambodia.
The lesson from all this:
Let it go! Laos was a lovely country as soon as we realized that we would reach our destination… eventually. We just needed to sit back and relax (and recover from the food poisoning) before we figured it out.
Cale has reminded me about seventeen times on this trip that:
1) There is more than one way to do something,
2) There isn’t a ‘wrong way,’ and
3) That my way is not necessarily the ‘only’ right way.
Obviously that’s entirely false and my way is always the best and most efficient way. But in Southeast Asia, I’m learning to let it go, and in the words of the great Taylor Swift, ‘shake it off.’ Hopefully it’s a skill I can carry back home with me.
And with that, I will leave you with some nice, relaxing photos of beautiful Laos: