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The bus trip from hell... except i'm in Laos!

Sam Neua, Laos

I should have known when the chap at the bus station giggled and raised his eyebrows as I collected my ticket,
"You do know its 15 hours?"
"Yeah" I scoffed, thinking back to all those hellish chinese sleeper trips.

I'll start with my buying of the ticket from the friendly agent. He was a lovely chap and so is worthy of a mention, he too questioned why I wanted to travel to Sam Neua, "to see the Pathet Lao caves and stuff" i said.
He sort of gave me a fair enough face.
The only reason I mention this fella is because as I sat down to pay for my ticket and give my details I noticed what it said on his bright red shirt.
"Fuck off, wankers"
After enquireing as to his understanding of the phrase, discovering he had none and the resulting shy way he tryed to fold himself in half to hide it after i'd given him a general gist, I had a soft spot for the chap. Next day when I picked up the ticket and got the free tuk tuk to the bus station he proudly showed me his clean blue sloganless shirt.

I got to the bus station in plenty of time for the 5:30pm departure. Except the bus didn't depart at 5:30, "dont worry" said the sniggering but friendly station master. "I'll tell you when it arrives."
He didn't because his shift was over before it did, at 9pm his replacement guided me to the bus as it trundled in to the station. I could see from the warm glow out the windows it was pretty busy, only when I clambered in over the grain sacks and small children did I realise it was completely full. Even all the extra plastic seats they put down the aisle where taken. Somehow though they reorganised things. The surpisingly well spoken conducter said. "Dont worry sir, we'll sort you out a seat" Sure enough after a bit of jigging around everyone was still sat down looking quite comfortable and there was a spare seat for me. I made my way over and tripped over something. A young man bent down and sheepishly picked up the item, a poorley dsiguised automatic rifle wrapped in his jumper. Pleased I hadn't killed or at least mamed any other passengers I plonked myself down in the chair and was met by curios grins from all around.

We set off at the usual dawdling Laos bus pace picking up yet more stragglers and miraculously finding them all places to sit. I began to doze off, my head lollong around with knowhere to rest.

After what seemed like hours we stopped for dinner, many of the other folks on the bus had been travelling all day.

I looked at my watch, 10:30pm

We where soon off again and the lights where switched off so we could sleep. At the same time the driver switched on the radio and turned it up. It never go turned down till we arrived (no joke)

A sleepless night folowed, I remember hearing the strange whinings of Laos pop and leaning back to back with the chap next to me as we tried to get comfortable, it didn't really work.

Suddenly we stopped with a loud clunk, it was 5:30am and still dark outside. Everyone peered through the windows, the driver gunned the engine, sighed then gunned it again. He said something and everyone began to pile off. It appeared we where stuck, I headed to the door and saw the mud outside. I had a bright idea, i'd put my spanking new flip flops in my day pack for just such an occurance, so I scurried back to my seat and changed shoes I got to the door and hopped out into what looked like a dry bit.
It wasn't, it was just very deep. I took a step and my flip flop ripped. I took anther towards safety and the other one got sucked off too. In a moment of ill thought out action I delved in after the sandals with my arms elbow deep in landslide. Pretty much everyone else on the bus nearly died laughing as i grumpily slopped around getting everything dirty, wet and cold. I soon gave up and trudged to the dry patch in front of the bus. The sun began to rise, it started to rain.

I've just realised how rediculously long this annecdote is getting! I'll hurry up...

Next we were all directed to grab onto a large metal cord and try and pull the bus from the mud whilst the driver gunned the engine some more. Thats right, I was standing about 10 feet in front of the 5 ton bus whilst he tryed to make it jump out of its hole as fast as possible. I felt really safe.
Thankfully it didnt work.

Shovels where used, no joy. I found one flip flop with it though the oter had dissapeared.

About an hour and a half in our rescue vehicle arrived, an old fuel lorry it chugged up the hill in front of the bus, got to the crest, stalled and broke down. Half an hours tinkering then a jump/rolling start in reverse nearly saw one chap lose his arm as he tried to put a chock under the wheel to stop it falling into a ditch.

Then they got out the jump leads and within 5 minutes had it going. Next came a 25 point turn and another close call with the ditch as the driver forget he was still in reverse when trying to move forward. Finally it was hooked onto the bus and it was hoiked free.

We all piled back on, it stopped raining.

The last 9 hours went dissapointingly unneventfully and about 2 hous in half the bus departed and I got a couple of seats to myself and some much needed kip.

Arriving in Sam Neua at 4:30pm it had been exactly 24 hours since I left for the bus station the previous day.
Strangely though I didn't feel that upset or pissed off, just tired. The chatty comaradarie of the previous day had kept all our spirits up. Even the flip flop fiasco was pretty funny in heindsite.

Pleased to be off the bus I jumped on to another one to the stunning village of Vien Xai, found a lovely if a slightly insect infected bungalow got some dinner and was in bed for 7.

permalink written by  Dan on August 21, 2008 from Sam Neua, Laos
from the travel blog: Been there, Dan that!
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What time's the bus back Dan?

Coulda been worse...the driver might have been a Sheffield bus driver!

permalink written by  mother on August 26, 2008

Reminds me of the old 97 to hillsbrough. hours late, hellishly long route, buses on the brink of collapse and loud irritating music for the whole trip.

At least you got a seat, i don't know what your complaining about really...

permalink written by  Steve Mould on August 28, 2008

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Previous: A not particularly well deserved rest! Next: Vieng Xai, 'The Hidden City' and 'The Secret War'

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