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Laos – My Most Favourite Bus Ride


On the way to Kong Lo Cave

“Quick, quick” said the lady when I asked for the bus to Khoum Khan at Vientane’s southern bus station and pushed me into a bus that was pulling out of the station. Gilles refused to join this excursion, but had set my mind and heart to visiting the spectacular 7 kilometer long Kong Lo Cave. Not just another random cave, but to see the cave, you take a boat along the river that goes all the way through the cave to the other side of the mountain…

What was a quick start turning into a very long three-day journey! Luckily, I brought a piece of paper explaining in Lao where I wanted to go, since I expected few people to understand English in such a remote area. The bus driver nodded when I showed it to him and seconds later I encounter my first obstacle. Let’s make this word the symbol for the whole trip. The complete aisle of the bus was filled with boxes in two layers. I was motioned to step on them to get to the rear of the bus where there were a few empty seats. Once I realized the boxes were full of tiles, I dared moving myself and my big backpack across.

Soon we stopped to fill the bus with more passengers, who then sat on top of the boxes on little plastic stools. This brought even petite people like the Lao close to the roof of the bus. Once no more people fitted into the bus, it was time for the usual DVD, featuring singers that wailed in high-pitched voices, naturally played at maximum volume.

Since I was the only non-Lao on the bus, I could not share my doubts about where the bus was going with anybody. During a stop, I showed my paper to some passengers and everybody took a good look. Then somebody drew a little map and so it was clear that I was on a bus to Pakse, 10 hours to the south. But no problem, I only had to get off at the junction with route 8. There, I would find transport to my next destination, the tiny village of Khoum Khan, 40 kilometers further east from the junction. There again, I could arrange further transport to Kong Lo Cave…

The rest of this trip turned into a real Lao experience: we constantly stopped for passengers getting on and off carrying serious luggage. Then there were pee stops in the middle of nowhere and nowhere to hide, food stops, fuel stops and even a stop to place offerings at a shrine. These stops often brought a whole bunch of food vendors on board who climbed over or squeezed past the people sitting in the aisle. They had to bend over, because they also had to move across the piled up boxes.

During one of these many stops, a family got on, carrying a fan. Once the bus sped up, it started rotating promptly, providing a nice breeze for the passengers nearby. I thought it was funny to have a wind-powered fan on a bus, but the situation became more comical when the ladies next to the fan started playing with its switches. All of a sudden, this reminded me of a scene in Steinbeck’s’ novel “Tortilla Flat”, where a lady moves her vacuum cleaner around the house for all the neighbors to see, except that there is no electricity in her home! I could not help but burst out laughing. When everybody around me joined in, not knowing why, it felt even more hilarious…

I said goodbye to this funny busload at the junction and threw my bag into a small truck waiting there. We were supposed to leave within an hour, so I strolled around. Suddenly the truck was gone, with my bag, after another hour it returned loaded with hundreds of heads of cabbage and enough passengers to be able to leave.


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