Heading to Luang Prabang has always been an adventure. On my first trip, the mini bus I booked at Nong Khia turned-out to be a large tuk tuk. This time, coming from Vientiane, it was a flat tire.
Bus or Mini Bus
The guy at Soutchie Travel convinces me to take the mini bus rather than the VIP bus. It’s faster and would depart from the agency which is just next door to our hotel. He assures me that it has ample leg room even for Europeans, pointing to a foreigner seated behind me.
The next morning we assemble at the agency and wait for the mini bus which turns out to be a coaster. The girls get the front rows and I take the bucket seat. We depart a little past 9. We drive through rice fields and some gorgeous scenery. The roads are generally good with some rutted sections which our driver seems to ignore. We take a toilet break somewhere. When it’s time to leave three French girls idly chatting are unmindful of the driver’s honking and jump up once they realize the van starts backing-out. Their panicked reaction is priceless.
We continue our journey and finally arrive at the Soutchai office in Vang Vieng at 1pm.
The mini van to Luang Prabang doesn’t leave ’till an hour later. Famished, we look for a place to eat and find . . .none. We see tables at the side of a hotel just a stone’s throw away from the tourist office and promptly enter. “Food? Lunch?”
“Korean food,” came the reply.
As of this point, any cuisine didn’t matter. We were ready to take-on anything. They rustle up some noodle soup and sticky rice which was all very good. The Korean couple who owns the place are very accommodating. They lived in the Philippines for four years as the husband was working at Clark Airbase.
Are We Going Yet?
The mini van finally arrives and we all pile up in front. It makes a few rounds to pick-up passengers at guesthouses. We go in circles as our driver seems to be searching a guesthouse. He makes a few phone calls. In the meantime, I am getting impatient as the minutes drag on. Finally, he puts the phone down and we are off. We stop at the bus station for about 15 minutes as he gets some paperwork done. Finally and really finally, we are really off.
About 80 kilometers to Luang Prabang on a downhill slope, we burst the front tire. We all pile out and survey the damage. The driver doesn’t şeem at all worried. We get some large rocks and he manages to get the damaged wheel over it giving enough space for the van’s nose to lift so he fit the jack underneath it. Help comes when a van ferrying tourists stops and the driver assists him. Such a relief. The tire gets changed and we all pile back to the van. It’s comforting to have the other van behind us just in case something goes wrong again. We arrive at the bus station in Luang Prabang close to 8pm.