BootsnAll Travel Network

Muang Vieng Kham: Midnight Expres…. wait, what’s the opposite of Express?

“Dave! Dave! Wake-up! The bus is here.”

It was 12.50am, we were in the town of Muang Vieng Kham, and the only bus coming through that little place to take us to our next destination of Vieng Xai on the Vietnamese border came through at one in the morning. Less than an ideal night’s sleep was to come.

Muang Vieng Kham was only a few hours away from Muang Ngoi, where we’d left from that morning. To get from Muang Ngoi to Vieng Xai we thought would take around 20 hours, and so we hoped to get about half way. But you could only get transport from one town to the next, and at each successive town would have to organise new transport. We arrived at Muang Vieng Kham at about 12.45pm, just after lunch. There were four of us; along with Bec and I for the ride were a guy from the UK and a French girl. There was no bus station here, and we were simply dropped on the side of the road.

“Uh, can we get to Muang Vieng Thong (the town at the halfway point)?” we asked the truck driver who had got us this far. He shook his head, and drove off.

We threw our bags onto our backs, and looked around. Just down the hill off the road looked to be a market of some sort, so we wandered down to see what we could find out. No-one down there spoke much English, but they were extremely friendly. We attempted to communicate with sign language and the odd Laos word, and eventually got across that we wanted to get to Muang Vieng Thong.

“One o’clock.” It was an old man with a smile as crooked as the mountain road we’d taken to get there. “You sleep guesthouse.” He pointed to an old wooden house behind him. It was just a few mintues before one o’clock now. Sweet, this will work out perfectly, I thought.

I tried to get confirmation, “So, bus comes at one o’clock?”

“Yes yes,” he nodded his head, “one o’clock. You sleep guesthouse.”

“Why is he telling us to sleep at the guesthouse if the bus is coming right now?”
“Dunno. Hang on, he’s headed towards the road, may as well follow him.”
“Yeah, don’t have too many other options.”

We followed the small old man, and he led us through his dirt backyard, up some wooden stairs, through his house, and out to the road. His teenage son was out there, and I asked him about the bus. “Yes, the bus come at one o’clock.” I showed him my watch, which now pointed to exactly one o’clock, “Bus comes now?” I asked.

He shook his head. “One o’clock evening.”

Ahhhhhh, now it all made sense. “Yes, you sleep guesthouse.”

And so at 1am I stumbled zombie-like onto a rickety old us filled with locals. I stepped gingerly over the sleeping bodies lying in the middle of the aisle, and crashed into a seat near the back, next to a sleeping woman on the floor. If I was evil, I could’ve stretched my legs out into the aisle and used her head as a foot rest. I am not evil.

I drifted in and out of sleep, and at one point woke groggily and looked outside. The jungle trees beside the road were just lit by the headlights of the bus. Wow, I thought, this is some steep hill, the bus is going so slow it almost looks as though we’ve stopped. In fact, we had stopped, I was just too tired to notice that the creaking old engine noise had been replaced by the tinkering of spanners. I was also too tired to really care that we’d broken down in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, and went back to my uncomfortable sleep.

I woke again later, with no idea what time it was. The bus was moving again, but ever so slowly. I could crawl faster than the bus was moving. The rough paved road that we’d begun on had turned to a dirt track, scarred by pot-holes and huge ditches. We were half-way up a steep hill, and were surrounded by mountainous jungle. The Laos guy sitting across the aisle from me was vomiting out the window. I closed my eyes and dreamt of driving across the Nullabor in a Ferrari.

The seats on the bus were horribly uncomfortable. They were designed for the typical four-foot tall Laos munchkin, as opposed to big white giraffes like me. Seriously, has anyone seen a photo of me recently, and noticed how awkwardly long my neck is. I’m like a free-roaming zoo exhibit. I should start charging the locals twenty-five cents a gander, at least then they’d be entitled to stare. “Gee whiz Meryl, will you get a load of that. Makes you wonder how a dufus like that could land a fiancee as beautiful as that Bec.” To which I’d reply, “The treehouse dude, it’s all about the treehouse. Shit, haven’t you seen the youtube video, it’s kickarse!”

At six am, just as the morning light lit up the jungle, the bus broke down again. We sat and waited patiently, trying not to draw too much attention to ourselves. This was mostly due to the young Laos guy sitting a few seats in front of us with a machine gun on his lap.

We waited. For four hours. Four long, uneventful hours.

The bus eventually moved again, and another hour or so down the road we came to Muang Vieng Thong, the village at the half-way point of our trip. Here, we stopped for a short break to get some breakfast. We scoffed down some noodle soup and rushed back onto the bus. Given we’d lost four hours that morning, we were sure the driver would want to get back on the road as soon as he could. What we were forgetting, of course, is that this was Laos. The bus sat in the dust by the side of the road for an hour-and-a-half!

Eventually, at 6pm, about seventeen hours after we’d boarded that damn thing, the bus arrived at the provincial capital of Sam Neua. This was as far as we’d go this day. The town of Vieng Xai, where we wanted to get to, was just another hour down the road, but we’d leave that journey for the next day.

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