According to our travel voucher, we will be picked up from our hostel at 7.30 am to go to the bus station to board the VIP bus which was scheduled to leave Vientiane for Vang Vieng at 8 am. We checked out of our room, had breakfast and was ready with our luggages at 7.15 am. There were still no sign of anyone asking for us at 7.30 am. At 7.45 am I sought the help of the receptionist to call the number which was written down on the voucher. While the call was ringing he passed the phone to me and I thought that the other party could speak English. Instead, a guy spoke Lao and I passed back the phone back to the receptionist saying that I can’t understand what he was saying. To my shock, he told me he could not speak Lao as he is Vietnamese. Anyway, I asked him to try again and this time a lady answered and she was able to speak English. She told me that the pick-up will be at 09.30 am and the bus will leave at 10.00 am. What?!!! We had to wait for almost another 2 hours. This is just the beginning of my bad experience with transportation in Laos. 9.30 am came around and a chubby guy yelling “Vang Vieng” walked into our hostel. I double-checked with the receptionist to make sure that we are going with the right person as I understand there are many agents, buses and other forms of transportations that are being used. We were ushered into a truck-like vehicle….I know that a limousine is out of the question but a truck?!! (I later found out that it is called songthaew, a ubiquitous passenger vehicle in Laos and Thailand adapted from a pick-up or a larger truck and used as a shared taxi.)
Tip to remember: All hostels/hotels and tour agencies offered tours and bus tickets. In Laos, there is no fixed amount and we found out that the hostel in front of ours were offering cheaper tickets to Vang Vieng. The best way to buy the ticket at the right price is to go to the bus station yourself. Remember… there are 3 bus stations in Ventiane : Northern, Southern and Central Bus Station. If you are heading towards Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang, then head to the Northern Bus Station to buy your bus tickets. The bus stations are named such as buses leaves to the northern, southern and central part of Vientiane as per their namesake.
The driver went to a few more hotels to pick up more passengers and in no time, the vehicle was full. When one can’t speak the local language, one just have to flow along with the situation. Well… the songthaew finally stopped and we were asked to board a mini-van. By now I was wondering why are they complicating this pick-up service thingy. Can’t the songthaew fetched us all the way to the bus station? Why are we going into a mini-van now? We double-checked with the rest of the passengers and they confirmed that they paid for a VIP bus. Then, this van can’t be our transport to Vang Vieng.
We were asking among ourselves whether the bus station is located very far from the city. 15 minutes later, the mini-van entered a bus station. He got off and spoke to someone at the ticket counter and came back to the van. We were expecting instructions to get off the van and to be directed to a bus. But he got behind the wheel and drove out of the bus station. Then… we realised that there gonna be no VIP bus but the mini-van is our ride to Vang Vieng. Since none of us could speak the local language, we could not find out why.
Two of my friends were seated at the last seat of the van beside a huge pile of luggages.
All in all, there were 13 passengers and all tourist in the minivan. The seats were not comfortable as there were hardly any paddings left to soften our frequent levitation from the seats due to the bouncy ride. Feel like taking 40 winks….. forget about it!! There is no space for the seats to go back even though if there is a mechanism to do that…which this van does not have. Space between the seats were very narrow and no time my legs were aching and cramping on and off.
To kill time, we asked everyone how much they paid for the ride. We paid 50,000 kips, the group of elderly Koreans 60,000 kips; two young Korean ladies paid 70,000 kips; the couple from Argentina paid 50,000 kips and a young Korean couple seated in front were too far away for us to ask. My hostel was asking for 60,000 kips but the agent in town charged us 50,000 kips, the only reasonable deal he gave us cos he charged us abominably high for the other two journeys.
After more than an hour on the road, the van pulled by the side of the road. We gladly got out to stretch our legs and used the toilets while the driver went to have his lunch. I have yet to find a dirty toilet in Laos and even in this small village, the toilets were squeaky clean. Twenty minutes later, we are back to our crammed positions to endure another 2 hours of uncomfortable journey.
We finally arrived (somewhat) in Vang Vieng after three hours horrendous bumpy ride. The place we stopped did not seemed to be a proper bus station. It was just a tiny shack and two “taxis” were waiting for us. One was a truck similar to our pick-up vehicle (songthaew) in Vientiane and the other is a run-down blue van. One guy seemed to handle all the travel transactions and demanded 20,000 kips each for the trip to our hostel. I know for sure that Vang Vieng is a tiny place and our hostel cannot be too far from where this makeshift bus station. The rest of the tourists were willing to accept the price but I was adamant that he reduced the price as there were four of us. Finally, he reluctantly reduced the fare to 15,000 kips, which was still exorbitant in my books. Because the other tourists were already up on the songthaew and getting impatient, we had no choice but to comply. I felt that this is a ploy set up by the van driver and the “taxi” drivers.
It was a very short ride to our hostel (even shorter than our ride from Vientiane airport to our hostel) and it costs us around USD8. At that point, I was really disgusted with the way they are fleecing tourists.
Another tip to remember: When you purchase your ticket from Vientiane to go to Vang Vieng, it’s advisable to ask where the bus is going to stop. You many also ask your Vang Vieng guesthouse for advice. My guesthouse advised me to buy my tickets from a certain bus company as the office was just down the road but the information came in too late as I have already purchased the tickets. Tourists are subjected to the transporters’ whims and fancies as we were put into a minivan without our consent or any explanations whatsoever. It happened to us another time when we travel from Luang Prabang to Ventiane. Read that in my Luang Prabang post.