On The Road – Taking the Bus in Laos

South East Asia has a reputation for bad drivers. I’m here to clear some things up about Laos, as well as to show off some of the gorgeous views I saw on my way to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.


1.) Your Options

There are a few different options for tourists in Laos. Currently, there are no great train options in South East Asia, but it looks like soon, that will change. For now, taking a bus is the best way to get around in both Laos and Cambodia.

This is going to change things for these countries!

There are 3 types of buses. The first kind are standard, long distance buses. Think of a Grey Hound bus, but add in more people, more luggage and less air conditioning. Some tourists report that some of these vehicles are so old, they have difficulty climbing the steep hills on the way to Luang Prabang. We decided to avoid that option…

The next option is a miniature version of those buses. They are smaller and more narrow, but they are a bit roomier than the mini vans. We took one of those to Vang Vieng. It was pretty comfortable and I even managed to get a bit of sleep on the way…that is until our driver started showing off his driving skills….(more on that in a second…)

It’s like an ‘inbetweeny Van’

The last option is a minivan. This choice is slightly bigger than the mini-vans your parents drove you to soccer practice in at home, and they sit about 15 people. They’re usually pretty cramped, but they ride low and make for a smoother ride. They’re also usually in better condition than the buses. We took a mini van to Luang Prabang.

They somehow manage to fit 15 people in that thing…

2. The Drivers Drive…Differently….

It’s common to see drivers pounding back energy drinks and trying to stay awake and alert throughout the long trips. This is terrifying. More than once, Dave thought of offering to take over for our driver, who didn’t seem to be affected by the M510s he was emptying and throwing out the window.

An M510 energy drink. There are rumours that they contain Amphetamines, which is untrue. In reality, they’re about the same as drinking a Redbull. Which still isn’t great…

Our drivers didn’t speak much English, but it didn’t really matter because it was obvious from the first kilometer…their only concern was getting us from Point A to Point B in as short a time as possible. This often meant speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and slamming on the breaks at the last second to avoid rear ending someone who has slowed down in front of them.

I think it’s safe to say that ‘Drivers Ed’ isn’t a thing in South East Asia..

If you’ve driven in Asia, or have lived in Asia for a while, don’t worry. It’s not too much worse than everywhere else. If you’ve only ever driven in the west…prepare yourself. You’re in for quite the ride!!
3. The Passengers Suffer

Some blog posts I read said that passengers were throwing up from all the winding roads in the countryside. Others described anxiety during the trip and pure relief upon arrival. My experiences weren’t this bad. I felt a little car sick once or twice, but I get car sick even on the best of roads!

The roads are VERY windy. They wind all the way up the mountain

Luckily, many of the regular pit stops that these buses make, have stores that sell motion sickness patches and pills! You know it’s a problem, when…

They even have several different brands to choose from!

4. It’s Worth The Ride

Having said all this, I’d like to finish this post on a positive note. South East Asia is beautiful!! The landscapes here are simply stunning, so although you might feel sick, and you’ll probably be scared out of your wits once or twice, it can be worth the trip to take the ride. Remember, these drivers may seem crazy, but they have some of the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen on a non-cat!!!

5. Final Tips from the Kinetic Canuck

  1. Don’t take the trip on a full stomach. It’s just not a good idea.
  2. Don’t take the trip on an empty stomach. Some routes only have 1 or 2 stops with questionable food choices
  3. Bring some music to enjoy. It can help keep your mind off of your stomach if you’re feeling sick.
  4. Don’t worry too much! Enjoy the views and remember that these drivers take these roads every day! (and if they are falling asleep…offering to drive for them usually shakes them up pretty good and gets them to pay attention to the road a little better!!!)

I’ll be back soon with a blog post about our final stop in Laos; Luang Prabang!!

Sneak Peak!!

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