Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bus That Turned Out To Be A Van

After Champasak, I went back up to Pakse by songthaew again. The ride this time was about 3 times faster than the same trip I did in reverse, because this time the driver didn't feel the need to stop every 5 minutes for no apparent reason like the guy who drove us to Champasak. But that doesn't mean that this ride was any less interesting. After getting settled in my seat, I looked down behind my legs and I saw feathers, lots of feathers. Turns out they were transporting live ducks in that songthaew, all sedated and squeezed together in the space between our seats and the floor. On the floor was some blue sack thing spread out flat to cover nearly the entire floor of the vehicle. I placed my feet on it, thinking it was lining for the floor and the three Lao ladies opposite me squealed in panic and unison. Upon closer inspection, the blue sack was wiggling! So they were transporting live fish as well.

Halfway along the journey, the movement from within the sack reduced... the songthaew screeched to a halt by the side of the road and armed with a plastic bag, the driver made a mad dash into the forest/bushes/jungle next to the road which happened to have a stream running, filled up the bag and bolted back to the songthaew, splashed the water all over the floor of the truck (tired of typing songtheaw) and saved the day fish! The excitement of it all, I tell you..

Pakse was mostly boring. I got chased by a stray dog. It got frightened away by my scream of terror, the irony of it all. I also met an interesting traveler who educated me on the ins and outs of getting an illegal student visa in Malaysia and how to dodge with finesse the immigration officials who come checking on the validity of their "university". No doubt it was good advice coming from an expert, since he admitted to having done so himself. I don't see myself having any practical use for such knowledge, but no harm knowing.

A big picture of Pakse to break up the blocks of text

My original plan after Pakse was to take the bus up to Savannakhet, then from there take another bus to Hue in Vietnam. However, when I saw a sign at Bao Linh Cafe (it is on the same street as Nazim's indian restaurant, at the end of the block away from the tourist area, closer to the bank) promoting VIP Bus tickets direct to Hue from Pakse, I got lazy. I shouldn't have got lazy, since the ticket cost me bloody 27USD, but I thought I was paying for a relatively normal, comfortable journey.

The next morning, I turn up as arranged at the cafe at 6.30am. They get a small tuktuk for me, and tell me that it will take me to my bus. The tuktuk driver brings me to this rotten minivan waiting by the side of some road somewhere and tells me that is my VIP bus. I try to argue with him how I paid for a bus, not this falling apart little thing he was trying to shove me into. He grabs my ticket, I grab it back and next thing I know, he grabbed my ticket from me and ran off on his tuktuk. So there I was, with no ticket, middle of nowhere, with a minivan full of Vietnamese people yelling at me in Vietnamese to get in the van already so that they can start moving again. Not knowing what else to do, I got into that van anyway. In hindsight, maybe I should have gone back to that Bao Linh Cafe and demanded those cheaters to put me on a bus or give me my money back but it didn't strike me then to do that.

The van turned out to be full of sacks of flour (or rice?). I surrendered my backpack to the driver (who promptly buried it under the sacks of flour) and went climbing over the sacks to get myself into a seat. Just as I was comforting myself that at least it wasn't too crowded, the minivan stopped again and took in so many people that it was a sheer miracle the van didn't burst. It was crowded enough to make the General compartment of an Indian train look like a luxury ride. If you have been to India, you'll know what I mean.

Finally in Vietnam

The ride was about 11 hours which was not too bad. Once the initial shock of being in the same minivan as a group of men smuggling baby turtles in laptop bags (no kidding) wore off, I sat stewing in self pity for a while. But not very long, since everyone started sharing rambutans, chocolates, bread, energy drinks and all kinds of random grub that it was impossible to stay gloomy when total strangers are so generous to me. I also got taught an impromptu lesson in basic Vietnamese, so it turned out to be a decent journey after all.     

In conclusion, never buy your bus tickets from Bao Linh Cafe in Pakse.


  1. ohmygod, lookin at this line :
    It was crowded enough to make the General compartment of an Indian train look like a luxury ride.
    my deep consolensce for what you have been to....
    at least you are now back home safe and sound!!
    hehhee, if i m in yr place, i might mengamuk at the cafe LOLS !! hahahaha :P

  2. kidding me?GEneral compartnment of india train!!!
    luckily it turned out to be a decent journey!& u arrived safe & sound!
    damn cheaters in the cafe!
    i thk v can publish a travel book with all our got cheated stories in it after years!

  3. Hahaha ok, i'm sure it will become bestseller one!

    Plus we can include colour pictures at the back of the book of Sinyin mengamuk... :P