Travel Review: Taking the bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Laos

I recently embarked on a trip to Laos and decided to travel via bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang – whilst doing research, I realised that there wasn’t much information or details available if one chose to travel via bus; there were websites, of course, but most articles were published years ago so I was in doubt. Here are the current (2016) timetables (with prices) listed at the Northern Bus Station (Vientiane) and the Southern Bus Station (Luang Prabang):

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Information on the bus from Vientianne to Luang Prabang

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Information on the bus from Luang Prabang to Vientianne

What To Expect:

My friend and I chose to depart at 11 a.m. and surprisingly, actually departed at 11.05 a.m., which I would consider timely in Asia. However, we were unaware of how the bus operates so didn’t expect to stop hourly then as the journey progressed, every few hours – the bus we chose was filled with locals that would be dropped at their villages en route to Luang Prabang.

As for comfort, that solely depends on your body build so considering I am almost 6 foot, I was rather uncomfortable as my knees were pressed against the seat in front of me. I initially had an individual seat, which was horrid, but managed to change to a double seat – the individual seats are incredibly restricting in terms of leg space, arm space and body space. If you’re well build and over 6 feet, do arrive early at the bus terminal in order to secure a “comfortable” seat!

What You’ll See:

Although the bus isn’t perfect, the view definitely is and I would recommend the journey just for the picturesque scenery of mountains, lush greenery and more mountains! Besides that, one is constantly faced with a stellar view of Laotian villages; I was especially fascinated by the houses build on stilts, tipped at the edge of the mountains, and the fact that almost every village we passed had showers in front of their houses (which is ridiculous, considering the cold, but also impressive).

What Can Happen:

The bus journey from VT to LPB is supposedly 10-12 hours but considering the fact that August is the wettest month (as the rainy season commences from May to October), be prepared for the unexpected. Amidst the relentless stops, my friend and I were confused when a ‘break’ lasted over an hour then after trying to communicate with the locals (and driver), we realised we might be stuck here – luckily (coincidentally) there was another foreigner on the bus, that also happened to be Malaysian, so at least we weren’t entirely alone. The three of us puzzled over the pieces then came to the realisation that there was a flood, which caused a landslide, and the road was obstructed.

We finally got into the bus, dealt with traffic then saw the landslide – there was a tipper truck and an excavator that had cleared a route for the vehicles and that route so happened to be through the landslide; this was definitely among the scariest moments of my existence as the truck whined, shook and lost traction several times. Relieved, we imagined our arrival was nearing but shortly after we began moving, we had to stop (yet again) due to traffic; I fell asleep and awoke to darkness – snores filled the air but we couldn’t sleep so we walked down the road, past at least 10 more vehicles (buses, vans, lorries etc.), and finally saw the cause of the congestion: a long lorry tipped halfway down the edge of the mountain, encased in thick mud.

We started moving, again, at around 6.30 a.m. then after passing a sign that said Luang Prabang, I was convinced we would arrive ASAP – so soon that I could even still eat the complimentary breakfast provided by the hotel we had booked. I was wrong.

We stopped near a curve that teased us with a view of the mekong river and the faint outline of houses. After waiting for almost an hour and inspecting the ‘problem’, we knew that there wasn’t any actual obstruction and that vehicles could pass through the ‘blockage’ to Luang Prabang. We decided to walk to the city (perhaps 50 k/m or more) but just as we had begun to leave with a fellow busmate, the driver told us to get onto another bus that was apparently small enough to pass through the ‘blockage’ but honestly, the alternative bus was the exact same size as our prior bus… The driver of the first bus drove off before we did and headed towards the direction of Vientiane so perhaps he was making a profit by ditching us?

Alas, after more than 24 hours on the road, we arrived in Luang Prabang.

Moral of the story: be wary of taking the bus during the rainy season

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Pictured above: a glimpse of the mekong, reminding us of how close, yet far we were 

 

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