The journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng by road is an arduous one. The broken road twists winds and climbs through the mountains, churning the stomach and rattling the bones of even the hardiest of backpackers.
The drive is six to seven hours – if you’re lucky. Delays are common. Large transport trucks, clueless cattle, suicidal dogs and landslides are just a few of the reasons progress comes to a halt.
In this past year, I’ve done the bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng about half a dozen times, all by public transportation. On both the “VIP bus” and tourist minivan (which I’ve nicknamed “the puke bus”), most of the ride is spent praying that the driver, who guzzles energy drinks like water, will slow down as he flies around another blind, hairpin turn, or holding your bladder, wondering when the next pit stop will be. It’s a shame when all you can concentrate on is your discomfort because the landscape of northern Laos is astonishingly beautiful.
Needless to say, when I signed up to do Stray Asia’s Tom Yum Pass, I dreaded the Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng day.
But it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I actually enjoyed it. The orange Stray bus was air-conditioned and comfortable. The driver drove safely (something you learn to appreciate in Laos). Yuval, our tour leader, told us exactly where we were and when we would stop next. If anyone needed the toilet or wanted to take photos, all we had to do was shout and we would pull over. This was our bus, he emphasized.
Local guide Noy pointed out things that I never noticed before and informed us about the different ethnic groups in Laos. We plugged in an iPod and took turns as DJ. And because of this all, we could sit back, relax and take in the soaring scenery.
I was surprised when we pulled into a lookout that I had never stopped at before. On previous trips, the public bus had always chugged by it and I would longingly press my nose to the window, wondering what the view was like. Now I know: it’s stunning.
The trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng is truly one of the prettiest drives in all of Laos and I’m glad I did it once again in a comfortable way. Sometimes we are so focused on getting from point A to point B that we forget that stopping along the way should be part of a journey.
Cindy Fan is a travel writer based in Laos. See her blog SoManyMiles.com