novelty that is laos
The journey from the Thai border to Luang Prabang is a long arduous road leading to a secluded Shangri La. Like in any stories written, hardship should come first before the blissful reward.
Popular route is the three day slow boat down the Mekong river. An infamous option is the speed boat that will sit six daredevil passengers. Despite the mandated helmets, earplugs and life vests the government attempted abolishing the accident prone rides. So if parkouring inside Baseco Compound and Triathloning across Navotas fish port are in your bucket list, then this speed boat option is definitely up your alley.
We reached the Thailand-Laos border at almost sundown. With an initial plan of staying in a sleepy transit town of Huay Xai across the Mekong, we were more than ready to spend a night and jumpstarting our Laos adventure.
I approached a guy standing on a curb and asked about the local attractions.
“Sir, what are the attractions here in Huay Xai?”
“OK, where can we book the night bus to Luang Prabang that will leave ASAP?”
Together with other backpackers from all six continents of the world, a dispatcher herded us to a rusty DIY truck with commanding orders like as if we will be sent to a concentration camp. We reached the dusty and abandoned-looking bus station anticipating Chuck Norris to appear in an epic slowmo from behind one of the dilapidated concrete walls of the doubtful terminal.
We bought the ticket at USD15 – USD20 for the bus leaving at 5PM and will reach Luang Prabang at 6AM the next morning. That means we will be crossing the mountains of Laos at night and the only sight seeing that will happen will be that of the bus interiors.
Speaking of bus interiors, be warned that the Laotian taste of automotive aesthetic is bordering to a hodgepodge of neo-classic french, post-modern Dowager oriental and Martha Stewart on crack (READ: Tacky). Our bus, to start with, was draped with velvety quilts with accents of confused color coordination resembling a discorama-inspired funeral wagon. But of course that did not matter since I knew I will just be sleeping for most of the travel time.
I was surprised that the driver gave each of us woolen blankets and ensured that we will take a row of seats since the bus was not full, thus enabling us to stretch and sleep in utmost comfort. Customer service at its finest! The bus started moving and the cool weather slowly lulled me to impending slumber… Until the unimaginable happened.
THE DRIVER TURNED THE SING-ALONG TV ON
The vibe that you will get when you attend a post fiesta karaoke gig in a far flung baranggay started emanating inside the four corners of the bus. I saw the hope on Monette’s eyes wishing a Chaka Khan track will play but to no avail. The playlist was completely OLM (Original Laotian Music) featuring pop music videos with the absurdly gorgeous Laotian women and what looked like some girl cross-dressing as a matinee hunk (or possibly a real guy with gynecomastia.)
The popped-collared LA Lopez-looking guy recurrently appearing on the TV screen, convincing us that he must be big in the music scene, like those of the contemporaries of the April boys. The cheesy swaying and spreading of arms while walking around the park in Vientiane seemed to be the only choreography known to the artist as he belts the folk sounding song piece with a rock beat accompaniment. To be honest, the high vocal timbre, on loop rhythm, angst, passion and the forced vibrato grows on you. Imagine the likes of that lead guy of Michael Learns to Rock only with more helium.
I have been in Laos for less than five hours and I was already amazed and amused. Toilet breaks mean random stops, on the road side, under the million glittering stars. Romantic!
Outside the bus, temperature drops to 9°c making every toilet break behind the bush a labored torture.
At past midnight, a female passenger asked the driver to make an unscheduled stop due to full bladder waiting to explode. The vehicle pulled over, she then frantically ran away from the bus but no bush were found around the area. The driver, out of courtesy turned-off the headlights to give the poor backpacker her needed privacy. Five seconds later, a ten wheeler delivery truck with gleaming headlights came out of nowhere, surprising everyone with an unexpected fountain show complete with spotlights and priceless facial expression. Ahh schadenfreude!
The Laotian Justin Bieber is still singing on TV doing the same cheesy swaying and spreading of arms routine. Then a pretty and sweet looking girl entered the scene and started kissing the lucky bastard. It has that same nauseating effect when I saw Vingo and Jimmy Regino locking lips with Vina Morales and Donita Rose in a movie back in 1996. The horror.
I immediately covered my head with the blanket in an attempt to spare myself from psychiatric trauma, forcing myself to sleep and hoping that I will wake up with a blissful reward.