Day 10: This morning we were up early for our last breakfast at the guesthouse in Luang Prabang. A tuk tuk arrived to take us to the local bus station, where we were catching a minibus to Nong Khiaw, a small town about 140km north east of Luang Prabang.
The ‘bus station’ turned out to be a dry patch of land with some wooden benches and a couple of stalls selling drinks. We waved our pre-purchased tickets at the girl behind the counter, and sat and waited. We amused ourselves watching people selling goods, including a guy with a haul of watches in a briefcase – everything from gold glitzy numbers to fake sports watches.
About 45 minutes before our minibus was due to leave, the driver started piling bags and boxes on the roof. Jim handed our backpacks up to him, and we sat and watched as more and more bags, boxes and baskets were added to the enormous luggage pile by the bus. Amongst the stack, we spotted a bag that was hopping and rolling around – presumably someone’s live chicken they were taking along for their dinner later.
How many people fit into a minibus? We were starting to get a bit alarmed as the sizeable crowd started to squeeze themselves into the bus – and wondering where on earth we were supposed to fit. With a lot of squishing and jostling and rearranging of kids and bags, they freed up two tiny seats at the back of the minibus – and made us climb over everyone to get there.
In total, the bus was crammed with 20 humans, the live chicken (though we couldn’t see where they’d stashed it), and a dog in a box which was perched on its owner’s lap, next to Lil. We initially thought the puppy was very cute, until it barfed half way through the journey, when it quickly lost its appeal. From the smell, we guessed it had had fish for breakfast. Oh joy.
Crowded as our bus was, we were happy that we weren’t in the pick up truck (or Songthaew) that was parked next to us at the bus station. Not only was it crammed ridiculously tight with people, but they had a whole farmyard of live chickens strapped to the roof.
The trip to Nong Khiaw took nearly four hours, with some of the roads in such bad condition they were almost impassible. The bus swerved and lurched to avoid potholes, trucks and bikes, and several kids were passed plastic bags by their parents in case they went the way of the puppy, and car sickness kicked in.
Earlier this morning, thinking we were going on an air conditioned bus, Lil commented that she was taking a jumper with her, in case it got chilly. Turns out the only air conditioning was the 38 degree hot air blasting in through the open windows – it was really suffocating.
We stopped three times during the four hour journey. Once for the driver to pass a bag to someone who was waiting on the roadside (perhaps it was the chicken being handed over for dinner). The next time was at a stall selling drinks and snacks (though if you wanted anything you had to order and complete your purchase by leaning through one of the minibus windows). And the third time – a loo stop – but only if you were lucky enough to be sitting next to a door, and happy to squat in the field next to the bus with everyone looking on.
We arrived at the bus station in Nong Khiaw (even more basic than the one at Luang Prubang – this one really was just a small car park), and waited for the truck load of luggage to be unloaded from the roof. With our backpacks on, we walked the 500m to our guesthouse, which is really lovely – a double storey building with terraces perched right next to the Nam Ou river.
After a quick nap, we walked into the small town to take a look around, and have some dinner. It’s a great little town, with a surprising number of restaurants given the size of the place. We chose an Indian eatery with great and very cheap food, and Jim invented a new way of keeping flies out of his drink.
After dinner we wandered back to the guesthouse, while swarms of bats circled above our heads, a fabulous sight. We stopped to pick up another three litres of water from a local store (we’re drinking incredible amounts in the heat), then parked ourselves on the terrace outside our room to catch up on some reading before bed.
Tomorrow, we’ll spend some time exploring Nong Khiaw and the surrounds.