There was a commotion somewhere. Raised voices were provoking each other. I half-consciously reached for my watch. 3 AM. Some people just don’t carry their alcohol well. The rest of Vang Vieng was still dreaming their dreams. The disruptive voices went on for quite sometime making it hard to get right back to sleep. I must have dozed back to a slumber and awoke half past 5. Still too early to be gallivanting about. I sat by my window. From a distance, thick cloud formations encumbered the limestone mountains, while fog swathed the town below like careless brush strokes from a painting.
An hour later, I’ve packed my stuff. I found myself walking the almost deserted high street. I saw a jumbo and commissioned the driver to pick me up from my guesthouse and take me to the bus station at 8AM. He nodded but there was a hint of hesitation in his face. He might not show up, I told myself. I walked towards the river. The pay booth for the Song Bridge was already open. I sat in the middle of the suspension bridge, feet hanging down towards the balmy river. I looked down and thought, boy, it’s a long fall down there. I took a sip from my bottled water and realized something. In all its austere simplicity and laidback composure, Vang Vieng is undoubtedly one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth! There was a regretful persuasion leaving all this awesome beauty behind.
A THAI IN MALAPASCUA
At 8:30 AM, I found myself at the back of a different jumbo (tuktuk) ride along with 2 burly Thai ladies. Yes, burly! Mas malaki pa’ng katawan kesa akin. They were on their way to Luang Prabang. The stockier one told me that she has visited Malapascua Island in North Cebu through the direct Bangkok-Cebu flights of Cebu Pacific. Her eyes gleamed with excitement as she recalled an enjoyable holiday. It was the only place she’s seen of the Philippines. I haven’t been to Malapascua although I’ve thought of the possibilities. One day soon. I am not gonna be a stranger in my own country (and I proudly am not).
At 9, I was the first passenger waiting for my VIP bus to Vientiane. I presented my bus voucher then I was lead to a minibus. Alone! I asked the driver if I was the only passenger. He nodded. It was highly unlikely, but I really was the only passenger on board, and my minibus pulled out from the station. Sometimes, even when you ask around, you’re still left with a lot of uncertainty. It turns out, I was being transferred to a different bus station that services southbound destinations like Vientiane. The first station was for northbound travels. It was a smaller station in the middle of godknowswhere. There was hardly anything there. No stores. No shops. Just an unfinished house being constructed beside the small station building. The ground was laid with pebbles that made an annoying noise when you step on them. An empty bus was already waiting. I learned from the only person there that the driver was still on his way. Boy, it was 10 PM already. In trickles, the same minibus that took me there brought groups of passengers. Some of these idiot passengers took forever to get to the station, delaying our 10 AM schedule! I took the very first seat, just beside the door. I felt I deserved it, at least for my punctuality. Right across me was a couple with a southern accent. At 10:30 AM, our full-packed bus leaves for the capital – and I can’t wait! This was going to be an easy 3-4 hour ride.
TURN THE RADIO ON
It was a pleasant ride on good roads. I was content just listening to the American couple beside me who was busy annotating what they see along the road, including the types of vehicles, a spectacular waterfall from a mountain, the rows after rows of pineapples being sold, and one of the darkest cauliflower clouds I’ve ever seen. It was a treat listening to them. It’s just like turning your radio on, listening to self-absorbed commentators. They seemed interested on what the other one had to say. A couple like that will never see boredom in their relationship. Not long after, we had a 10-minute stopover. Then there was a heavy downpour! It felt like all of the heavens banging down our bus. And we could hardly see anything from the wind shield! I occupied myself playing Jason Mraz wistfully singing “Mr. Curiosity” over and over. The mood of that song lingers like a sad, albeit hopeful tune. At 1 PM, the medium-sized buildings started to jut out of the concrete. We have reached the city limits. Wattay International Airport. Hotels. Parks. Temples. Newer car models. They streamed through like an ultra-fast slideshow.
It was 2 PM when our bus stopped right in front of the imposing Laos Cultural Hall. I was again in Vientiane. I needed some city vibe.
My morning walk captured these beautiful postcard beauties. The wisps of clouds have cleared by then.
The first and major bus station which services northbound travels.
Distance from Vang Vieng to Vientiane – 156 km. or 3- 3 ½ hours of travelDistance from the town center to the bus station – 2 km
Current Bus Ticket Service Information:
Minibus to Luang Prabang – $13.75 or 110,000 kip or PhP619. Bus leaves at 9 AMExpress Bus to Luang Prabang – $13.15 or 105,000 kip or PhP591. Bus leaves at 10 AMNormal Bus to Phonsavanh – $10.65 or 85,000 kip or PhP479. Bus leaves at 9:30 AMMinibus to Vientiane – $8.75 or 70,000 kip or PhP393.75. Bus leaves 8 AM and 9 AMExpress Bus to Vientiane – $7.50 or 60,000 kip or PhP337.50VIP Bus to Vientiane - $16.25 or 130000 kip or PhP731.25
· Jumbo ride from the town center to the bus station – $1.25 or 10,000 kips or PhP56.25
· VIP bus from Vang Vieng to Vientiane - $16.25 or 130000 kip or PhP731.25
Vientiane’s airport is located 4 kilometers from the center, relatively nearer to the city center compared to the other airports in major Asian cities. Taxis charge a flat rate of $5 from Wattay to anywhere within the city limits. Trips to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 1 charge $9. A French guy I met shared that he just walked about 500 meters out of the airport grounds to the nearest street where he was able to hail a jumbo for $3. From the city center, taxis can be hailed from about the same amount. Way cheaper if you take the bus from Talat Sao (Bus) Station – the market station – via the Phon Hong Bus which charges a measly $0.20 or 1,600 kip or PhP9 stopping right in front of the Wattay, which is run by the Laos military. There are very few airlines – 6 to be exact – flying to and from Wattay, thus the expensive plane fares of plane travels to Laos. Visas are available on arrival.
Departure tax: $10 (80,000 kip) for international flights, and $0.38 or 3,000 kip for domestic flights, although most flights now have incorporated this to a purchased ticket.