Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Easy Ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane

One of the several footbridges crossing the Song River.


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.


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.


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.

My first ride from the 1st station to the 2nd where my Vientiane bus was waiting. I was the lone passenger.

The 2nd bus station where my Vientiane bus was waiting. You see the ticket counter (no one bought a ticket from there since most passengers get their tickets from the 1st station) and a WC (toilet). No one was allowed to use their toilet. Not I nor a Ukrainean fellow. They should have just locked its door. Silly people.

The view is breathtaking even from a deserted bus station.

Fast Facts:

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

Heavy downpour on our way to Vientiane.

Random Expenditure:

· 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.

Military-run Wattay International Airport


Anonymous said...

hey. is there bus that leaves vang vieng and crosses the border to vietnam? im planning to go to danang. thanks.

eye in the sky said...

hey ronan. my best bet would be vientiane, tha kaek and savannakhet for the border-crossing buses. such chartered buses have irregular schedules in vientiane, while they have a more fixed schedule from the southern cities, mainly because they are closer to the border than vientiane, or luang prabang for that matter.

my suggestion is to head to these cities and go directly to the aforementioned cities' bus stations. if you're lucky, one might be leaving within a few hours. or at the very least, you would have to stay overnight for the wait. have a safe trip. :->

Unknown said...

ang ganda pa rin ng view sa bus station. puro clouds sa bundok.

thescientificlolita said...

You have a most beautiful writing style, I love reading your posts. They are a most refreshing story. I also love the details and you mentioning what you notice, like the American couple--I also think that' is a fabulous thing to do on a trip.

It is beautiful.

x said...

beatiful!!! i envy your adventures. really, really doooo.

Twin said...

hey eye, have a tip...on your next trip, can you try shooting during the "magic hour"...its during sunrise when the sun comes out and also sunset when the light comes down. just click on your cam, and you'll discover the most beautiful light...your "postcard" shots are amazing here...

eye in the sky said...

@lucy: exactly what was on my mind! thanks, lus.

eye in the sky said...

@ nana: i really appreciate what you've written, coming from somebody who i like to read. my bloglist is an actual list of people whose writings have become part of a habit.

during such trips, i am caught between writing a narrative style (which i prefer coz of the details... i wanna document my travels so i can go back to them one day and remember how they exactly went) or an emotive style (like this post). the problem with the latter is that it tends to be self-absorbed and may bore. but it captures the moment. i tried mixing both in this post.

thanks again for your generous words. your day-at-the-mall post is insightful, as always... ;->

eye in the sky said...

@acey: i am happy to share them with fellow pinoys so they can use them for future travels. thanks for dropping by.

eye in the sky said...

hey rics. thanks for reminding me of that. i'll keep that in mind. i am aware of such thing - the principle of "ambient ligting" or "existing light". what i've noticed so far though, is that ambient lighting is better achieved with slrs or with older versions of digital cams. lately kasi, the built-in flashes of digitals have become too powerful for such images. look at the photos from luang prabang's night market. they achieved beautiful natural colors exactly because of your "magic time" - the magic of ambient lighting. thanks, rics.

Twin said...

also, after a rain, take a shot...the lighting is more softer, mas mukhang baby face ang skin hehe