MJ: As anyone who has attempted to traverse continents overland would know, there is no rail network in Laos. And since I was intent on visiting Laos (Luang Prabang, to be exact), and I’m about as stubborn as they come, we were destined to endure a very long bus ride!
Unlike most other journeys we have made thus far in the trip, this one was by far the most exotic – meaning that it was impossible to find any information, let alone book tickets, in advance.
If you’ve traveled through South America, you will not consider 24hrs on a bus as a particularly long journey…but as expected, the comfort level is not quite the same.
A bit of info for anyone foolish enough to make this trip: The bus leaves from Kunming at 18:30 everyday from the south coach station which is easily reached by metro (25mins) from the main railway station.
In theory it would be possible to leave on the same day without spending a night in Kunming, but there’s no way to book tickets in advance (or even to call them for info) so you just have to try your luck at the bus station.
Cost per ticket 398 yuan – cash only (as with most places in China)
If, like us, you don’t speak Chinese, ask someone to write down the details of your booking request beforehand as there is no desk for ticketing in English. They will ask you where you want to sit in the bus, upper or lower, front or back. Now if like us you have visions of ordinary long distance buses in your mind you will be fairly ambivalent about your seat number/location (top or bottom). Big mistake!
Great expectations…Lionel understood top or bottom to be a double decker bus with reclining business class seats like the DB buses which traverse much of Europe – could there even be power points and wifi??
Hahaha! We were just lucky there weren’t any chickens.
Top or bottom? Well lets just say that an average size person cannot sit up on a bottom bunk so you choose.
Front or back? This is the view from the back and as you can see there is a lot more space in the front three rows so I would recommend asking for a “seat” up front.
See below for the row (10 seats) at the back of the bus.
All things considered (see above), we got lucky but with a “double” bed that barely measured 5ft it was not going to be a comfortable night.
As I’m slowly adjusting to what would be my surroundings for the next 24hrs I note that a child beside me looks far too comfortable for my liking – oh of course because he’s barely 4ft tall! Smug little brat – reminds me of those kids swimming in their first class seats on airplanes looking up at you with their smug little faces as you squeeze past en route to cattle class. Rant over.
The bus was almost empty when we bought our tickets the afternoon before BUT it fills up and it became quite clear that we were quite far off the backpacker trail – not another laowai in sight!
I was able to ignore my own discomfort momentarily to giggle at the horror on the faces of people walking down the bus as they slowly came to realize their fate had landed them in one of the two 5 person bunk beds at the back.
The bus left on time and although we were melting in the bus station without air conditioning or fans it cools down once the bus is moving.
Did I mention there was no toilet on the bus? Luckily there were regular breaks so it wasn’t too bad. Besides, after Mongolia we are accustomed to heeding the call of nature alfresco.
As if the journey wasn’t rough enough of itself, some of our fellow passengers decided to help themselves to our laptop and passport case while we were sleeping.
I think I woke up before they had figured out how they were going to safely stash the stolen goods, because no sooner had we gone to the front of the bus to complain to the driver, than we returned to find our things had mysteriously reappeared on our bed!
The China/Laos border is about as inefficient as you can imagine. We stopped at 5AM for two hours only to continue and reach the border by 8:30AM. It was 11AM before we were on the road again in Laos.
Travelers tip: take plenty of cash with you. There is no ATM at the border and the Laos visa costs $30-40 US + $2 service fee. We used every last bit of cash that we had = 24hrs of starvation.
The scenery as you ride through Northern Laos is beautiful, the roads much less so. We spent the next few hours reliving our off road adventures in Mongolia.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!