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A Cautionary Tale: How 6h Bus Ride Can Take 30h in Laos

12:00 – hour 1

We managed to catch the noon bus from Vang Vieng, which means we should be in Luang Prabang just after sunset. The bus ride shouldn’t take more than six hours or maybe seven. We had planned on catching an earlier one, but last night went a bit late, so the noon bus it is.

The only annoying thing is that the electricity was out in Vang Vieng, so we couldn’t get any local cash and we are pretty much broke, we only have a few dollars’ worth of Kips, but we can always get more in Luang Prabang.

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15:00 – Hour 3

There was something wrong with the bus. We stopped for an hour and a half to fix it. Of course it’s impossible to get any information from the driver about what’s wrong. They did have somebody welding something under the bus. Maybe it’s the suspension, don’t know. Oh well, one or two hours late getting to Luang Prabang is still ok.

Well, we are going thru some pretty rough mountain roads, hope the suspension holds now!

17:00 – Hour 5

We’ve stopped, there seems to be plenty of cars in front of us, nobody is moving. Well at least we get to enjoy the sunset over the mountains. It’s a bit too cloudy to see it properly, but the views are amazing. Hopefully we’ll start moving again soon.

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18:00 – Hour 6

We moved maybe 50 meters in the last hour. There are rumors of a landslide, but nobody is sure. Hope they can get it cleared quickly; would be nice to get to Luang Prabang before midnight.

19:00 – Hour 7

It’s now pitch black and we haven’t moved at all. We went to check out the landslide. It looks like the whole mountain has come down and taken the road with it. They had at least four mechanical diggers there from what I could see. At least they are still working; maybe they can clear out the mud before midnight.

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20:00 – Hour 8

We still haven’t moved. Getting a little hungry now.

23:00 – Hour 11

There is a shop down the road, or could be just someone’s house; they are selling food and water, but they won’t accept our dollars and we are out of local currency, damned.

24:00 – Hour 12

Too hungry, we went back to the shop; there were plenty of other travelers there, so we found someone to change our dollars into Kips. Bought a small bottle of water, the last one they had left. So I opted for a large beer to save the precious water. We ate instant noodles, they only had tom yam flavor, I don’t like tom yam.

Funnily enough, we also ran into a German girl who we had been tubing with back in Vang Vieng, it’s a small world out here.

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03:00 – Hour 15

Tried sleeping, but it’s difficult, there isn’t enough space on the tight seat and mine doesn’t recline nowhere near as much as the seat in front of me. Also the aircon isn’t working because the engine isn’t running. It’s miserable to say the least.

06:00 – Hour 18

Managed to catch a few hours of sleep. In desperate need of shower. Can’t sleep anymore. Going for a walk.

08:00 – Hour 20

The road fixing operation is still in full force, but there doesn’t seem to be much progress. Starting to look for other options, but there are of course no buses coming to this direction either so we can’t go back really. I wonder if we can get a tuk-tuk to take us back.

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10:00 – Hour 22

Ate some sweet corns we bought, they were really good actually and cheap too. There is mud everywhere. Everyone’s sandals and feet are covered in wet mud. Could definitely use a shower.

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11:00 – Hour 23

Finally, there is hope; we managed to get a few trucks across the landslide to this side, though it was a slow and painful process. They were slipping constantly and getting stuck again. One of the mechanical diggers had to push them to get them moving again.

12:00 – Hour 24

A truck that got across dropped into a ditch on our side; it’s blocking the road now; they are trying to get it out.

We’ve now been 24 hours on this bus ride; just want to get to Luang Prabang.

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13:00 – Hour 25

Looking better, the traffic is moving, though only to this direction so far. Hopefully they’ll let us go also soon, because there are less than ten buses and trucks in front of us.

Somebody from a bus way far back actually bought a ticket to our bus. It’s a gamble for him, not sure if it was a good move or not.

14:00 – Hour 26

What the hell is that idiot police officer doing? Still traffic only to this direction.

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15:00 – Hour 27

Seriously, how about some traffic from this side also at some point. We are suspecting that the buses and trucks on the other side are paying bigger bribes, or maybe the officer is just an a**hole, we are not sure. Just buses and trucks to this direction, no traffic to the other direction.

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16:00 – Hour 28

We got thru, we got thru!!!!

18:00 – Hour 30

Finally in Luang Prabang. I fell asleep immediately after we got through, exhausted. Time for some luxury, like a bed and a shower, and a good meal!



There seemed to be a lot of variance between people on how they reacted to the delay.

There was an elder Australian couple who seemed pretty ok with the delay, they knew they would lose a day and the night was uncomfortable for them, but no complaints.

There was a tiny Chinese girl, who didn’t so much have trouble with the delay caused by the landslide, but she was really pissed off at the police officer who didn’t allow traffic from our side. In the end she managed to enlist a local guy to work as a translator for her when she went to talk to the officer. Curiously enough, pretty soon after that we started moving, so maybe she actually made a difference. She had an awesome old analog camera.

There was a group of French people who seemed to be most annoyed about it the whole thing. They spent a lot of time trying to find a way to get back to Vang Vieng. And they actually made it, I didn’t see them on the bus once we got to Luang Prabang.

The Laotian people on the bus were the most relaxed about it. These things happen here especially on a rainy season, they say you get there when you get there, and they are right about it.


Have you been stuck on bus that’s been badly delayed? How did people behave?


  1. Bugger being stuck on that but you got an awesome story out of it! Haha I would have no idea what I would do to pass the time but good work with all the pictures. What happened to the people in the truck that got buried?
    Cole and Adela (fourjandals) recently posted..Guest Post: White Water Rafting Guide in JasperMy Profile

    • Yeah afterwards it was a great experience, but not while you were actually there in the middle of the mud :) There really wasn’t much to do there except watch the roadworks and curse that damn police officer… The truck was ok, just partly buried, so we were pretty sure the people who had been in it, were ok also.

  2. You know my aversion to buses. After that accident in Vietnam, there was no way I was taking one that was scheduled for 30 hours out of Hanoi to Laos. Glad you made it out though!
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Help Me Become A Quality HunterMy Profile

    • Yeah, your experience on the bus was a lot worse than mine, ours was just a delay. But after that, we ended up flying to Hanoi from Luang Prabang, didn’t want to take another 30h bus!

  3. Now that is real Laos. The relaxed locals, I am sure they were still all smiles!

    Travel is slow and tedious in the wet season in Laos. And remember this is one of their major roads. Think of the hundreds of small dirt tracks through the mountains. You don’t go very far in the wet season in Laos!

    • Yeah, the locals weren’t too annoyed about the whole thing. Travel is definitely slow in the rainy season, you need to take that into account when traveling in Laos. You shouldn’t book things for the next day if you are taking the night bus, you just never know :)

  4. What can I say, I have never been stuck for so long, and frankly I hope it doesn’t happen! It does make up for a good story after though…
    Federico recently posted..4 Must See Places in South AmericaMy Profile

    • Now that I think of it, it doesn’t seem that bad :) Yes you want that to happen, like you said, it makes a good story 😉

  5. Having just arrived in HoiAn ourselves after 24h on a bus from HCMC we’re not very enthused about the 3-odd-days of bus rides we’ll need to take to get to Luang Prabang. Scratching for cheap options but the prices for flights are comparatively just too steep. Having read your Laos material though, it seems like the option of skipping Laos altogether and heading straight for Bangkok would be a mistake. – tough choices… 😉 (at least wet season should be about over by now)
    ken eder recently posted..China PhotosMy Profile

    • Flights in that part of the world are pretty expensive, as none of the cheap airlines fly between Laos and Vietnam, which is a shame. I wouldn’t miss Laos thou, it’s been one of my favorite places on the trip, it’s so chilled :) Yes, there will be some bus rides involved getting around, but all worth the trouble.

  6. For us bus ride from Vientienne to Luang Prabang was a breeze compared to the one we took from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha.
    I distinctly remember being in constant state of flying in the air- with dust cloud all around in the cabin. As it tends to happen in Laos, they put tourists in the back of the bus which means ‘rough ride’. The only way to breathe was through bandannas. Now that’s what I call adventure commuting.

    • Yeah, I had some rough bus rides in Laos, good fun afterwards! :)

  7. Also, mate you forgot to mention that Laotians in the bus are forever busy “hurling” in plastic bags. Its funny and disgusting at the same time. We had this guy sitting not far from us who at every turn would make a belching noise and throw up in a plastic bag. If it wasn’t enough he had that bag hanging by the side of the window for all of us see. Golly Gosh!!!

  8. Update…. March 2014
    There is a new road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, apparently only open a few days a week at present but is said to take 3 hours off the 7 hr journey.
    Also Laos Central Airlines ( flies from Vientaine to Luang Prabang for $120 return, $64 single.
    Please don’t miss out Vang Vieng though, its a great place to spend a few days, stunning karste mountain scenery and lots of activities to do !
    David recently posted..Hello world!My Profile


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