Keza's Hippie Place: Going Local in Laos. Part 1: Busses

Going local: The unpredictability of busses in Laos

Since I decided to go off the tourist trails (at least what transportation is concerned), strange things keep happening to me while taking busses. Everything started when I talked to two guys who told me of crazy travellers they had met on their way. During our conversation I decided to change some things in my own way of travelling, starting with the destination. I like to go to places where people look at me confused and tell me “It’s a bit complicated to get there” or just “I don’t know”. I decided to say good-bye to tourist busses as they simply charge more for the same service and go local instead.

These stories happened in immediate succession and might have not happened if I would have stuck to tourist agencies.

Mountains around Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

In the mountains around Muang Ngoi Neua

Rule #1: The bus may not run at all.

My first local journey should bring me from Nong Khiaw to Luang Namtha where I was heading to get a bit of jungle experience. I asked in a tourist agency where they offered me a direct bus for 180,000 KIP (around 20€). Later, in the hostel, I saw notes on the wall where they suggested taking a local bus to either Pak Mong or Udomxai and then switching to another bus to Luang Namtha. The total transportation cost sumed up to around 100,000 KIP (only 11€). I had my plan. I even found a fellow traveller with whom I embarked on going local.

The bus to Udomxai leaves at 11am. Next morning, we walked together to the bus station to realise disenchanted that the bus won’t leave for only 2 passengers. “You have to be 4 at least”, the man in the ticket office told us. “You can wait here, maybe more people will come and then we might even go straight to Luang Namtha if there are enough people!” Yeah, how are the chances for that…

This was too much for my fellow traveller. He gave up and headed towards a different destination in a different direction instead, Luang Prabang, for which a bus was leaving that time. (I met him again at a later stage though.) But I wanted to go to the jungle, I had a pretty good deal waiting for me in Luang Namtha, no, I was not willing to give up. Unfortunately no other connection left the town after that, so – if I liked it or not – I had to spend one more night in Nong Khiaw. I found a nice guesthouse lady that accepted to give me (a solo female student on a budget) a private bungalow for a really cheap price. (I got the hint from another traveller hehe…)


Nong Khiaw Viewpoint

Rule #2: The bus may leave earlier than scheduled.

As Udomxai did not seem an option (too less frequented route in the low season), I decided to head for Pak Mong instead. This ment I had to take the bus in the direction of Luang Prabang and get out on the way. (In retrospective I could have taken the bus that my fellow traveller took, just it could have easily happened that I missed my connection in Pak Mong and it is not said to be a particular pretty town. Nong Khiaw I really liked though.)

The bus to Luang Prabang leaves at 9.00am and 11.00 am. It takes around 50 minutes from Luang Prabang to Pak Mong. The bus from Pak Mong to Luang Namtha leaves around 11.30am. The next morning I reached the bus station at 7.30am. I was determined to get in the bus at 9am. Only 6 people were there at that time (so there should be no problem getting on the bus). The ticket seller unfortunately didn’t like the idea of me paying less though at all. He refused to sell me a ticket and put me on the 11am bus instead. This, again, ment I might miss my connection to Luang Namtha. But there is this other very common thing about Lao busses: If there are already enough people, the bus might leave earlier than scheduled.

It took some time until the local bus filled up, but we already left around 10.20am. Not long after the bus had left, it got a flat tire from a huge pothole. Everyone disembarked and the tire got replaced – however, by mischance, with another flat tire (or at least it had a serious loss of air). Our driver left with our bus and baggages to the next town to take care of the tire and quickly returned.

15 minutes later than the scheduled departure of my connecting bus I reached the bus station in Pak Mong. The bus hasn’t passed by yet. 10 minutes to wait. Easy-peasy.

The connecting bus was filled with boxes that soon turned out to contain chicken. For the next 6 hours I sat in a bus with a cackling rooster next to my ears, yeahi ..!

When I reached at my destination (or at the bus station 12km away from my actual destination), I did not find mototaxi drivers surrounding me for the first time in one-and-a-half months of travelling. Not even a tuk tuk. How was I supposed to reach the center now?

After some time a tuk tuk showed up but with an excessive night fare. I declined. I sat myself in a place with wifi nearby and thought about my next steps. 30 minutes later the tuk-tuk driver came running to me offering me the normal rate of 10.000 Kip, since a group of people had arrived to split it with. Relief. Everything worked out.

Thinking back of the beginning of the day I sure had gotten an adventure ride that day. I had good moments and challenging ones but that’s what makes it fun. Plus the sun welcomed my new decisions with a beautiful sunset. It was certainly a way to say “All your troubles were worth it.”

Mission “Going local” succeeded for that day Thumb Up (y) like Facebook emoticon

Rainbow over rice paddies in Luang Namtha, Province

Rainbow over the rice paddies in Luang Namtha

Rule #3: There may not even be a schedule for the bus. Wait along the road.

I wanted to leave Luang Namtha that night, this much was clear. There was a schedulded bus at 7pm and then another bus at 10pm that might or might not exist. Both busses come from Thailand and have their final destination in Luang Prabang. I decided to hurry for the bus at 7pm. A local tour operator even organised a super cheap tuk tuk for me to the bus station (again, that one was 12km outside the city…). Unfortunately for me, that day the bus had arrived early and left the second I reached the bus station (see rule #2). It was only 6.50pm. Damn.

Again I was stuck in that ugly empty bus station. Who to ask? What to do? The ticket office, if even someone worked there ever, was closed. After some time a local guy asked me what I was looking for. He then brought me to a guy that was playing pool in the waiting hall (apparently the one who was supposed to work in the ticket office). He told me all busses had left and “sorry”.

Why why why did that “going local” thing did not work out for me?!?! 😱

After seeing my sad face, he said that there might be another bus around 10pm. But it’s not sure when it comes and if it stops at all. But in any case it does not stop at the bus station, I will have to stop it along the road.

So the next two-and-a-half hours I spent waiting along the road. Thank god I still had that wifi password from the guesthouse. I even borrowed a chair from them to sit comfortably on the road… 😉

Not later than 10.15pm a bus lit up in the distance. I waved at it. I didn’t have to worry, it stopped because some people got off the bus here. I was saved, hooray! And actually I even got rewarded with a sleeper bus (that allegedly did not exist in Laos). The downpart though was that a couch had to be shared by two people, which ment I had to sleep next to a complete stranger. Yes, I found that particullary strange

Once in Luang Prabang there was a direct connection to Vientiane leaving within some minutes (around 4.50am for your information). So that one worked out great again. I got off in Vang Vieng, very dozy but happy, to embark on my next adventure.


The river bank of Vang Vieng


It’s interesting to see what can happen to you when you omit tour agencies. But actually, adventures and misfortunes are the stories you keep in your mind when travelling and are the memories you will tell your children later. Don’t try to get everything the easy way.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!










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  • Reply
    Laura ||
    16 November 2016 at 09:37

    I love “going local”! Oh but wow but I hate buses. I think I have some sort of bus-phobia. Every time I am somewhere where there’s no train, I hitchhike, walk or cycle. I think it all started when I had the same idea as you (to take a local bus) in Nepal. The bus didn’t stop for 8 hours and I had to pee so badly! When the bus eventually stopped, all the nice Nepali ladies got out and just peed on the street. The bus stopped in the middle of the road, with no bushes or anything (we were going up a mountain, you literally couldn’t leave the street). There was a man on a motor bike waving at me while I peed, it was so awkward haha. So, yeah, I HATE going anywhere by bus!

    Oh and I think this waiting for the bus/ van/ boat to fill up is quite common in lots of places. I was once in a minivan in Thailand and had to wait 4 hours for the minivan to leave, despite being told that it would leave “in 10 minutes”. I think in those situations we just have to be patient and remind ourselves that we aren’t in a hurry. Getting upset about these little issues just ruins our day, it doesn’t actually help the situation 🙂

    Great post, I really enjoyed reading it. Brings back memories…I can’t wait to be back in Asia! x

    • Reply
      30 March 2017 at 16:45

      Hey Laura, I think I never replied to your comment…
      I’m so sorry to hear about your little bus story. I hope that you can at least laugh about it in retrospective. Thanks for sharing your story with us ♥

  • Reply
    13 February 2017 at 00:22

    Erinnert mich ein wenig an meine letzten Tage in Neuseeland, als ich mein Auto verkauft hatte und mich mit Autostopp und komischen Bussen durchschlagen musste =) Tolle Geschichten, viel Spass noch! Ich freue mich auf die Nächsten 😉

    • Reply
      30 March 2017 at 16:46

      Hach, ich liebe Autostop…. 😍 Hoffe, ich schaffe es auch mal nach Neuseeland!

      • Reply
        31 March 2017 at 13:30

        wenn du gehst, sag’s mir! ich habe vielleicht ein Bett für dich 😉

        • Reply
          31 March 2017 at 13:41

          Dauert jetzt erstmal noch ein bisschen, denke ich, aber danke! ☺

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    22 March 2017 at 05:26

    Using local transport is always a great way to get close to the culture of the people. You get an opportunity to interact with the locals and get an immersive experience of the place. We also try to use local transport wherever possible.

    • Reply
      22 March 2017 at 13:35

      That are exactly my thoughts, Sandy and Vyjay. Plus I simply find it more adventurous to make my own way figuring out how the public transport works. There will always be surprises… 😉

  • Reply
    Gina Bear
    23 March 2017 at 05:57

    I feel like the unpredictability of the buses in Laos is actually kinda funny. I always get there early just in case because in Vietnam the buses take off early as well. Did you get motion sickness? I almost died a few times on the mini van.

    • Reply
      30 March 2017 at 16:50

      Hey Gina,
      luckily I’m not really prone to motion sickness; which seems to be a blessing in those kind of roads. I heard about people vomitting all the way, but in my bus I didn’t see it happening.
      Thanks for coming by and laughing about my story. I feel that in the moment one is on the way you might not be as pleased about the situation, but at least it seems funny when narrating it later.
      All the best

  • Reply
    The Wildest Tales
    24 August 2017 at 12:36

    I think it only works when you have a. more time than a week or two b. you are a relaxed traveler and you don’t stress over seeing all the “must-sees”. We tried a local bus in Peru and it was hilarious – we were the only white people on it and they didn’t go easy on us. Like you, I love autostop 🙂 (funny – we call it the same in Polish!!) but sometimes in Asia it’s just impossible – they don’t have a lot of cars over there (I’m sure you heard of 100% tax on imported cars in Vietnam). I did autostop in Armenia, Cyprus and in Europe and the experience was 99% good but be very careful as once we had a very bad experience that could end up very bad… I will write a post about hitchhiking on my blog soon to share the experience.

    • Reply
      25 August 2017 at 11:30

      I think when you really want to travel instead of sightseeing, you will eventually need more time. 2-3 weeks per country is a minimum. So of course not everyone has that much time. For me it’s my kind of fun when travelling – it keeps my adrenaline flowing.
      I love how much hitchhiking experience you have! And very sorry for that one time it turned out bad. Would like to read about it and how you reflect on it after it happened (which “warning signs” you ignored and realised them afterwards). Feel free to share a link to your blog post on my entry about hitchhiking:
      Hugs from Germany

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