Today its a nine hour bus ride to Luang Prabang. We get picked up at 8am at our hostel by a songthaew which is a small pickup with two benches in the back. It drives 20 metres round a corner and we park up and wait for 20 minutes. If you think that sounds frustrating, travel in Asia may not be for you!
The person we are waiting for does not show up so we continue to the bus station where we are dropped near our mini van. Unfortunately for us, it is already full of locals so we are left with the back seats. As a kid, the back seat was cool, the place to sit, but with nine hours of potholed Laos roads ahead, it fills me with dread.
The journey starts well though with Ronan Keating crooning “you say it best when you say nothing at all” a phrase well quoted in the Roberts household, especially at the end of minor disagreements. This is a false impression of what is to come though, a brief moment of happiness before we are turned into squash balls and bounced and thrown around the inside of the van.
The roads are bad and following the rain, very muddy. We go through villages of bamboo huts with palm leaf roofing. It looks idyllic but it is for me, an unimaginable life. We turn onto a bigger road which is smoother and we bounce less. Toilet stops come and go and soon we stop for lunch over-looking a valley.
The afternoon is spent being thrown from side to side as we twist along mountain roads with beautiful views down tropical valleys. It may be some of the best scenery we have seen on this trip. It’s heavenly and then improves as we join the Mekong which we follow into Luang Prabang. Buildings become more frequent, traffic thickens, the roads get dustier and we arrive at the southern bus station in only eight hours.
As we disembark and gather our bags a songthaew reverses up to us and we are soon on our way past French colonial buildings, through leafy, laid back streets where cafes, restaurants, spas, and boutique ethnic clothes shops soak up the last of the fading sunlight. We have gone up a level in the numbers of westerners too and there are young travellers, middle aged families and elderly tourists all enjoying the delightful Laos city.
No one is at the hostel, so a lad from the hotel next door checks us in and after a humid walk round the block and a thirst quenching cold beerlao we return to pay the hostel owner.