After such a pleasant experience of travelling on the VIP bus in Thailand
, we had no qualms about travelling on another VIP Bus to Luang Prabang even though it would take around 16 hours. The VIP Bus service was advertised as the following:
Comfortable reclining seats, air conditioning, toilet
However, it was anything but! Air conditioning was open windows - those which opened!, there was no toilet, there was a motorbike parked in the middle of the aisle which people who had to clamber over to find their seats, and this was also a cargo bus as boxes of live chickens, rice and various other products were being transported!
Check out the photos and video below:
And in this video, you can even hear the chickens making content/scared(?) noises in a box (for 16 hours!):
And the arrival was no better!
The final straw in this journey of comedic errors (definitely one to tell the grandchildren!) was the bus was supposed to arrive around 7am, a perfect time to wander into the town centre with our knapsacks, and find some breakfast before securing a guesthouse for the next few nights.
Alas, the bus arrived seven kilometres from town at 230am! Naturally, no-one was especially happy about this, especially as by the time we arrived in Luang Prabang centre it was about 3am, and all guesthouse were closed for the night (the Laos curfew for felang and locals alike is 1130pm). Some of our travelling companions decided to wander around and wait for 5 hours for the guesthouses to open, but we needed to relax and sleep.
Eventually we managed to wake an amicable guesthouse owner who was happy to rent us a room for the "night", but to be fair, he did also unlock the bar for us so we could have a couple of well earned beers. No sooner had we sat down and opened a beer, the heavens opened and rained down some blessed cool Asian rain (unlucky to our fellow passengers who decided to wait outside for the guesthouses to open!). Both of us were very happy to stand in it for a short time!.
Following a great Skype call with Roy back in the UK (as he was still up and we were awake and just had to share the journey!) we finished our beers and trotted to bed for a few hours sleep, very glad the journey was over, but still amused by the way it had transpired!
Our taxi collected us from Sirin Place Boutique Apartment early morning and we drove uneventfully further north to Chiang Kong admiring the stunning views and a procession of monks.
Chiang Kong is a port town as you would expect - tiny and with nothing really there. It shares a boarder with Huay Xai of Laos; In fact, the only thing separating the two countries is the width of the Mekong River - you can actually see Laos across the water from Thailand.
After filing out the necessary visa forms, we quickly made out way through "customs" (an unattended shack on the river bank) and then saw our transport vehicle to cross the Mekong!
These long motor boats are pushed off from the shore with a long tree branch, and then a driver buzzes you across the Meekong in a 10 minute journey.
To the north of Chiang Mai lies the smaller Chiang Rai, which is on the way to a Thailand-Laos boarder crossing. To travel here, one can either take a bus (no airconditioning, no leg room, several hours), a minivan (not recommended by locals and expats who have done this), OR take the "Greenline VIP Bus", which we did.
As many of you know, I'm not a fan of long coach journies, but we were very pleasantly surprised when we boarded: the "coach" is rather like travelling business on an airplane whereby half of the seats have been ripped out to proved plenty of room to recline with foot rest, air con, clean toilet etc - probably nicer than a plane in truth. The uniformed staff even bring round water and a sticky bun during the journey.
The advantage of travelling by coach means we could take in some of the stunning views as this big vehicle hurtled around the small mountainous roads for most of the 4 hour journey (@mum - you'd have hated it!). Below you can see photos of inside the bus and the amazing views from the windows:
Phuket is also in the south, but on the East coast instead of the West (by the Andaman Sea). In order travel there, we needed to a cab, ferry, 2 coaches and then another cab. We were advised this would take no more than 5-6 hours. By now, we know to double any travelling estimate and 11 hours was about right (argggh!).
The most exciting part of the journey was the 5 hour ferry journey. What started off as a great opportunity to sunbathe quickly became an urgent "retreat down below", as the the sea became really choppy in the middle and it was hard to stand up! Check out the contrast in these 2 videos:
After this, the journey was pretty uneventful, although we stopped twice: once at a shack to change coaches (which allowed us to buy some lunch: fried rice with chicken - yummy!), and then a "leg-stretcher" just outside Phuket. Then straight to the hotel to check in and then go out for a well-deserved beer or 3!
As the weather has been hit and miss (yet still low 30s even in torrential rain!), we've decided to change plans and chase the sun. So another important task yesterday was to visit the Thai Government Tourist Centre for some sunshine advice.
Apparently the southern beaches are surrounded by 2 different oceans so the weather is generally changeable but the island (Koh) of Samui has sun! However, it would take eighteen hours and 4 modes of transport to get there if we didn't want to fly... thankfully we are are in no rush! So... back to the hotel and pack, and then let the journey commence!
1) Taxi: Travel to, and wait time at Bangkok Station (15 minutes)
Taxi: 30 minutes. Stuck in traffic, but air-conditioned car.
Wait time: 20 minutes.
All good : -)
2) Overnight Train: Bangkok Station to South-east Station (10 hours)
Because we are not in a rush, we decided to catch the overnight train from Bangkok (although we traveled 1st class to ensure we had our own cabin/security). This was very bizarre and a lot of fun with our own travelling capsule with lock and pull down bunk beds. We snuggled up and watched "Murder On The Blue Train" on the laptop - which we thought was quite apt considering it felt like we were in a Poirot episode!
3) Coach: to SE Coast (4 hours including waiting time)
2 hours sitting in cafe watching the sun rise and drinking coffee and then 2 hours on coach to pier to pick up ferry.
4) Ferry to Koh Samui (3 hours)
Sitting on sun deck of ferry dumbstruck by the beauty of all the sunswept islands and the shimmering waters (and having a small snooze!)
5) Taxi to Hotel (45 minutes)
Blazing hot sun, and lots of beaches, but we're both struggling to stay awake now as this 18 hour journey draws to a close. All we need now is a swim, a beer and another sunny snooze...